He wasn’t alone. Alexandria police issued about 24 traffic citations to cyclists last week, officials said. More than 300 others received warnings, police said, amid stepped up enforcement arising from citizen complaints. Alexandria Police spokeswoman Crystal Nosal said assorted complaints and comments at civic associations meetings have driven an increase in enforcement of traffic laws for cyclists.
The weekend police presence may have been especially noticeable to riders during the Alexandria King Street Art Festival near King and Union streets, where the brunt of the citations were handed out, she said.
Nosal says cyclists were stopped for everything from running stop signs to riding at excessive speeds and weaving through cars in an unsafe manner.
“Considering the amount of warnings they gave people during the Arts Festival this weekend, what the citizens are saying is occurring seems to be valid,” Nosal said.
Margry said he noticed two unmarked police cars and three officers patrolling in the area where he was ticketed. Around the time he was ticketed, at the end of his four-and-a-half mile commute, three others were stopped for the same infraction.
He acknowledged running the stop sign – he says he deserved the ticket — but the fine, he said, seems excessive. And he felt the police were targeting cyclists, adding “this was definitely a stakeout.”
“I definitely broke the law,” he said. “The strange thing, though, is I feel is that a $91 ticket is a much harder punishment than the crime I committed.”
The longtime cyclist said it is impractical to assess the same penalties on cyclists as those given to motor vehicle operators. And, he said, if cyclists stop at every intersection, motor vehicle operators will become irritated that they are hogging the shared lanes, prompting more complaints.
His complaints are not without precedent among bikers. Cyclists in San Francisco staged a protest in July after residents called for bikers to be treated like drivers in the eyes of the law. Protesters, aiming to show the city how congested it would become if cyclists acted just as drivers do, “snarled traffic almost immediately,” according to a story in SF Weekly. Cyclists say treating stops merely as yields — as the “Idaho Stop law” proscribes — allows them to conserve energy and become immediately visible to drivers, making them safer.
Even more frustrating, Margry said, was the fact that there was little to no traffic in the area when he was stopped.
“I’m not complaining that I got a ticket,” he said, “but the way I got the ticket was a little iffy.”
Nosal said cyclists won’t be ticketed if they just obey the law. The ticket Margry received would have been issued in the same way to a motor vehicle operator.
She chuckled in a phone interview remembering when, earlier this month, a Twitter user said an Alexandria police officer offered words of gratitude about a rider making a full stop at an intersection.
“You know it’s a problem when officers are thanking you for following the law.”