Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Park Police ticket bicyclists for biking past stop signs

April 23, 2012 - 09:58 AM
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(Photo: John Hendel)

Last week when venturing to the National Park Service headquarters at 1100 Ohio Drive SW, down around the East Potomac Park and Tidal Basin and Hains Point, I noticed traffic signs that explicitly demand that bicyclists follow the traffic law. Underneath one stop sign was the clear dictate — BICYCLISTS MUST STOP AT STOP SIGNS. In the distance, an electronic sign flashed another message: BICYCLISTS MUST OBEY TRAFFIC LAWS. The signs, from what I can tell, are new. Bikes were a constant presence in the leafy park territory here.

The signs are no joke. Park Police are allegedly ticketing bicyclists who imagine themselves above the starkly stated law.

"A buddy and I were riding at Hains around noonish-2 p.m. today, and there was a USPP car with two officers parked around the corner from the westernmost leg of the triangle/route," wrote a bicyclist known as Sinfulsamaritan on Reddit recently. "They issued me a $25 citation for failing to stop at the stop sign... apparently they want you to at least slow to a very slow roll, if not a complete stop (the officer said 'you don't have to unclip or anything, but at least slow down. You just blew right through it and turned right, so I had to stop you.')"

See, D.C. pedicab operators. The Park Police are issuing citations to far more people than just you. The bicyclist notes that one or two cyclists were pulled over for the offense every lap or two "so they're apparently catching a lot of us."

Others suggested the Park Police have typically ticketed bicyclists there, especially during the spring time. The robust online forum of Bike Arlington affirms both the history of bike ticketing as well as an uptick of enforcement this spring, with five pages of commentary on the issue this month. "Yup, the Park Police are out again at Hains Point, giving tickets to cyclists who don't stop at a particular stop sign," a bicyclist wrote on April 3. Another replied: "I have no problem admitting that I broke the law by not technically stopping at the stop sign but I do have a major problem with the fact that the PP are *obsessed* with cyclists at Hain's Pt even though the intersections are very safe and they do NOTHING about the cars that are speeding every day on the GW parkway." Another bicyclist described receiving a warning as well as a potential explanation: "The cop said it is bicycle safety month and they were told to go after cyclists."

The reaction to traffic tickets as well as the expectations of how traffic law is enforced becomes rather complicated. Should these bicyclists be stopping at the stop signs? Many would say yes, some with more righteousness than others. The stakes, however, are much lower with a bike slowing rather than stopping at a sign when compared to an automobile, and the vulnerabilities are much higher. One D.C. bicyclist argued last year that, for precisely these reasons, traffic laws meant for automobiles shouldn't apply to bicyclists if she and other cyclists can break them safely. Hains Point features many, many bicyclists, however, and I can understand an argument about how ticketing may lead to better obedience to traffic laws and better traffic safety overall. The presence of huge, visible signs strike me as fair enough and wise, especially if bicyclists continue to ride at risk of tickets. But bicyclists have an equally valid concern about equal enforcement, which includes at crosswalks and against cars.

In the meantime, watch out on Hains Point, bicyclists, and remember to slow down and stop at the signs.

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