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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.

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 (