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Stu Bykofsky: Bikes and the law: What enforcement?

TODAY THE Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia begins another weeklong count of bicycle usage in Center City, but before we go there, an update:

TODAY THE Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia begins another weeklong count of bicycle usage in Center City, but before we go there, an update:

If anyone thought that giving bikeheads whole car lanes on Spruce and Pine in Center City would keep them off the sidewalks, sorry.

If you thought that, as promised, there would be police enforcement to eliminate run-like-the-wind, sidewalk-riding, red-light-ignoring bicyclists, sorry again.

In the first quarter of this year, the number of tickets written to bicyclists was four - a great, big, fat F-O-U-R, according to stats provided by Traffic Court deputy administrator Robert De Emilio. During the first quarter last year, six tickets were written.

Some believe that fewer tickets = more compliance to the law. Some also believe that 9/11 = inside job. And that Easter = big, white bunny with basket of eggs. I live and work in Center City, and I am seeing more bikes, due to warm weather, but no less law-breaking.

To be fair to bikers, who always whine, "What about cars? They're more dangerous. Bwaaaa," let's run some numbers. Moving violations written by Philadelphia police for cars in the first quarter of last year: 58,840. This year, 43,194 - more than a one-quarter drop. More compliance? Less enforcement? It could be that Philadelphia drivers just got a whole lot safer, police spokesman Sgt. Ray Evers said sardonically, but more likely it would be "the amount of inclement weather we had this winter. If you can't drive, you're not getting tickets."

So the ratio of tickets written to motorists versus bicyclists so far this year is 10,798 to 1.

Of course, there are a ton more cars - and always will be. Yes, always, bikers. Enjoy your 19th-century green technology anyway, but before you start bleating about exhaust emissions, cars will run on fuels other than fossil within your lifetime. Maybe even within my lifetime.

On the positive side of enforcement, first-quarter tickets written to motorist morons yakking on cell phones while driving: 5,592. There's no data for last year because the ban wasn't in effect then. At $100 a pop, that's a potential half-a-mil in fines, but I still can't walk a block without seeing distracted drivers jabbering on cells. Stronger enforcement is needed. Or more snowstorms.

After putting out a call for volunteers, the Bicycle Coalition is counting bicyclists at key intersections and bridges starting today and ending Friday.

The counts are "very important benchmarks for determining the level of bicycling and bicycle behavior in Philadelphia," said coalition campaign director Sarah Clark Stuart.

The coalition helpfully has provided the city with numbers on bike use in the past, which the city accepts like gifts from Santa with unquestioning confidence. As I've noted before, it's laughable to rely on numbers supplied by partisans - especially when the partisans provide numbers turned in by volunteers unsupervised by a neutral party. That's like letting vegetarian "volunteers" count hot dogs eaten at a barbecue.

Counts are being made from 7:30 to 9 a.m. and from 4:30 to 6 p.m., at the bridges crossing the Schuylkill, along with Spruce and Pine streets. During this week, SEPTA is making its first-ever count of bikes on public transit and bike use of parking racks. It is being done by SEPTA staffers, spokesman Andrew Busch told me. Staffers, not volunteers? What a novel idea.

The coalition provided its volunteers with directions, including this stunning one: "DO NOT count if it is raining. Go another day when it is not raining."

I asked Stuart why.

The coalition has always done the count on good-weather days, Stuart said, "to reduce the number of variables that can contribute to fluctuations."

I then asked the painfully obvious question.

"During poor weather there are fewer bicycles on the streets," she agreed.

Precisely. The coalition wants to report the highest possible numbers, as it has in the past.

I'm not accusing the coalition of wrongdoing, because I have no proof of that. But if the city plans action based on unverified numbers provided by partisans, it has no credibility.

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