Cyclists in Somerville, Massachusetts are facing a new city directive to actively enforce traffic laws as they pertain to cyclists. Earlier this month on 11 April Somerville police chief, Thomas Pasquarello, announced the Somerville police department’s plans for increased enforcement of bicycle traffic regulations under Massachusetts General Law Chapter 85.
Cyclists, now, can and will be ticketed for violating traffic rules, and offenders may be required to state their true name and address to a police officer if stopped for a violation. “This isn't really news,” said David Watson, executive director of MassBike. “This is not the first community in Massachusetts to enforce traffic laws for bicyclists. This has been the law for a long time in the state.”
While Watson told BikeRadar that he does not like to see targeted enforcement, he said he believes everyone — including cyclists — should be required to follow the rules of the road. “In this era of limited police resources, especially in regards to road safety, targeting bicycles may not be the best use of the police officers time,” said Watson. “But again, we'd like to see everyone on the same page.”
Watson maintains that it is still only a small percentage of cyclists that are breaking the rules of the road, but that they are ruining it for everyone. Moreover, Watson says this is a detriment to increased bicycle related infrastructure in the state. “I constantly hear stories when I'm in a government meeting, asking for more bike lanes, ‘what are you doing about cyclists who break the law,’” he added. “It is an obstacle to getting anything done.”
There is also the issue as whether enforcing of the existing laws will actually make those few cyclists who break the rules change their ways. “Will it change behavior? Probably not,” said Watson.
However, MassBike continues its own efforts with its “Same Roads, Same Rules” program, which is aimed at both motorists and cyclists alike. “Targeting enforcement of cyclists, without targeting motorists as well misses the point,” said Watson.
Those hoping that this enforcement will help educate riders will only go so far. The truth is that most riders already know the rules of the road, even if they sometimes (or worse regularly) ignore them. It is not a case where there is ignorance of the law in regards to cyclists.
MassBikes conducted a survey and it found that 80- to 90-percent of cyclists knew the rules regarding writing on the roads in Massachusetts. By contrast only about 50 percent of motorists knew the law as well. “This shows that motorists are in fact operating in ignorance,” said Watson, who hopes the MassBike campaign will educate more drivers. “We will continue to do as much outreach as possible. We want people to be safe.”