In the midst of plans to become a model bike-friendly city, Berkeley has launched a decidedly un-bike-friendly campaign.
In mid-September, the City of Berkeley started issuing $238 fines to bicyclists who roll through stop signs. To date, Berkeley has issued 36 citations and stopped more than 55 cyclists according to traffic enforcement division records. During the same period, police stopped 143 drivers and issued 106 citations. A Berkeley police officer told the San Francisco Chronicle the campaign was part of a larger effort to improve traffic safety.
Is citing bicyclists the best way to use city resources to improve traffic safety?
Yes, bicyclists must follow traffic laws like any other vehicle. But if you evaluate benefits vs. risks, ticketing bicyclists seems like a waste of time.
The primary cause of bicycle and motor vehicle injuries is inappropriate behavior by motor vehicle drivers. That inappropriate behavior might be distracted or impaired driving, violating traffic rules or reckless driving.
Berkeley residents Liza Lutzker, Ben Gerhardstein and Ben Paulos, all members of Walk Bike Berkeley, an organization devoted to making walking and biking safer, wrote on behalf of that organization and Bike East Bay, that the practice of ticketing cyclists may discourage people from riding a bike.
For those who choose bicycling as an affordable, environmentally friendly mode of transportation, a $200-plus ticket is cost prohibitive. The advocates instead propose non-monetary penalties, such as a bicycle traffic school class–an initiative the City of Berkeley proposed in its Bicycle Plan.
Instead of asking city police officers to patrol bike paths and boulevards to catch stop-sign rollers, the advocates suggest (and I agree) they crack down on speeding, impaired and distracted driving, and pedestrian right-of-way violations, all of which cause serious injuries and fatalities. Devoting less attention to these serious violations in favor of ticketing “Idaho stops” on dedicated bike paths in the name of safety doesn’t make sense.
Perhaps the City of Berkeley will rethink its campaign and leave stop-sign-rolling as a “low priority” activity. Instead, maybe it will put more thought into designing safer streets and encouraging bicycling as a safe, emission-free mode of transportation.
Swap 10 miles of driving with cycling five days a week for a year and you’ll save 124 gallons of gas (more if you drive an SUV). With prices hovering at $4 a gallon, that’s almost $500 saved. You’ll also save 1.3 tons of CO2 emissions from damaging the atmosphere (more if you drive an SUV).
Riding a bike also benefits your health. Commute from Berkeley to downtown Oakland (roughly five miles each way) and you’ll easily get an extra hour of exercise that day. You might even get to work faster than you would if you had to sit in car traffic or sit on a bus. And sitting, as most of us know, is not so good for your health.
Should bicyclists be immune from obeying traffic? No. I support citations to bicyclists who ride recklessly and put other people’s lives in danger.
For example, if someone rides through a red light during rush hour, or speeds downhill, running several stop signs without paying attention to oncoming traffic, yes, they should receive the same punishment as a motor vehicle driver. But the city that does so should also have a program in place that allows these people to attend a program similar to traffic school in lieu of paying hefty fines.
I’m curious to see what steps the City of Berkeley takes next and whether they will shift gears.
Photo courtesy of Flickr