Mayor Wants To Raise Fines For Cyclists Running Red Lights

Written by Boston Biker on Jan 25

About 50 people have emailed me about this metro article yesterday. The vast majority of them upset about the whole idea.

the current state law fines bikers $20 for infractions such as running red lights, Boston’s proposed legislation increases those fines to as much as $150.

“If a biker runs a red light and it’s only a $20 dollar fine, they think: ‘no big deal,’” Captain Jack Danilecki of the Boston police said. “But $150, you are going to pay more attention.
“The mayor looks at it as another law-enforcement tool, not as punishment by any means.”

Aside from the fact that the article started off by calling Boston one of the friendliest cities in America for cycling (something it most certainly has been working towards but not attained), there is no news here.

Lets say they do up the fine for running a red light to $150. How is that a bad thing? Are you running red lights? Should you be running red lights? Will you get a ticket for running red lights if you don’t run red lights? I don’t understand how this would affect law abiding cyclists at all.

If you follow the traffic rules having larger fines for running red lights is going to make your life easier. Its always so easy for motorists to say “you want to be X but you don’t even Y!” So now you can tell them, “hey buddy I get the same tickets you do.” Having bicycles and motorists follow the same fine structure legitimizes cycling as a form of transportation. It will also teach (financially) non law-abiding cyclists that there are rules, and they should be following them.

The one and only way this law could be bad is if the police go out of their way to target only cyclists. This would demonstrate that this law is simply a way to drive cyclists off the streets. Seeing as how there is almost zero traffic enforcement (of any kind, for any road user group) we shouldn’t worry about this.

I think that the real flaw here is that the push is not to cover all road user groups. Motorists and cyclists are increasingly settling into having similar fees but there is one GIANT group of road users that have been left out.

The pedestrian fee structure is so low, that its basically “do what you want” if you are walking on Boston’s streets. I have no problem with handing out large tickets to cyclists and motorists running red lights, but lets give out tickets to pedestrians as well when they violate the rules.

If you passed a law giving police the ability to write $150 j-walking tickets, you could go downtown on any given weekday and solve the state budget problem. Not only would this make pedestrians more likely to follow the law, but it would make everyone safer (not the least of which the pedestrians themselves). I can’t count the number of times I have almost been knocked off my bike by a pedestrians walking out from between parked cars.

After we get all road user groups following a similar fee structure, we need to have education, and enforcement. The police in Boston don’t focus on enforcement, not for car drivers, cyclists, or pedestrians. Everyone knows they can get away with anything, so they do.

I welcome a day when all road user groups are educated, fined, and enforced equally. You can argue all you want that we have not attained that equality yet, but I find it hard to argue against giving some financial teeth to red light tickets for cyclists. Don’t break the law, you wont get a ticket.


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Posted in advocacy | 28 Comments »


28 Responses to “Mayor Wants To Raise Fines For Cyclists Running Red Lights”

  1. By roughit on Jan 25, 2011 | Reply

    This is the first I’d heard of it… and it sounds great! The one thing you mentioned going wrong sounds unlikely, and it would be great if we could all take the rules a little more seriously. It would make me a less angry bicyclist since I could smile and say good morning to fellow riders at red lights instead of glaring at them as they fly through.

  2. By jthandle on Jan 25, 2011 | Reply

    Well said, BB.

  3. By matt on Jan 25, 2011 | Reply

    fully agree

  4. By JonT on Jan 25, 2011 | Reply

    I’m all for enforcing traffic laws for everyone, including cyclists. If the police started actually giving tickets to cyclists who run red lights, or ride at night without lights, I’d stand up and cheer.

    But as the Mikado says, let the punishment fit the crime. Bicycles can do much less damage than cars, and the fines should reflect that. It’s possible that the proposal is reasonable — the article says fines “up to” $150, but gives no details. The “up to” language implies different fines for different sorts of violations. I’d like to see a detailed list of fines in the proposal, and see how that compares with the fines for motor vehicle drivers.

