Bike rules aren’t new, police say

Oct. 8, 2010, 3:02 a.m.

Students lately may have noticed large light-up signs around campus proclaiming, “Helmets save brains.” Coupled with rumors last month, including a post on The Unofficial Stanford Blog, that undercover Stanford police officers were issuing more bike tickets, bike safety may seem more at the forefront of Stanford’s streets and sidewalks.

But neither safety reminders nor tickets are new techniques, says Deputy Sheriff Allen James of the Department of Public Safety (DPS). They’re simply part of Stanford’s Bike Diversion Program, which began as an educational project between DPS and Parking & Transportation services (P&TS) in 2008.

Bike rules aren't new, police say
Stanford's bike problems are still rampant said campus police. (NIC DAHLQUIST/The Stanford Daily)

Through the program, bicyclists who receive citations can attend a bike safety presentation instead of paying a fine or going to court.

“We’ve always recognized that we do have a bicycle problem here,” said James, who heads the program. “Bicyclists don’t obey the law.”

The program formed to change the enforcement of bicycle violations from a punitive to a more educational system, he said.

The classes, which teach fundamental bike safety, are held twice a month and are open to the public, attracting “a lot of people who just want the education,” James said.

Although James reports that the number of ticketed bikers has remained relatively stable over the past three years, there was a marked increase immediately after the Diversion Program’s installment.

Many police officers were more lenient before the program’s onset because fines for a ticket, which can reach amounts upward of $180, could be expensive for college students, James said. But since the diversion program intended to increase bike safety education, these same authorities have since lost their sympathy.

A chief concern of DPS is helmet use, or the lack thereof, which the electronic signs aim to mitigate. The death of Yichao Wang is a grim reminder: the Ph.D. student died in February after he collided with a car on Palm Drive while he was bicycling without a helmet.

“We are getting more helmet usage out there, but we still have a long way to go,” James said. “It’s strictly a cultural thing. We have to do something to change the culture. Right now, it’s not cool.”

Not all students’ disregard of police warnings is rooted in rebellion. Some complain about not knowing where to place helmets or that the tendency to follow the flow of traffic might make things difficult for bicyclists who do wish to follow the rules.

“I stop at stop signs, and I obey all traffic signals, but no one else does,” said Sheta Chatterjee ‘14. “That’s what scares me. Trying to do the right thing makes you end up getting in an accident.”

In fact, pedestrians, not just bicyclists, need to be aware of their surroundings, said Sean Troxel ’14, who chooses to wear a helmet any time he’s biking between 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.—what he feels are peak traffic hours.

“Pedestrians are walking bike problems,” he added. “They don’t know what’s going on.”

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