John Street: Lawbreaker

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I'M CHILLING with John Street at Darling's Diner, talking biking while dining. Turns out the Piazza at Schmidt's hipster haven is a favorite hang of the once-prickly ex-mayor.

One of us is saying, "99 percent [of bicyclists] feel no obligation to obey the law" - and it's not me. It's Street, who loves bicycles, rides about 1,000 miles a year, but dismisses bike lanes and admits most bikers are lawbreakers - including himself.

Does he obey the law?

"No. I follow none. Zero."

He started biking in 1968.

"How could you do that?" I tease, "without bike lanes?"

"Cars just had to get out of my way," he replies with a grin.

In his classes, he says, "there is almost no support" among students for bike lanes. "Three out of four thought they were unnecessary."

His classes paved the path for our lunch.

At Temple, Street teaches Local Government and Community Advocacy. He invites speakers who he thinks can be of some value to students and I happened to be one of them.

He turned my glowing introduction into a tirade against bike lanes and bad biker behavior. After class I told him he owed me lunch (to "pay" me for the class visit) and asked him to repeat his remarks on the record. He said yes to the lunch and "we'll see" to the bike comments.

At Darling's, when I broached the subject, he was reluctant as he ordered his turkey on dry wheat toast (with "10 french fries" and a thimble of jalapeno peppers), but then he warmed up. Also at the table was Street's bright teaching assistant, Jeffrey Carroll, a doctoral candidate in political science.

An avid biker, Carroll, 34, backed up Street's assertion that students are against bike lanes 75 percent to 25 percent.

This came as a surprise as students are among the heaviest users of bicycles.

Please explain, I asked.

It's not that students don't like bike lanes as much as it being a matter of financial priorities.

In class, "when they are handed a budget and they have to fund schools and rec centers and abandoned houses and vacant lots - and you want to spend $10 million on bike lanes?v" Carroll asks.

Street says "there is a backlash against bike lanes. Most of them are empty." Beyond that, "Bicyclists operate recklessly and disregard all traffic regulations."

The disregard comes from a lack of enforcement.

It's like I have a twin. I have been calling for enforcement for years and reporting on the number of tickets written. Just last month, I reported the totals for last year.

In 2011, 150,441 cars were ticketed for moving violations. In 2012, the number moved up to 152,964, an increase of 1.67 percent. Pedestrians received 373 tickets in 2011, increasing last year by 13.4 percent to 423.

The fewest tickets written were for bicyclists, partially because of their small numbers. In 2011, 80 cyclists were ticketed. In 2012, the number rose to 88, an increase of 10 percent. That's not enough to stop the bad, and dangerous, behavior.

"When you take a person and you put him on a bike, something happens to your brain," Street says. "You get real aggressive, you're like a cabdriver on a bike. It's all about getting there. A stop sign doesn't mean anything. There may be people who stop at stop signs, but I don't know any."

If there's a red light "and there's no traffic coming the other way," Street goes through it.

The difference between Street and the typical lawbreaking bicyclist is this: He admits it. Almost brags about it.

And he will continue breaking the law until enforcement stops him.

Unhappily, so will the other cyclists.



Email: stubyko@phillynews.com

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