THE 3RD Police District in South Philadelphia is putting unsafe bicyclists on notice that cops will be cracking down on rules-of-the-road violators by issuing warnings until Labor Day and then citations.
The announcement highlights a citywide warning that bicycling on sidewalks, ignoring stop signs and red lights, going the wrong way on one-way streets, failing to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, and operating a bicycle under the influence of drugs or alcohol can result in criminal penalties, same as it can for motorists.
When Mayor Nutter announced his "Give Respect — Get Respect" campaign in April 2011, he reported that more than 1,800 Philadelphia pedestrians and 435 cyclists had been struck by vehicles in the previous year.
Funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the initial May 12-to-Oct. 4 campaign last year in Center City (where most bicycle/auto/pedestrian accidents occur), saw police issuing citations to 26 cyclists and 161 motorists, and warnings to 1,142 cyclists, 244 motorists and seven pedestrians, said Andrew Stober, chief of staff of the Mayor's Office of Transportation and Utilities.
"Police targeted the most dangerous behaviors — things like blowing through red lights, riding on the sidewalk and the wrong way in traffic," Stober said. "We considered it successful. It's a long struggle."
This year's follow-up campaign will be funded by PennDOT.
Stober said he isn't surprised that South Philly's 3rd Police District just announced its own crackdown.
"South Philly is one of the highest bike-to-work areas in the city," he said. "If a motorist has to slam on his brakes because of something a cyclist does, that can cause a car accident. Every four hours in Philadelphia, a pedestrian is hit by a car. Every 13 days, a pedestrian is killed by a car. We want everyone to get home safe."
Alex Doty, executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, said he believes "there is a slow but steady change in how bicyclists are behaving in the city, although I'm not sure how much is because of the city's getting its message out there and how much is because more people who bike fit a less-aggressive profile.
"As we get more women biking, more kids biking, more 8-year-olds and more 80-year-olds, the do-whatever-you-want-to-do jerk ratio goes down," Doty said. "Years ago, we had more people who were fearless in traffic, and they tended to be a young male constituency. Today, a third of our bicyclists are women. Also, we didn't have bike lanes, and motorists wouldn't give bicyclists respect — or maybe they just didn't know what to do because they so seldom saw bicyclists."
Doty said he regards the stepped-up enforcement efforts by police as a good thing, "although when I see more bicyclists than motorists being pulled over, I squawk a little bit. But it's not a big squawk."