    Will you get a ticket for running red lights if you don’t run red lights? I don’t understand how this would affect law abiding cyclists at all.

    Note that the above logic would apply equally well if the proposal called for the death penalty for running red lights.

  5. By JonT on Jan 25, 2011 | Reply

    By the way, I strongly agree with David Watson of Massbike, who is quoted in the article as follows:

    “We had a situation in which it was effectively impossible for police to enforce the laws and now we’ve given them the tools to begin enforcement,” Watson said of the current law written by MassBike and passed in 2009. “So why not wait and see if that works before filing legislation that dramatically increases the penalty when you don’t even know if the law that has come into effect will serve its purpose?”

  6. By Ron Newman on Jan 25, 2011 | Reply

    It is perfectly reasonable for bikes (and pedsetrians) to run red lights if they first stop and look for conflicting traffic, and only proceed when there is a safe space.

  7. By Ron Newman on Jan 25, 2011 | Reply

    And the reason this makes sense is that bikes and pedestrians, unlike cars, are not encased in glass and steel and therefore have a full 360-degree view of all other traffic.

  8. By cycler on Jan 25, 2011 | Reply

    Well said!
    This is a complete non-issue if you obey the law.
    If you don’t want a ticket, obey the law. If you think that you know better and can judge for yourself whether you should obey the law, feel free to explain it to a cop or a judge. Or work to change the law.

    That said, I do think that you could make a pretty convincing argument to a cop if the signal is magnetically triggered and you waited a long time and there was no traffic either way to trigger the signal.

  9. By KT on Jan 25, 2011 | Reply

    I don’t feel that increasing the penalty will make a difference. A $20 ticket for running a red light actually does mean something to a lot of cyclists who are out there running red lights. They’re just not likely to get that ticket. Likewise, the hypothetical $150 ticket plus insurance penalties can be scary to motorists, but they really don’t think they’ll get caught, so they also run the red light anyway.

    Increasing the penalty is totally pointless if it doesn’t get enforced. If they’re going to increase enforcement of red light running by both cyclists and motorists, fine. But I see so many motorists running red lights, that I cannot support increased enforcement only for bicyclists.

    Hang out in Central Square some time. Occasionally I see cops waiting to catch motorists running red lights there. But I see more bicycle cops hanging out in the bike lane waiting to catch cyclists running red lights. They’re easier to catch, and you don’t need to devote a police cruiser. The only reason it is kind of fair is that it’s only a $20 ticket.

    Also, sometimes we make mistakes. We speed up to get through the yellow, and it turns red. We should have stopped. Maybe we were scared of the car right behind us, maybe we just misjudged speed and distance. We accidentally put ourselves in danger, being in the intersection when we didn’t want to, and now we might also get a $150 fine. It’s not just scofflaws who have something to worry about.

    The only way I can make sense of this is that the police department doesn’t think it will make enough money to cover the time of the cops handing out $20 tickets, so they want to increase the take.

  10. By Eoin on Jan 25, 2011 | Reply

    I’d very much like to see a crackdown on jaywalking. Four months ago, I collided with a guy who stepped out from between two cars into the bike lane on Mass Ave.. I was thrown off my bike and broke three ribs. The other guy was not even knocked over.

    The police didn’t site the guy, telling me that “no crime was committed.” Even with insurance, my medical bills ran over $1000. I sued the guy in small claims court, and the clerk-magistrate dismissed the case without explanation.

    So yes. We need huge fines for jaywalkers and rigorous enforcement.

  11. By Fenway on Jan 25, 2011 | Reply

    This is a significant public safety issue and I don’t see what the problem is. People breaking the law should be fined to a significant degree as a deterrent. I’d also support a stiff fine for jaywalking in commercial districts.

  12. By Ron Newman on Jan 25, 2011 | Reply

    Any place where pedestrians freely jaywalk is a place that is *safer* for pedestrians.

  13. By Eoin on Jan 26, 2011 | Reply

    Ron, widespread tolerance of jaywalking might make things safer for the jaywalkers, but does it make it any safer for law-abiding pedestrians? I suspect that jaywalking tends to delegitimize crosswalks in the eyes of motorists.

