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Your Days of Brazenly Breaking Traffic Laws Are Numbered

Philadelphia Weekly: Dear Bicyclists: Your Days of Brazenly Breaking Traffic Laws Are Numbered. Love, Philly

By Randy LoBasso

Sep. 26, 2012

Before the year is over, the much-anticipated Complete Streets Bill, proposed in Council to increase safety for both bicyclists and drivers, will come up for a vote. Originally planned for a May showing, the bill, worked on in conjunction with the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, was held due to the city budget debate that lasted throughout the spring. The group now says it’s hopeful for a vote by the end of the year.

Complete Streets, sponsored by Councilmembers Mark Squilla, Kenyatta Johnson, Blondell Reynolds-Brown and Jim Kenney, includes concessions and safety precautions for both cyclists and drivers. The legislation would impose a $100 fine on a bicyclist going through a red light; it would prohibit opening a car door into traffic (unless safe to do so); and would prohibit parking in bike lanes, which, if you take a look at philly.mybikelane.com, or at any bike lane in the city on any given day, is already a problem.

Currently, bicycle infractions elicit a $3 ticket. The $100 fine will bring Philadelphia up to Pennsylvania state law fine standards.

Bicyclists already aren’t allowed to go through red lights (or speak on cell phones, or ride on the sidewalk), just as motorists already aren’t allowed to park in bike lanes.

The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia considers the bill a compromise. “We have been having productive meetings with the administration about [the bill],” says Sarah Clark Stuart, campaign director of the Bicycle Coalition. “We’re still waiting for what they come back with, then we have to meet with Councilman Squilla and we’ll know [what the final version will look like].”

As for possible amend- ments, Stuart notes the main policy changes—like the red light and car parking penalties—will not change, which probably means every single biker in the city will be prone to a ticket this fall. Last year, between May and October 2011 (during the mayor’s initial “Give Respect, Get Respect” campaign to foster friendly bicyclist-driver relations) 26 cyclists received citations in Center City, and 1,142 got warnings. It’s assumed those warnings will become tickets in 2013—but it’s really up to the police. “As far as enforcement, it falls to the police, so we’re at their mercy when it comes to that,” notes Sean McMonagle, Squilla’s legislative assistant.

Also part of the effort: The city is codifying its Complete Streets handbook, which provides rules of the road for Philadelphians. An edit of the manual is currently being vetted at public meetings and will play an integral part of the final bill—and future projects.

The handbook’s changes will ensure that upcoming street projects include mandatory accommodations for drivers, bikers and pedestrians; specifically, timing of traffic signals to minimize delay, promotion of an extended bicycle network through the city and discouraging potential obstructions when planning future street projects. “[The handbook change is] going to provide a pretty clear and transparent way for how those decisions get made and that’s going to help ensure the policy,” adds Stuart. “[The city’s streets] are going to look different and stronger.”