Traffic Violating Somerville Bicyclists Get Mostly Verbal Warnings
Police officers also wrote some citations in the first day of their campaign to enforce traffic laws with bicycle riders.
Bicyclists who got pulled over by cops in Union Square Wednesday mostly received verbal warnings, though a few received written warnings, according to Paul Upton, deputy chief of the Somerville Police Department.
"I'm pretty sure there wasn't a $20 citation so far," he said, speaking Thursday afternoon.
Upton was talking about a new campaign by the Somerville Police Department to enforce traffic laws with bicyclists.
Trying to stop bad behavior
"This is an accident reduction effort," Upton said. He said traffic enforcement officers are doing "what they need to do to make the city a little safer."
The campaign, which began Wednesday in Union Square, is meant to be educational at first, the deputy chief said.
Most bicyclists obey the law, but some openly flaunt it, he said, telling the story of one lieutenant, an avid biker, who when stopped at an intersection on his bike, in full police uniform, observed six fellow bicyclists blow past him and through a red light.
Eve Grilliches, commenting on Somerville Patch, wrote, "I see bikers riding opposite the traffic flow, against the one-way signs every day. One of these days someone will be killed."
"This is the kind of behavior we're trying to stop," Upton said.
It's a matter of safety, police say
Upton said the police department felt the need to make the streets safer because there have been some bad accidents involving bicycles in the past.
Indeed, Somerville is home to some of the worsts intersection for bicycle crashes in the country, according to a study released in August, 2011. (The Inman Square area, which is mostly in Cambridge but includes parts of Somerville in the study, notably Beacon Street and part of Washington Street, is the worst bike crash area in the country. Upton, in a followup email, noted that Cambridge police have done random bicycle enforcement in Inman Square for some time.)
Three things are involved in bad accidents, Upton said: vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians. "Until [Wednesday], all of our enforcement efforts had been targeting one portion of that triangle," he said, referring to vehicles.
Now police will be going after bike riders.
$20 tickets for bicyclists
Upton said a change in state law last year allows police departments to issue citations to bicyclists using standard motor-vehicle tickets. Being able to do so makes issuing citations to bike riders easier because it uses the same ticket book and computer system designed for cars.
If a bicyclist is issued a citation, it does not show up as a mark against that person's drivers license, Upton emphasized.
Tickets for bicyclists who break traffic laws are $20, and that fine is set by state law, he said.
If bicyclists refuse to give their name and address, or if they give a false one, they can be arrested and charged up to $50.
"We're not out there trying to give people a hard time," Upton said. "This is all about safety."
Coming to a square near you
The enforcement effort began Wednesday in Union Square, but "in the coming weeks we'll move that around to other places," Upton said.