    I know it sounds callous, but I have little sympathy for adult jaywalkers who are killed or maimed. Every jaywalker removed from the streets makes my bike commute that much safer.

  14. By Ron Newman on Jan 26, 2011 | Reply

    Take a look at this article, from Slate:

    http://www.slate.com/id/2234011/pagenum/all/
    In Defense of Jaywalking: Banning the practice won’t make pedestrians safer

  15. By ElleT on Jan 26, 2011 | Reply

    Bostonians have to jaywalk to avoid getting hit by bikers running red lights. Jaywalking is a way of life here, and it works fine unless there’s a biker traveling in the wrong direction on the street or running a light.

  16. By Rebecca on Jan 26, 2011 | Reply

    How about enforcing the speed limit for cars on our city streets. To begin with the speed limit is set too high. I’m all for the campaign ” 20 is plenty”. But there are efforts in Ma to reduce the limit to 25mph. A person or cyclist hit at 20 mph has a high percentage of surviving, not so at 35mph. Too often drivers think that it is perfectly acceptable to to drive 5 to 10 mph over the limit & not be pulled over which is fine in my opinion on limited access roads but criminal on multi use roads!!

  17. By Erik on Jan 26, 2011 | Reply

    Three thoughts:

    1) It looks like this makes the fine for running a red the same if you are in a car or on a bike ($100 for first offense, $150 subsequent).

    2) Whether this makes sense depends on how one sets fines–namely, how much should the differences in the potential public safety harm affect the fines? Cars, bikes, and pedestrians clearly pose different dangers to other road users–should this be reflected in the fines for crossing without the right of way? Personally, I feel that they should be, but I could see both sides having valid arguments. However, if you have a $150 fine for bikes running reds, it’s hard to argue for $1 jaywalking fines, since both obstruct traffic equally.

    3) The BPD says this move will act as a LE tool. I wonder if we will actually see LESS enforcement, as officers see the penalty as disproportionate to the crime (e.g., think about penalty kicks in soccer–the whistle is blown rarely in the box because the penalty is so great). Of course, if they are only writing 1 ticket a month anyway, there’s not a lot of potential for change.

  18. By Ben on Jan 26, 2011 | Reply

    If the red light fine increase is as effective as the $150 fine for double-parking in bike lanes in Cambridge then the problem will surely cease overnight. OH WAIT.

    Experienced cyclists running red lights safely is not a problem. The problem is non-experienced and/or wreckless riders running reds. I’d be more in favor of an Idaho stop law being passed, honestly, than increased fines for cyclists.

    The bigger problems I see every day are people riding against traffic on bikes, riding on the sidewalks, and riding without lights. All of these are outright illegal by Mass state laws, however; how often are they enforced? I’ve never observed this personally. I actually see cycling police performing these infractions regularly in warmer months, whereas I’ve never seen any civilian get cited for this same behavior.

    Enforcement of any cycling law is extremely inconsistent in Boston and Cambridge. I guarantee that any sort of new law is only going to be enforced circumstantially if at all. Fines haven’t changed before, during, or after the crackdown at BU last fall; while cycling infractions were going unnoticed by the authorities all over the city elsewhere.

    Even if passed a $150 red light fee for bikes would be as effective at saving cyclists lives and preventing accidents as a citywide prohibition of bikes.

  19. By Ben on Jan 26, 2011 | Reply

    tl;dr:

    Police don’t enforce current laws regulating cycling, so any new measures to increase the penalties of these laws are not going to effectively change behavior.

  20. By JJ on Jan 26, 2011 | Reply

    “Cracking down” on jaywalking is an idiotic idea. Jaywalking makes the city safer, not less safe, because drivers expect it and are constantly looking for it. That means they drive slower.

    Go to LA, where they do enforce jaywalking, to the point that if the timer says 15 seconds in red and you start to cross because you know it will only take 10 seconds, you get a ticket. Compare the environment there to here. There, pedestrians are a nuisance and must be pushed out of the way. Here, we respect walking.

