Monday, December 07, 2009

Daily News publishes counter point op-eds on Philly's Bicycle Debate

Editor's note: The Daily News today published two opinion-editorials; one by Councilman DiCicco on why he drafted the Registration legislation that he introduced on November 19th
and the second by the Bicycle Coalition's Executive Director Alex Doty. Although Councilman DiCicco concedes that his legislation might not be doable or the right solution to the problem, he nevertheless singles out "messengers and other professional cyclists" as a concern. Alex Doty stresses that calming the streets is going requires equitably enforcing rules of the road to all road users and bicyclists should not be singled out.

The Bike Debate: It's really all about safety

WHEN I introduced legislation requiring every bicycle to be registered, it certainly grabbed people's attention.

Considering the city's lagging economy and job loss, continued concerns over crime and our struggling public school system, I was surprised by the passionate and emotional response I received. E-mails and phone calls have poured in that range from questioning my intelligence and work ethic to failing to comprehend why I would raise the issue at all to praising me as a hero to pedestrians and motorists.

What has become clear since the introduction of this legislation is that motorists, cyclists and pedestrians have a dysfunctional relationship, and it is time to talk through our problems. This bill and the public dialogue that it's fostered is a good first step.

Pedestrians complain about cyclists on the sidewalk. Motorists worry about bikers swerving in and out of traffic and traveling the wrong way on one-way streets. Cyclists are frightened by aggressive, insensitive and clueless drivers.

Each of these groups has a right to be angry. Most of us know a cyclist who's been injured by an automobile. Most drivers are concerned that they will be blamed for a bicycle accident that may not be wholly their fault. We have all heard of the tragic collisions involving pedestrians and bikers.

It's time to deal with these fears and to address the very real problems surrounding bicycle safety.

Bicycle registration is an attempt, admittedly an awkward one, to do just that. By requiring that every bike be registered, whether with the Police Department or the Parking Authority, it would create a point of contact to educate all bikers. And registration might help enforcement agencies deal with and identify problem cyclists.

Registration could also be used as a tool against bike theft, similar to the voluntary registration program in place today.

But I also recognize the problems associated with this bill. Enforcement would be difficult, the fee structure may be onerous and it doesn't deal with the differences between recreational and commuter biking.

THIS PROPOSAL is not the be-all and end-all in dealing with bicycle safety. Some specific safety measures may have to be added. Registration could be limited to messengers or other professional cyclists, or it may need to be abandoned altogether (emphasis added). One way or another, all these issues will be resolved during the legislative process - which will include a public dialogue between all with concerns.

Some are making this conversation a "Motorist vs. Cyclist" debate. By doing so, they are hurting our ability to accomplish anything. These issues can't be addressed by an "us vs. them" attitude. Each side has valid points, and we must respect them. But it's time that we share responsibility for these problems and work together toward a solution.

City Councilman Frank DiCicco represents the 1st District.

The Bike Debate: Don't just blame the cyclists

CHAOS HAS reigned on Philadelphia's streets for too long.

In the free-for-all on Philly roadways, 204 motorists, 105 pedestrians and 12 bicyclists lost their lives in the last three years.

So I wholeheartedly agree with both Councilman DiCicco and Councilman Kenney that we need to take bold steps to make our streets - and sidewalks! - safer, even as I disagree with many particulars of what they've proposed.

Bicyclists who don't follow the law are contributing to traffic chaos. But you only have to spend an hour at almost any intersection in the city to see wild flouting of traffic laws by motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists alike.

Motorists routinely speed, double park, run red lights, fail to yield to pedestrians, disregard stop and yield signs.

Pedestrians jaywalk against red lights and cross midblock.

Bicyclists ride on sidewalks, against traffic and go through red lights - sometimes after pausing for the road to clear and sometimes not.

Bicyclists should be held to a high standard when it comes to following traffic laws - but not a higher standard. As the city cracks down on scofflaw bicyclists, it should also enforce traffic laws with motorists and even pedestrians.

The proposal to register bicyclists hasn't worked in other cities: Los Angeles; Washington, D.C.; Houston; Detroit; and Albuquerque, N.M.; and Minnesota and Massachusetts, have tried mandatory registration and dropped it because it was ineffective.

Councilman Kenney proposes revising fines for bicyclists. While fines without enforcement are meaningless, updating fines set many years ago makes sense.

But what doesn't make sense is for bicyclists' fines to be out of whack with those imposed on motorists.

For example, a driver running a red light is currently fined $119. The councilman proposes raising the fine for riding a bicycle on a sidewalk from $54 to $300. Bicyclists riding on the sidewalk pose no more danger than a motorist running a red light.

The problem is not a lack of laws - the problem is one of education, enforcement and engineering. It's startling how many bicyclists our "Bicycle Ambassadors" talk to who don't even know that riding on the sidewalk is illegal in Philadelphia. Enforcement of traffic laws has not been a priority of the city for a very long time.

In the end, the best way to get bicyclists off the sidewalk is to engineer streets so they feel safer on the roads.

The bike lanes on Spruce and Pine streets are a big step in the right direction. The Bicycle Coalition's initial counts indicate that bicyclists are choosing Spruce and Pine over other streets, decreasing conflicts with motorists and pedestrians on parallel streets.

We can look to New York City for ideas on how to tackle the problems of education, enforcement and engineering. From a major public outreach campaign to an innovative police system for tracking both crashes and traffic law enforcement to a growing network of separated bike lanes and reclaimed pedestrian plazas, New York has made big changes in just a few years.


Twenty-five years ago, motorists disregarded parking rules and routinely ignored parking tickets. Today, motorists are more concerned about getting a parking ticket in Philadelphia than being stopped for a moving violation.

I look forward to the public dialogue begun by Councilmen DiCicco and Kenney that focuses on how to make our streets safer.

What we all have in common is the belief that the 92 people who died on Philadelphia roadways last year is simply too many.

Alex Doty is executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia (


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