PORTLAND DAILY SUN
Study: State is bike-friendly, but lacking enforcement
By Matt Dodge
May 26, 2011 12:00 am
Maine might be the second most bike-friendly state in the nation, but it’s not very strict when it comes to enforcing bike safety laws, a study released this week finds.
The annual rankings, released by The League of American Bicyclists, placed Maine behind only Washington state in the list of bike-friendliness. However, in reviewing for the first time the performance of states in six distinct areas, Maine received an “F” in the category of enforcement.
The state’s overall grade on the study was a “B”, with the state excelling in legislation, education and encouragement, and infrastructure, evaluation and planning.
Many in the local and state-wide bicycling community acknowledge a lack of such enforcement both on the driver and cyclist side of the equation.
“I do think it is the area we are the weakest in. We need to work more closely with law enforcement so they both better understand bicycling laws and have the confidence to enforce them,” said Nancy Grant, executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine and a Portland resident.
“I think a lot more people would ride correctly if they knew somebody was going to say something,” Grant said.
The most common bike-related traffic offenses in Portland include cyclist riding on the sidewalk or against the flow of traffic, according to Grant, who thinks that Portland Police are often not familiar enough with cycling laws to feel comfortable enforcing them. “Sometimes they’re not even sure what thew laws are and they don’t want to hassle bicyclists,” she said.
To that end, Grant said the Bicycle Coalition is working to connect with law enforcement, having recently hosted a meeting between the group’s education director and the chiefs of some Maine police departments. “We want to have a really cooperative relationship with law enforcement,” she said.
Portland Police did not return multiple calls seeking comment on their enforcement efforts.
An avid cyclist who does a lot of riding in the city, Grant said that cycling scofflaws represent a small part of the local bike community, and are often just uninformed.
“I think the vast majority of the riders who aren’t obeying the rules either simply don't know or don't follow any rules anywhere,” she said.
City Councilor David Marshall, a member of the Portland’s Transportation Committee and a bike commuter, said that while there are already rules on the books governing bike safety, “we could certainly use more enforcement.”
“It could probably go a long way towards getting other bicyclist to comply with the rules,” Marshall said, who like Grant, acknowledges that a small percentage of the city’s cycling populace account for a majority of the violations.
Most of the bicycle-related discussion coming out of the Transportation Committee has been in regards to infrastructure improvements, said Marshall, who suggested that further education might make an increased focus on enforcement unnecessary.
“It’s certainly worth putting some attention on enforcing the rules, but you also want to educate the public about what the rules are,” he said.
Josh Cridler, owner of local bike retail and repair shop Portland Velocipede, said that an increased focus on enforcement could go a long way in strengthening the relationship between the cyclist and motorist who share the city’s streets.
“It would get cars to realize that it’s going both ways. I think that when just cars are getting pulled over and see a bike not following a law, that gets people get more angry about bicycles on the road,” said Cridler. “It’s important that the law goes both ways, if one party sees the other party following the rules, everybody falls into suit.”
While they all agree the city could beef up its enforcement efforts, neither Grant, Marshall or Cridler support the idea of forcing bicycle to be registered and licensed through the city, an idea recently floated by a state Assemblyman in the New York City borough of Queens.
Two bills introduced by Michael G. DenDekker would have required commercial cyclists to pay a $50 registration fee and all other cyclists to pay a $25 registration fee. The measure was in response to a number of complaints DenDekker said he received from constituents, who complained that unsafe cyclists were not being held accountable.
“Constituents were complaining that if a bike is involved in any incident and they ride away, there is no way to identify them,” DenDekker told the New York Times.
“I think it would hurt the perception of our bike friendliness,” said Grant. “Other states in the country have tried the registration requirement and they’ve all abandoned it because it’s so hard to enforce and the fees that are generated end up being less than the cost of administering the registration program,” she said.
“We would rather have enforcement groups working on safety than whether people have paid a fee or not,” she said.