Philly cops target pedestrians

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Traffic tickets for motorists in 2014 fell 3.2 percent, but tickets for pedestrians rose a whopping 37.4 percent - mostly tickets for "soliciting employment, business or contributions," police say. DAILY NEWS FILE PHOTO

PEDESTRIANS, the Philadelphia Police Department has your back. Actually, it's on your back.

Motorists and bicyclists, you can ease back.

Last year's numbers put a torch to assurances from the city that enforcement is necessary for bikes and cars and pedestrians to coexist. Even the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia applauds enforcement.

How did that pie in the sky taste?

Let's start with tickets written to motorists for moving violations in Philadelphia last year. (All numbers were provided at my request by the Philadelphia Police Department based on Traffic Court records.)

In 2014 police ticketed 115,910 motorists, contrasted with 119,820 in 2013, a decrease of 3.2 percent.

Bicyclists pedaled to a huge break. In 2014 police wrote 81 tickets, contrasted with 102 the year before, a drop of 20.5 percent.

That means in 2014, cops wrote 1,430 auto tickets for each bicycle ticket. Yes, there are far more cars than bikes.

This is the second consecutive year of less enforcement on lawbreaking cyclists and motorists. Since the laws are written to promote safety, lack of enforcement makes it more dangerous for everyone.

In 2013, the 119,820 tickets written to motorists was a stunning drop of 23 percent from the year before. In 2013, 102 bicyclists were ticketed, actually an increase of 15.9 percent from the 88 tickets written the year before. That has now been reversed.

State law regards bikes as vehicles, and riders must obey all the rules of the road, such as stopping at red lights and stop signs, riding with traffic and, of course, staying off the sidewalk.

The only people tuned up by the cops were pedestrians. They received 371 tickets in 2014, as opposed to 270 in 2013, for a huge leap of 37.4 percent.

It's a War on Jaywalkers?

I also watch the number of sidewalk cafes cited for taking up more of the sidewalk than permitted. Enforcement fell off a cliff.

In 2014, a measly 23 citations were written, compared with 170 the year before, an astounding crash of 86.4 percent. During the same period, inspections declined from 793 in 2013 to 180 in 2014. That's down 77.3 percent.

That is stunning, so I asked Streets Commissioner David Perri what happened.

The city has only six inspectors doing right-of-way inspections, and they do more than just that, Perri told me.

That's true every year. What was different last year?

"There was a huge increase in construction activity in Philadelphia, especially in Center City, and we put a lot of emphasis on these sites to maintain safe passage on the sidewalk and street," Perri said.

So enforcement of sidewalk-cafe encroachment was de-emphasized?

"For last year, they were," Perri admitted. "But that's not to say we won't get back to heavier enforcement this year."

We can hope so.

 

In 2013, the city launched a "Drive Right, Ride Right and Walk Right" campaign to promote safety. Engineering, education and enforcement were all to play a role. I don't know about engineering and education, but the numbers show that, despite promises, enforcement isn't there. It's not a priority for the cops.

In 2013, Alex Doty, executive director of the Bicycle Coalition, told me, "Enforcement is not adequate in the city of Philadelphia for anybody."

I called him to ask how he felt about the numbers - except for pedestrians - getting worse instead of better.

"Enforcement continues to be inadequate for all road users," he said, adding, "It is disappointing to see that the main area that sees citations going up are pedestrians, who are the most vulnerable users of the road."

Amen.

What do the cops say?

Let's start with pedestrians. Lt. John Stanford, a police spokesman, estimates 80 percent of the tickets are written for individuals "soliciting employment, business or contributions," in other words, panhandling, or creating a hazard and a nuisance.

We spoke for several minutes about cars and bikes - and although I kept asking about enforcement, Stanford kept talking about educational efforts made by police, which really didn't directly answer the question.

He did speculate that the presence of red-light cameras may have contributed to safer driving and that last year's heavy snows reduced the number of cars on the roads. I didn't really get a clear answer to why ticketing of bicyclists had plummeted.

Some might say drivers and riders have miraculously improved their behavior. Since I don't believe in miracles, I'm left with the bad taste of knowing the city made a promise and did not keep it.

Also not miraculous.

 

 


Email: stubyko@phillynews.com

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