By Jeff Shields
Inquirer Staff Writer
A less-motorized metropolis was the subject of City Council bills yesterday – one to allow human-powered taxis, another seeking strict regulation of the city’s estimated 300,000 bicyclists that cycling advocates immediately denounced.
Bicycle enthusiasts yesterday enthusiastically welcomed the advent of pedicabs – the pedal-pushing chariots of three wheels or more that shuttle tourists and others short distances – after Council unanimously approved a bill to legalize and regulate the vehicles.
“It helps residents and tourists quickly get to where they need to go, and provides green jobs for the city,” said John Boyle, advocacy director for the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. The United Taxi Workers Alliance of Pennsylvania, representing licensed cabbies in the city, also supported the measure.
“While I am thrilled about the prospect that this new measure will move us toward reducing our city’s carbon footprint, I’m thrilled that, more importantly, it will create new jobs,” said Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, the bill’s sponsor.
The bill would require that operators get approval for their routes from the Streets Department and carry liability insurance. The city has chased out pedicab operators previously due to the lack of regulation.
The same bicycle boosters who embraced that bill were wary of legislation from Councilmen Frank DiCicco and James F. Kenney to better regulate everyday cyclists.
Kenney’s bill would increase the fines to $300 for dangerous behavior by cyclists, specifically riding on the sidewalk (now a $10 fine) or wearing headphones while riding (now $3). Using a bike without brakes could lead to confiscation by police.
DiCicco’s bill would mandate license plates on bikes for riders 12 and older. One-time registration would cost $20, with unregistered owners subject to a $100 fine.
Those proposals would discourage ridership without addressing the city’s “chaotic” traffic problems, the Bicycle Coalition said in a statement.
Coalition campaign director Sarah Clark Stuart said the city must first enforce laws on the books. The Bicycle Coalition said other cities, including Los Angeles, Houston, Washington, Detroit, and Albuquerque, N.M., as well as Minnesota and Massachusetts had “all repealed laws similar to Councilman DiCicco’s proposal.”
“Enforcement can work, and up to now, traffic enforcement hasn’t been a priority,” said Breen Goodwin, the coalition’s education director.
DiCicco tried to convince critics that the bills were the beginning of a “conversation,” and suggested that everything in the bills was negotiable.
“What is not an option, however, is that the city continue to do nothing when it comes to the regulation of bicycles, the education of the bicycle-riding public, and the safety of pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists,” DiCicco said in Council chambers.
Public hearings will be held in the new year, according to DiCicco’s office.
The Bicycle Coalition later in the day issued a news release advising that bicycle police officers from the Ninth, Sixth, and Center City Districts will begin an education and enforcement program in Center City today.
The coalition said police would stop bicyclists riding on the sidewalk, not stopping at red lights or stop signs, and riding the wrong way in the road. The Police Department will also have vehicle units out on Spruce and Pine Streets ticketing motorists who are driving in, or illegally double-parking in, the bike lane or driving aggressively.
The Bicycle Coalition said it would have bicycle ambassadors on the streets helping to educate bicyclists who may not know the rules of the road and provide tips for riding in traffic.
In other Council business:
DiCicco introduced a bill that would permit only police personnel to park in the 700 and 800 blocks of Race Street, near Police Headquarters. A DiCicco spokesman said the bill was intended to force a solution to an ongoing problem in which police officers and other employees park their civilian vehicles at meters and elsewhere with impunity.
Councilman Darrell L. Clarke proposed an increase in the percentage of recording fees that go to the city’s Housing Trust Fund. The fund has sunk from $13.8 million in 2007 to $8.3 million. Funding of affordable housing has been an issue between Clarke and Mayor Nutter since Nutter became mayor in 2008.
Councilman Frank Rizzo introduced a bill to disqualify tax deadbeats from acquiring zoning variances. The bill would require those seeking a variance for their property to receive certification from the Revenue Department that all of their taxes are paid or subject to a payment agreement with the city. DiCicco passed a similar bill in 2005, though a Rizzo spokesman said he believed this bill included more property owners.