    Jaywalking rules were only invented so cars could go as fast as they want and not worry about anything getting in their way. Is that the kind of city we want?

    On top of that, tickets should reflect the severity of the crime. How is TWO DAYS worth of work (8 an hour) a valid penalty for crossing midblock when there is not a soul in sight?

  21. By JJ on Jan 26, 2011 | Reply

    Also, I find that most people have no idea what jaywalking actually means.

    Protip: if you’re between two unsignalized intersections, you can cross legally, it isn’t jaywalking.

  22. By Eoin on Jan 26, 2011 | Reply

    Ron, that piece by Tom Vanderbilt is informative. The bit about the automobile lobby seeking to redefine streets reminds me of this quote by Eduardo Galeano:

    “Human rights pale beside the rights of machines. In more and more cities, especially in the great metropolises of the South, people have been banned. Automobiles usurp human space, poison the air, and frequently murder the interlopers who invade their conquered territory -and no one lifts a finger to stop them. Is there a difference between violence that kills by car and that which kills by knife or bullet?”

    I’m all for pedestrian-friendly spaces, but in their absence, it’s not that hard to cross the street legally. If somebody can’t be relied upon to use a crosswalk because it’s mildly inconvenient, how can they be relied upon to follow the law in other areas? Jaywalkers, along with lawbreaking drivers and cyclists, are a cancer on our streets that ought to be excised.

  23. By Eoin on Jan 26, 2011 | Reply

    Oh, and JJ, here’s what the law in Cambridge says:

    “[W]henever there is an officer directing traffic, a traffic control signal or a marked crosswalk within three hundred (300) feet of a pedestrian, no such pedestrian shall cross a way or roadway except within the limits of a marked crosswalk and as hereinafter provided in these regulations.”

    Different municipalities have different laws, but that 300-foot rule is quite common.

  24. By JJ on Jan 27, 2011 | Reply

    Eoin, that cambridge law seems to go directly against state law which considers unmarked crosswalks equal to marked ones.

  25. By Eoin on Jan 27, 2011 | Reply

    JJ: I took a few seconds to Google the entire phrase I quoted and found that the same law is on the books in Arlington, Needham, Somerville, Falmouth, Kingston, Holden, Harwich, Saugus, and Adams. Remember, this is the *exact* phrase. I imagine that at least a few other towns that have some variation on that law, or that, like the Cambridge law, have not been indexed by Google.

    Can you provide me with a link to the state law? I’d like to have a look at the wording.

  26. By tone on Jan 28, 2011 | Reply

    Wouldn’t it be more “bike-friendly” to adopt the Idaho bikes laws (Yield at stop sign, Red light = Stop sign) rather than punishing cyclists more?

  27. By Montague on Feb 1, 2011 | Reply

    Great post and discussion. Here is another look at the cycling fines issue: http://www.montaguebikes.com/folding-bikes-blog/2011/02/should-cyclists-and-motorists-be-subject-to-the-same-laws/

  28. By M on Feb 23, 2011 | Reply

    If only I felt safe stopping and waiting at red lights, many cars don’t even slow down when turning right on red, although the LAW grants me the same rights as cars I lack the metal armor that protects the car operator.
    I also stop at green lights because the laws that primarily govern transportation are the laws of physics. I feel it’s a human rights issue and to blindly obey laws that are designed for cars is to sacrifice youself at the altar of motor vehicular convenience.
    Having survived biking in this city for over 30 years, I don’t advocate running red lights but neither can I see any wisdom in mixing it up with motor vehicles. I also live in an area where I can ride against traffic for two blocks on a very wide one way road or I can obey the law and ride three blocks on a very narrow two way road that is used as a shortcut for people avoiding traffic, I find this frightening and stupid, not even a shoulder on this road where parked cars are routinely sideswiped. I feel that the government makes a lot of money off of cars , taxing, ticketing and towing and thus has no interest in stemming the traffic flow and bicycles are becoming a new source of revenue for munincipalities.

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