The Philadelphia Police did a great thing this weekend. They did a crackdown! On Sunday morning they took 23 illegal dirt bikes and ATVs off the street and did the whole confiscation thing besides. Crackdown!
ATVs and dirtbikes are, indeed, a hot topic in a city that condones lawlessness up until it doesn’t. Proponents, according to some excellent reporting by Dana DiFilippo and Jason Nark at the Daily News, say that the practice is an underground economy that keeps practitioners from other, more detrimental trades. Opponents say it’s dangerous and fucking noisy. What’s hard to dispute is that these vehicles are motor vehicles, and, if they were to be legalized, they should be governed by the same rules of the road as cars and motorcycles.
It brings to mind another recently reported crackdown! The third district police just announced that it would be cracking down! on bicyclists who do not obey the rules of the road. Bicycles are, of course, completely legal.
I am, as you can imagine, of two minds on this. In the same way that pedestrians, who also find themselves using city streets, are not required to follow the same rules of the road as cars, because they are fundamentally different from cars, bicycles are fundamentally different from cars and should have their own set of rules. Bikes move more slowly, weigh exponentially less than, and can stop more quickly than cars. They are not the same.
Given that we can’t all be as enlightened as the state of Idaho, which originated the holy grail stop-as-yield law for cyclists, and that cyclists are at present subject to the same rules of the road as motor vehicles, I firmly advocate responsible, courteous cycling and general (if not absolute) adherence to traffic laws—at least inasmuch as cars themselves adhere to them. The South Philly Slide, it should be noted, is real, and not limited to South Philly. Cyclists who exhibit flagrant disregard for traffic laws—wanton running of red lights, endangering pedestrians and the like—should be stiffly punished, just as autos might. Crackdown!
But here’s the rub. For all the talk of how cyclists should obey the rules of the road (and this talk usually comes from cranky motorists), motorists almost uniformly treat cyclists as something less than equals. They pass cyclists dangerously, even though cyclists are, technically, entitled to a full lane. If you’ve ever tried to actually take that full lane only to have a motorist angrily rev the engine or honk the horn angrily behind you, you know that’s not a practice conducive to longevity. Motorists tell cyclists to ride on the sidewalk. And, when it’s time to take turns moving through a four-way stop, motorists never treat a cyclist as an equal vehicle.
If police feel they need to crack down! on bicyclists, they should at least have the sense to crack down! on cars who break the same rules, and who endanger cyclists and pedestrians alike. Hell, if it would lead to consistent enforcement of all traffic laws, I’d say bring your crackdown! and keep it coming. Because random enforcement of any law only weakens the rest of them.