The Importance of Enforcement

6 Nov

Well, your blogger has been busy beyond belief and so I’m late with a new post. And I am probably not going to post at all next week because next week is the culmination of all we’ve been working toward at my institute. But the “good” news is there’s not much new happening on the bicycle or pedestrian front. Not much other than the same close calls as usual. So, I thought I’d use this post to mention an interesting update on NYC because it points out the importance of enforcement.

One of the things that has not happened yet is a response to the FOIA request I made in July requesting information on (1) the enforcement strategy that the DC police use in the Central Business District where bicycling on the sidewalk is prohibited; (2) statistics on accidents involving bicyclists and pedestrians in that area; and (3) tickets and warnings issued. While I notice that there is significantly less sidewalk bicycling in that area when I am there than I see on an average midday or weekend day in Dupont Circle, I don’t know if my unscientific observations are representative. Generally I believe that where a law exists and is publicized, most people will obey it, even some who don’t like it or find it “inconvenient.” But regular enforcement helps greatly. If I can get the info for that prohibited area, it might help prove that point.

Of course, we don’t even have a law city-wide, but NYC does. But if you look at the post I did this summer on NYC you’ll see that there is at least one flaw in that the police don’t give the tickets to bicyclists, the Environment Control Board rep does under the law. But the police have other powers like confiscation of the offending bike, tickets for general traffic violations and arrest for other crimes like assault, if the incident is worthy of it. And the police, in NYC, as in DC have many other things to do to keep order and prevent serious crime. That is why an enforcement strategy is necessary in such cases.

The Citi-Bike Program

The reason I mention NYC again is because, as you know from reading another prior post here, this spring NYC introduced its bikeshare program, called CitiBike (I now know from reading the New York Times, it’s called that because Citibank is sponsoring it). The startup seemed to go well. But some bad feeling is beginning to develop. Last month Delia Ephron wrote a piece for the Sunday Review, which I did not see. But one of the Letters to the Editor captured something that I’ve heard from at least one NYC friend and has been reported in the blog that pings back to this one–there are more adult sidewalk bicyclists and more tickets being issued than before. The letter notes the following: “Delia Ephron has captured an unexpected consequence of encouraging more biking in New York City. I,too, have had many near misses with bikers who ignore traffic rules. Too many ride down one-way streets in the wrong direction and go right through red lights. Of late, I’ve also noticed more adult bikers riding on the sidewalk. I am doubly frustrated, as there is no identification for these bikers–no license plate–so how can they be reported? We certainly don’t have enough police on enough streets to be able to stop them.” Sound Familiar? BUT at least they have a law, which is the first step in any enforcement.

A Good Idea Gone Wrong

The letter quoted above notes also that, in theory, Mayor Bloomberg had a great idea promoting a healthy transportation alternative to driving. But the reality is different: “growing interest in biking is threatening increasing numbers of our pedestrians..” When I lived on the Upper West Side in NYC in the 1980’s there was another great idea by another mayor, which all of us thought was great at the time. The city shut most streets going through Central Park off to auto traffic on the weekends so joggers, walkers and bicyclists could have those streets for recreation. Since I lived just a couple of blocks from the Park, I used it often. But, within a couple of years, if I wanted to get into the Park from the 77th Street entrance, I had to dodge speeding bicyclists to cross the one street I had to cross to get to the paddle tennis course where my friend and I met every Sunday morning.

As the years went on people got injured, joggers and people just crossing the street for other recreation. Even bicyclists running into each other. But there was never consistent enforcement and bicyclists just hit and ran, like they do here because they don’t have licenses either. The situation became more perilous; a NY Alliance for Pedestrian Safety was formed. But nothing was done–until the summer of 2012 when a cyclist hit a legally blind jogger and seriously injured him. It would have been just another in what, after 30 years, was a long list of sad stories, BUT for one thing. The blind jogger who was hit by that hit and run cyclist was also a lawyer. Rather than hunt down the anonymous hit and run biker, he sued NYC!

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that the next week the Daily News had speed cameras in the Park clocking the bikers and did a front page story. The week after that, the NYPD was out there en masse stopping bicyclists and giving out speeding fines. No word yet on how the law suit will turn out. But my guess, since some of the poor man’s injuries were permanent, NYC will be paying significant amounts. Don’t let this happen to DC. We don’t have money to burn! And, even though we don’t have a law against sidewalk bicycling throughout the city we do prohibit speeding and reckless biking on them. A consistent enforcement strategy can help immensely, even under the current law.

Well, with this story, I end this post and say adieu for a couple weeks. But if I get any news of note, I will try to pass it along even during this time. Meanwhile, STAY ALERT AND STAY ALIVE.

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