Despite the threat of $202 fines, cyclists in the bike mecca of Davis have been known to flout the rules.
“On a bicycle, it’s acceptable to run a stop sign,” said Kieran Noble-Goodman, 21, a junior transfer student. “It’s not like driving a car.”
A report by the city police department indicates that many “officers are hesitant to issue citations for bicycle violations, fearing a significant level of animosity from the public because of the perception that the fines are excessive.” Students at UC Davis, which has an estimated 20,000 bicycles on campus, have long considered fines too severe, at least for those who get caught.
To encourage hesitant bicycle officers to enforce road rules, the Davis City Council took a counterintuitive tack last week by voting unanimously to reduce fines for bicycle infractions immediately. The new tiered bicycle fine system imposes a less-severe $50 fee on first-time offenders.
Authorities hope the reduced fines will prompt officers to issue citations rather than warnings. “The more enforcement that is done, the number of accidents decreases,” said Lt. Glenn Glasgow of the Davis Police Department.
The council relied on a 1993 amendment to the California Vehicle Code that allows local jurisdictions to impose their own fine schedule. Second-time bicycle offenders will face a $100 penalty. Subsequent violations will be charged at $250 per offense. Fines for biking under the influence of alcohol, a misdemeanor, will not be affected by the change, Glasgow said.
“The goal is education and promotion of cycling,” Davis Mayor Joe Krovoza said. “Overly onerous penalties don’t meet that goal.”
Enforcing bicycle rules in this city of 66,000 has proved difficult, the result of lax attitudes toward bicycle laws. The sheer number of bicycles exacerbates the situation. Krovoza said Davis has “more bikes per capita than any city in the United States.”
“How could you catch all of us?” Noble-Goodman asked.
During a one-minute period Thursday at the busy intersection of Hutchinson and Kleiber Hall drives on the UC Davis campus, only four cyclists stopped compared with 12 who kept pedaling.
Wayne Leu, an anomaly who fully stopped at the stop sign, was proof of how effective a fine can be.
“Never again,” Leu said, chuckling. “The fine was $300. That’s why I always stop now.”
Leu vividly remembers the chilly February morning he was caught running a stop sign on his normal bicycle route.
Seconds after passing through a Third Street intersection, the 21-year-old UC Davis student was stopped on the side, watching a Davis police officer write him a ticket.
“You get muscle memory,” Leu said. “It was one of those days where I wasn’t paying attention.”
Glasgow could not provide city infraction data, but he said the most common bicycle violation is running a stop sign. Other regular infractions include talking on a cellphone and wearing headphones.
Glasgow said the city followed the university’s lead in reducing penalties. UC Davis implemented a new system in October 2011 that allows first-time offenders to take a bike safety course for $70 in lieu of a fine. More than 600 students have opted for the online course as an alternative to going to court.
University police officers issue about 900 citations annually, according to campus spokesman Andy Fell.