Cyclists remain unprotected, with or without helmets

As members of city council try to increase fines to enforce stricter bike laws, cyclists are left at an even greater disadvantage.

As members of city council try to increase fines to enforce stricter bike laws, cyclists are left at an even greater disadvantage.

Bikes are not cars.

This statement seems easy to comprehend, but in reality, the situation is much more complicated – as the two modes of transportation often share the same roads.

We’re dealing with two different machines using the same space to get around. With regard to traffic laws and regulations, cyclists, motorists and city officials alike struggle to maintain a balance between the two. But usually, instead of making efforts to find this balance so both bikes and cars are accommodated, cities choose to further restrict cyclists.

Philadelphia is no different. Councilmen Frank DiCicco and James Kenney introduced three different proposals meant to better regulate biking in the city: implement a mandatory registration process that will cost approximately $20, increase fines for riding on the sidewalk or wearing headphones while riding to $300 and outlaw bikes without brakes.

“Fixed gear bikes can’t stop as quickly as bikes with manufactured brakes,” Kenney said. “Bike riders need to follow street signs and traffic signals just as cars do.”

Motorists follow the same rules, he added. Any unregistered, brakeless vehicle on the sidewalk would be fined just the same. The councilmen seem to have opted to treat bikes like cars.

But bikes are not cars. Aside from obvious mechanical differences, each has distinct ways of maneuvering the streets and carries its own pros and cons. Kenney acknowledges this. Regardless, he said they should be treated the same on the road.

Thus, in addition to these proposals, cyclists will now be permitted to ride on Interstate 76 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Each biker will be allowed a full lane in traffic, whether she’s a well-trained racer or a novice on her first ride. And every biker in the city gets a big, loud honking horn.

In a biker’s dreams, right? Of course these ideas seem ridiculous because they aren’t suitable for bikes. Bikes and cars are not often treated the same, so what makes this case any different?

The reason these proposals are problematic is not because they’re impractical, but because they only represent one side and ignore the real issues at hand. Most of the bikers you see on sidewalks use these pedestrian paths because mad Philly drivers intimidate them. If the sidewalks are for pedestrians and the roads are for cars, where can cyclists go? Giving riders ample room on the road might lessen the tension between themselves and the drivers. But instead, these regulations restrict them even more.
The cyclist response to these proposals was almost immediate. Already, blogs and Facebook groups committed to stopping the implementation of these stricter regulations have appeared.

Kenney said he expected this. He suggested bikers “relax a bit” and added that the councilmen are “willing to listen” to suggestions. There will be future hearings concerning these proposals, where all will be welcome to voice their comments and criticisms.

For the last time, bikes are not cars. We as a city don’t allow bikers the same privileges as motorists, thus we cannot hold cyclists to the same rules. Bikers are already at a disadvantage – they’re functioning in a world made for motorists. Sure, there aren’t many restrictions on cyclists currently. But there aren’t many protections either. Riders are on their own and must be constantly alert – watching out for open doors, potholes, drivers who don’t use turn signals, cars parked in the bike lanes, aggressive SEPTA bus drivers and more.

These proposed regulations fail to address issues of safety for riders and will only discourage cycling. Kenney said these proposals aim to let both motorists and cyclists enjoy the public space. While those are good intentions, the city must develop a plan to accommodate both modes of transportation fairly, and according to the specific needs of each.

Sarah Sanders can be reached at

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