In a 4-minute segment aired a few days ago, NBC10's George Spencer reported what I've been writing about for years: There's an epidemic of bad bicycling behavior on our streets, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia is in denial and traffic enforcement by police has fallen off a cliff.
Spencer was following up on an earlier NBC10 report on the most dangerous intersections for bicyclists. The station’s Facebook response contained many complaints about bad bicyclist behavior.
In the most recent report, “We caught cyclists throwing obscene gestures, blocking buses and blowing through red lights,” said the narrator.
Spencer stopped one young man -- not wearing a helmet -- who just blew a red light and asked him why he did it. “Cause I got places to be. I’m working right now,” said the young man.
The report noted bicycles are a fast-growing presence on city streets and wanted to find out if they are following the rules of the road.
“I don’t feel like they apply to me,” said heavily tattooed, helmet-less Savannah Siwiec, who said she knows she’s breaking the law.
Spencer was in University City, Northern Liberties and Fairmount and found some bicyclists friendly and waving at the camera as they broke the law, while others were aggressive.
He taped various bad behavior and said, “And on Fairmount corners like this, they are sometimes downright dangerous, nearly causing crashes.”
I’ll pause here to say the majority of bicyclists are just regular people, but as anyone can see, almost all of them stop for red lights only when there’s cross traffic. Stop signs are ignored. A lesser number ride on sidewalks and go against traffic.
Spencer stopped a young woman with an orange delivery backpack after she went blew a red light. “Um, I didn’t run a red light,” she said.
“We just saw you,” said Spencer.
“Oh, no, that was good,” she said.
No, it was not good.
Another young woman, with a helmet, pedalled by as Spencer asked her why she ran the red light.
“I gotta go to work, bud,” she said, then turned and gave Spencer a middle-finger salute.
Spencer noted cyclists are required to follow the same rules as cars, but “road rules are almost never enforced on Philly cyclists.”
In February, I wrote Philadelphia police have all but quit enforcing traffic laws.
The numbers I reported tell the tale: Bicyclists ticketed fell from 81 in 2014 to 11 last year, a drop of 86 percent. Motorists received 91,633 violations in 2015, a 21 percent drop from 2014 when 115,910. And 2014’s numbers were less than 2013’s.
Police spokesman Lt. John Stanford told Spencer what he has told me -- officers have to do more than just write tickets. “They also are responding to calls for gunshots, also responding to shooting victims, responding to robberies, burglaries.”
It doesn’t add up. Cops were doing all that in 2012 before the enforcement numbers dropped off the cliff.
I can’t say cops are being told to lay off enforcement, but I can tell you they are not being told to be active in enforcement. If they were told that, the numbers would be going up.
Spencer set up cameras at five intersections for a half-hour to look for cyclists running red lights, ignoring turn lanes and going in the wrong direction. He found that at all five “cyclists appeared to ignore those basic intersection rules at a higher rate than drivers, sometimes defiantly.”
Spencer’s final stop was at the Bicycle Coalition where he asked executive director Sarah Clark Stuart if she believed bicyclists break the rules more than motorists.(I would have framed the question around specific offenses.)
“No, we do not believe that,” she said.
“As the minority [bicyclists] tend to stand out a little bit more.”
I don’t follow the logic that as a minority bicyclists “stand out” more. Are they penguins? If they obeyed the law there would be nothing to see.
I don’t want to make too much of this, but how many cars do you see go through steady red lights each day? Do you see many cars driving the wrong way on a street or not even slow down at a stop sign?
The Bicycle Coalition would do a lot more for everyone if it acknowledged the truth and worked hard to teach the arrogant bikers the law does apply to them and they should observe it.