Opinion » Commentaries

Bike tickets are lame

Why does the man keep sticking it to me?



If a bicycle fails to stop at a signal, and no traffic is around to see it, is it still a crime? Definitely not! A bicyclist doesn't disobey traffic laws for the sheer anarchist thrill. Stopping at a signal when there's no traffic constitutes an unnecessary loss of momentum.

When I ride my bike, I don't always stop completely at stop signs or lights and, be honest, neither do you. I don't propose that cyclists go stupidly speeding through intersections or that bikes cut off traffic or in any way endanger themselves or other drivers, but I do recognize some fundamental differences in the two styles of movement.

Never mind that a cyclist is self-propelled or that a bike weighs a fraction of a car. The amount of energy needed to stop a bike and the time associated with stopping a lighter vehicle are significantly less, so a bicyclist can make quicker stops even if traveling at the same speed as a car. Cyclists also have better sense of traffic because they're actually in traffic. There are no "blind spots," and, without a stereo, you can actually hear what's going on. Driving schools across the country teach "defensive driving," based on the theory that everyone else on the road is going to do something wrong. No one is in more immediate danger from casual lapses in driving judgment than are cyclists, who almost expect that someone will open a door into the right lane on Higuera. Bicyclists ought to be given a little leeway in the way they approach driving laws and a little faith in their own ability to keep safe.

Promotion of cycling should be an active part of our city's growth and transportation plan, with more bike lanes and trails. Bikes benefit communities by easing traffic and parking and reducing pollution from single-passenger vehicles. Bikes provide exercise for the obese masses and cultivate good spirit as an alternative to road rage.

Instead, SLO has added two new structures to the downtown area to help with parking and allow more people to drive, while simultaneously punishing those who pursue alternative forms of transportation through fascist enforcement of traffic laws. Last year, pedestrians received 326 tickets for non-alcohol related offenses, such as jaywalking. That's more than the number of tickets given to speeding drivers or the number of DUIs. Skateboards, which are ideal for small areas like downtown, are banned outright, and bicyclists in SLO receive a disproportionate number of citations for disobeying signals.

SLO's most heavily trafficked areas mainly Santa Rosa and Madonna Road near LOVR see more than 35,000 vehicles per day, while our downtown averages up to 24,999 on any given day. These numbers represent a population several times larger than the cycling population. The number of tickets given in 2005 for failing to stop at stop signs and lights was 530 to cars and 164 to bikes, said Sgt. John Bledsoe of the SLO Police Department.

Are more cars are stopping at these intersections? Or are cyclists being picked off as easy targets?

In California, bicyclists are expected to follow the same rules as vehicles. They're supposed to be awarded the same rights and suffer the same penalties, including points against their licenses, which result in higher insurance rates.

Before I even had a license to drive a car, I had a point against my driving record for failing to come to a complete stop at a four-way sign on my bike. It's true that I didn't stop. It's also true that I didn't get hit because there were no cars coming.

The ticketing officer was idling by the side of the road, waiting for unsuspecting drunk drivers to roll through the stop sign. But if drunk drivers are the problem, why waste time on a few sober kids rolling through an obviously clear intersection on bikes?

That was several years ago, and now I have new tickets to be outraged at. Recently, I was caught in a "sting operation" designed to catch rogue bicyclists running the southbound stop sign at the bottom of a sizable hill. When I noticed the officer, I knew I was busted like the perpetrator on Cops who doesn't notice the set-up and gets caught trying to buy a hooker. What a buzz kill.

The ticket notes that traffic was light, weather was clear, the street was dry, and that it was a three-way intersection. It doesn't mention that a bicyclist in my position (on the far right of the road) never crosses traffic. The officer told me that that he was waiting at the intersection for bicyclists who consistently failed to stop there, and that it was for my own safety. My safety from what? There was no oncoming traffic, and, if there had been, we would not have crossed paths. Obviously, this was for my own safety and not to set a precedent among cyclists, and not for the $47 fine. Fines don't contribute to my health and safety, they contribute to my late rent and undernourishment which undermines both of the aforementioned.

What I fail to understand is how "sting operations" for bicyclists are a good use of our public resources. With drunk drivers, drunks fighting, sexual assaults, meth, and one of the highest per capita rates of homelessness in the state, how do lawless bicyclists even register as a threat to public health?

Kylie Mendonca always rides with both hands on the bars. Let her know about your personal injustices at [email protected].

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