Late last month, Alexandria police were aggressively ticketing cyclists who ran stop signs in Old Town Alexandria. As one reader reported to me
This morning there was a motorcycle cop pulling over cyclists in Old Town on Royal St. He was hiding behind the brick entrance to the tunnel near the intersection at Wilkes St. He was watching for cyclists who were running stop signs.
The Post picked up on the story, reporting that 24 cyclists were ticketed for running a stop sign and about 300 more were given warnings as a way to address concerns voiced at civic association meetings.
Alexandria Police spokeswoman Crystal Nosal said assorted complaints and comments at civic associations meetings have driven an increase in enforcement of traffic laws for cyclists.
It's worth asking if "complaints at civic association meetings" is a good metric for deciding where to focus enforcement, as opposed to something like fatalities or injuries or crashes, but moving on from that there are some other odd things.
According to the Post article "cyclists were stopped for everything from running stop signs to riding at excessive speeds and weaving through cars in an unsafe manner." Other than the stop sign tickets, the others sound very subjective to me - not speeding but "excessive speeds" and riding "in an unsafe manner." Hopefully those are just warnings, because I don't trust someone who doesn't ride regularly to know what manner is safe or unsafe. How much training do Alexandria Police get in identifying unsafe cycling. I'm glad to see that we have finished enforcing all of the objective traffic violations like speeding and I look forward to drivers being ticketed for driving in "an unsafe manner."
Furthermore, this was a lot of enforcement for what is arguably not even the most dangerous of bad cycling behavior (like riding at night without lights, BUI and wrong-way cycling, to name a few).
Margry said he noticed two unmarked police cars and three officers patrolling in the area where he was ticketed. Around the time he was ticketed, at the end of his four-and-a-half mile commute, three others were stopped for the same infraction.
Personally, I support the Idaho Stop and so don't even think that garden-variety stop sign running - especially when no traffic is present as was the case with Margry - should be illegal.
The fine was reportedly $91. I suspect that is the same amount as is paid by drivers (and what an odd number), but in the District the maximum fine for any bicycling violation is $25, which seems a lot more reasonable. And Margry agreed.
The longtime cyclist said it is impractical to assess the same penalties on cyclists as those given to motor vehicle operators.
To the Post's credit, and perhaps because of recent events in San Francisco, this led to a mention of the Idaho Stop.
Byclists in San Francisco staged a protest in July after residents called for bikers to be treated like drivers in the eyes of the law. Protesters, aiming to show the city how congested it would become if cyclists acted just as drivers do, “snarled traffic almost immediately,” according to a story in SF Weekly. Cyclists say treating stops merely as yields — as the “Idaho Stop law” proscribes — allows them to conserve energy and become immediately visible to drivers, making them safer.
Perhaps a similar protest through Old Town is in order. Maybe it will lead to a similar policy change. At the very least, the fine might be able to be lowered.