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Santa Barbara Police Crack Down on Freewheeling Bicyclists

Noozhawk: Santa Barbara Police Crack Down on Freewheeling Bicyclists

Officers issue citations to riders violating city laws as part of an effort to curb collisions with pedestrians and vehicles

Published on 9.13.2012

It was 10:28 a.m. Thursday, and a cyclist with a silver mountain bike was pleading with Santa Barbara police officer Jay Benson to let him off without a ticket.

The cyclist had just been spotted riding on the sidewalk along Gutierrez Street, a violation of the city’s municipal code.

“I promise you, I usually obey all the laws,” the rider told Benson, who was one of six officers out Thursday to crack down on rule-breaking bicyclists.

But Benson didn’t waver, and the man was one of six cyclists the officer had cited by the end of the hour.

If issuing a citation that can add up to hundreds of dollars for bike-related violations sounds extreme, Benson and other police cite a recent report from the California Office of Traffic Safety that ranks Santa Barbara as the fourth most dangerous city of its size in the state for bicycle-related collisions.

“It’s a safety issue,” Benson said while pulling away in his patrol car from the fuming cyclist still standing on the curb. “We’ve had bikes hit cars, bikes hit pedestrians on the sidewalk. ... There’s just no room.”

As if to illustrate his point, an elderly man moved slowly down the narrow sidewalk with a walker and an oxygen tank just feet from where the cyclist had been riding moments earlier.

“That’s what I’m talking about,” Benson said, adding that collisions between pedestrians and cyclists aren’t unusual.

Earlier in the morning, a call came through dispatch reporting a bike collision with a driver.

Santa Barbara police were out in force Thursday issuing such tickets in the downtown corridor, where police say a high volume of bike accidents has been occurring in the past year. By the end of the day, officers had issued 59 citations to cyclists, according to Sgt. Mike McGrew.

Cyclist Barhagi Parsa was on the receiving end of one of those tickets. Parsa was cited by officer Scott Naganuma on Thursday while riding his bike on the sidewalk in front of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

“I don’t really understand why it’s a big deal if it’s not a crowded area,” he said.

Because of the high volume of pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles, accidents are frequent, according to officer Ethan Ragsdale, who was patrolling the area on his motorcycle.

Those midblock traffic lights in front of the Granada Theatre? Those apply to cyclists, too, he said.

The fine for running a red light on a bike is the same as if a driver were to run the same light in a car, and the same goes for DUI. Cyclists are also expected to ride the same direction as traffic on one-way streets, and riding against traffic to save time instead of crossing over one street can cost you.

Fines can range from $150 to $400, depending on the violation.

“Our whole goal here is not to punish but to educate,” Ragsdale said.