Byko: Cops stiffen enforcement on cars and bikes

Bicyclists in Center City have long needed to share the road and their marked bike lane with parked vehicles, like this police car along N. 13th St. in 2012.

Reversing a trend, last year brought a big increase in the number of tickets written for motorists and bicyclists, coupled with a  decrease in violations handed to pedestrians.   

Motorists received 104,851 moving violations in 2016, a major increase of 14.4 percent from the 91,633 written in 2015. This is the first increase after four straight years of big decline, measuring from the 152,964 written in 2012. (All numbers were provided by the Philadelphia Police Department based on records from the Traffic Division of Municipal Court.)

Bicyclists collected more than twice as many tickets in 2016 than the year before, but it was  27 tickets compared with  a measly 11 in 2015. That’s well behind the 81 tickets written in 2014.  

Pedestrians caught a break last year. In 2016, only 148 were ticketed, down 51 percent from the 303 nabbed in 2015 -- and the smallest number in the last six years.

Why is ticketing, otherwise known as enforcement,  a big deal? Since laws are written to promote safety, lack of enforcement makes it more dangerous for everyone.

While the number of motor vehicle tickets fell in recent years, the number of car crashes rose. In the last five years, nonfatal crashes increased from 56,161 in 2012 to 62,744 last year — a gain of more than 11 percent.

Fatalities, happily, declined from 107 in 2012 to 95 in 2016.

I asked police a few questions about enforcement and the fluctuation.

Many factors go into ticketing, said spokesman Lt. John Stanford.  There are no quotas and there is no "exact science" to explain the fluctuation.

Police don’t record the cause of crashes, so I turned to something related — the reason tickets are written. 

The most frequent moving violation?

Red-light running leads the list with 6,613, followed closely by 5,091 tickets written for blowing stop signs. These 2016 figures come from the Municipal Court Traffic Division.

Third place, at 4,500, is failure to observe signs, highway markings and the like. Careless driving, 2,039 and reckless driving, 977, are followed by speeding, 344 and driving at unsafe speeds, 248. That last category  includes driving at the posted limit, but not safe for conditions, such as in snow or fog.

Meanwhile, ticketing of cars stopped in bike lanes is big time.

The Philadelphia Parking Authority wrote 4,524 tickets for bike lane-related violations in 2016. That’s up 5 percent from the 4,302 written in 2015 and a walloping 127 percent more than the 1,991 written in 2014.

For the record, cars are permitted to stop in what are called buffered bike lanes, such as those on Spruce and Pine Streets, for 20 minutes. From the yelping I hear from bikeheads, most don’t know brief stops are legal.

Because change is good (sometimes), this year I’ve expanded the list of law-breaking to include two new categories — skateboarding and pot smoking.

The boarders got a great big fat zero while 2,290 tokers were ticketed for being caught with a joint. Skateboard enforcement peaked at 11 in 2014, and marijuana became a ticketable offense last year.

Turning to another issue, I checked with the Streets Department, which enforces regulations on sidewalk cafes, some of which grab too much space. 

Streets wrote up 204 sidewalk cafes for infractions in 2016, an 87 percent increase over the 109 tickets written in 2015.

“Public safety and protection of the right of way is a huge priority,” I’m told by Streets Commission Carlton Williams. The department recently added one inspector, bringing the staff to eight charged with keeping an eye on the 323 licensed sidewalk cafes.

I know from experience some of you think I’m rooting for the wrong team by calling for more enforcement.

What I also know from experience is the lesser the enforcement, the greater the danger to innocent citizens.