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Area police crack down on bicyclists

State awards grants to improve safety

Brookline police have stepped up traffic-law enforcement efforts, especially in such busy areas as Coolidge Corner. Brookline police have stepped up traffic-law enforcement efforts, especially in such busy areas as Coolidge Corner. (Matt Rocheleau for The Boston Globe/File 2010)
By Brock Parker
Globe Correspondent / September 25, 2011

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Bicycle shop manager Kurt Johnson will admit that when he goes for coffee at the Jam’n Java in Arlington Center, he sometimes rides his bike on the sidewalk even though it is prohibited.

Town bylaws require cyclists to walk their bikes while on sidewalks in Arlington’s business districts. But Johnson, who works at Quad Cycles on Massachusetts Avenue, said it’s easier to ride than to walk while wearing cycling cleats.

“I’m guilty,” said Johnson. “I ride my bike on the sidewalk when I have to cross Mass. Ave.”

As cycling’s popularity increases, some area police departments say the failure of riders to yield for pedestrians, either on the sidewalk or crossing the street, is becoming a more frequent violation.

This summer, the state Executive Office of Public Safety and Security awarded grants to 19 communities, including Arlington, Brookline, Cambridge, Franklin, Holliston, Hudson and Wellesley, to crack down on those types of violations. Cambridge police issued more than 250 tickets to cyclists over several days last week alone.

A total of $125,000 in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration funds was distributed to help police departments ramp up enforcement efforts focusing on pedestrians and cyclists who put themselves in danger, and drivers who do not share the road appropriately, according to Cindy Campbell, a spokeswoman for the state agency’s Highway Safety Division.

Arlington, which received $7,500, is using the money for a variety of measures, including sending police officers in plain clothes through crosswalks to see whether drivers and cyclists stop for pedestrians, said Officer Corey Rateau.

The department is also attempting to crack down on cyclists who violate traffic laws, such as riding on sidewalks in Arlington Center, where the Minuteman Bikeway crosses Massachusetts Avenue.

Rateau said cyclists obeying traffic laws is always a “hotbed” topic, but with the rising popularity of cycling there has been an uptick in violations.

The biggest complaints, the Arlington officer said, involve cyclists ignoring red lights and not yielding to pedestrians in crosswalks.

However, Johnson said he thinks the majority of cyclists obey traffic laws.

Chad Gibson, cochairman of the East Arlington Livable Streets Coalition, which advocates for a number of pedestrian and cyclist issues, said he has not heard that riders failing to yield for pedestrians is a serious problem in town, but has no doubts there are complaints.

Gibson said improving crosswalk safety is important, and targeting jay-walkers, speeding cars, or cyclists brazenly running red lights is a good idea.

“The law is very clear about pedestrians in a crosswalk, everyone should yield for them,” Gibson said. “They are the most vulnerable road users, and there are no excuses on the part of motorists or cyclists to put them in danger.”

Brookline has had a significant increase in the number of cyclists in the past year, and in turn police have seen more problems with cyclists running into pedestrians, according to Captain Michael Gropman.

Some of the accidents occur because cyclists and pedestrians are using their cellphones or other devices, and aren’t paying attention to their surroundings, he said.

“What we’ve found is the pedestrians or the bikes don’t obey the rules as well as the vehicles do,” Gropman said.

Brookline received $7,500 from the state to address bicycle and pedestrian safety. Gropman said his department has used the money for nine rounds of enforcement, which resulted in 42 citations and more than 80 written or verbal warnings. He said police have been focusing on densely populated areas in North Brookline.

Local cyclists aren’t the only ones that police are trying to reach.

Bicyclists commuting to work in Boston and Cambridge from communities as far away as Wayland, Concord, and Lincoln are also contributing to an increase in complaints to Cambridge’s police force, said Sergeant Paul Timmins.

The Cambridge department, which received $10,000 from the state, launched a coordinated enforcement program across the city last week that resulted in more than 250 tickets being issued to bicyclists between Monday and Wednesday afternoon, spokesman Dan Riviello said.

Cyclists were given citations for violating a number of city ordinances, including running red lights, failing to stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk, and riding a bicycle at night without a light, said Riviello.

Police also issued approximately 65 warnings and citations to motorists as part of the enforcement effort.

The cyclists, pedestrians and motorists who were stopped by police last week were also given roadway safety pamphlets, Riviello said. The city used grant money to print the pamphlets and produce a public service announcement that can be viewed online at www.youtube.com/CambridgePolice.

In less urban areas, where the volume of cyclists is not as great, some communities such as Wellesley and Holliston are using their state grants to focus on pedestrian crosswalk issues and improving bicycle safety practices.

Holliston’s Police Department has used its $5,000 grant from the state to provide additional education about pedestrian and bicycle safety, according to Lieutenant Keith Edison.

He said the town’s campaign focuses on educating cyclists about wearing helmets and obeying traffic laws, and reminding them that they have to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalks the same as cars do.

That’s a theme Brookline police are using with signs placed along Beacon Street for cyclists and motorists that say “Same road, same rules,” Gropman said.

With Boston launching its Hubway bicycle sharing system over the summer, and Brookline and Cambridge preparing to join the regional network in the next year, the number of bikes on the road is expected to increase.

Gropman said at some point the numbers should begin to level off, but it’s important for police to keep up education and enforcement efforts because “the bikes are here to stay.

“It only takes one mistake for someone to end up on the hood of a car,” he said.

Brock Parker can be reached at brock.globe@gmail.com.