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 .

"I'm pretty sure there wasn't a $20 citation so far," he said, speaking Thursday afternoon.

Upton was talking about a .

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, . (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, .

"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.

Ken Long April 13, 2012 at 01:17 PM
Just knowing that someone may be looking at them and there is the possibility of being pulled over and delayed will slow down many riders and give them reason for caution. I remember when Boston police first started cracking down on commuters and messengers in the Downtown Crossing area. It had a major affect on the general attitude of all cyclists. However, I dont think its necessary to stop and sit at traffic lights unless there are cars in the way. I dont think its necessary to avoid going the wrong way on one way streets as much as it is to yield to vehicles. I dont think its necessary to adhere to rules as much as common sense safety and courtesy. Running red lights and going the wrong way on one way streets is only dangerous if your ignorant and run in front of cars. However, passing moving vehicles without enough room to maneuver, or going too fast easily avoid collisions with car doors or pedestrians, and riding without good lights at night, are all and always inherently dangerous. The most dangerous ones arent the ones who break the rules of driving, the dangerous ones are the inexperienced ones who dont know how to ride safely on a busy road, or those who insist that they have a given right of way and that safety is someone else's responsibility. Also, there's a common feeling on a bicycle that you can see the road and the cars, and that somehow they know your there, which is simply untrue.
mark April 13, 2012 at 03:42 PM
As a cyclist who bikes every day, I see some cycling moves that really make me cringe. That said, bad behavior is not limited to cyclists. I think we just notice it more because cyclists are so vulnerable, visible, and a relatively new presence in numbers on the streets in Somerville. At the same time, I'm seeing a higher percentage of bikes stopping for traffic lights, using lights at night, and generally being good doobies. My take away is that the better bike facilities bring out more "normal" riders who aren't as risk averse. We can all help to make our streets a little more kind-- mostly by not being in a rush and enjoying the human element that makes Somerville a great place to live. A website that's promoting kindness on the streets is civilstreets.org
Benjamin Mako Hill April 13, 2012 at 05:15 PM
Minor issue: I think the headline is a bit off. The cyclists in question aren't violating traffic. They are traffic. What they are violating is the traffic laws. Interesting to know that Inman is so dangerous! Inman Square is on my commute it is actually one of the few intersections along my commute from Davis to Kendall where I see cyclists largely obeying the lights. I thought the intersection was so wide that cyclists were unlikely to try and run it. I have seen a couple car accidents there, however. The one-way street situation really is a mess. That said, if the city can add other-direction bike lanes along a few streets (e.g., on White Street right near Porter) like Cambridge has done, I think they could do a lot to reduce these wrong-direction swiming "salmon" bikes. The current situation is asking many cylists to go well out of their way in order to move along common paths legally, which folks under their own power are going to be less likely to do.
Chris Orchard April 13, 2012 at 07:46 PM
Your point is well taken, Benjamin. We sometimes do funky things with headlines to make them fit in a short space.
E June 27, 2012 at 07:11 AM
Bicyclists are not cars, just as pedestrians are not bicycles. If bicycle laws are to be enforced, there needs to be a set of laws and a infrastructure specifically designed for the mode, timing, and efficiency of bicycles, due to their lacking an engine, smaller size, and relative lack of protection. Until more planning besides "following laws made for cars" and painted lines on the street is established, enforcement of traffic laws on bicyclists is neither practical nor a solution for increased rider, driver and pedestrian safety. It appears to be better than nothing, but realistically, enforcing laws for cars on bikes is a shoddy approach to a transportation method that needs much more strategic attention.


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