24 April 2011

Two Wheeled Revenue Enhancement?

Tracy Morgan in Cop Out (2010)

Blue states like California and New York are suffering from severe budgetary deficits due to profligate governmental spending.  So it should be no surprise that the Police seemed to be employed to enforce any ordinance to generate revenue for the jurisdiction.

Since the start of the year, the New York City Police Department started cracking down on bicyclists violating traffic laws.  But instead of pulling over the offending cyclists, the cops can use photos tagged on social media sites to contrast with pictures of the alleged violation and then mail them the ticket.   For many, it may be more prudent to pay the fine for an alleged offense rather than waste half a day trying to disprove the negative or having a bench warrant out for ignoring a seemingly bogus citation.

The NYC crackdown on cyclists seems capricious.  The running a red light rap ignores years of custom and convention (and possibly the law) of not enforcing the rule on cyclists. A public safety argument seems silly since enforcement mainly consisted of squad cars cruising around Central Park (which is closed to civilian vehicular traffic) and fining cyclists.  Another example of how arbitrary enforcement is stems from speeding tickets issued to cyclists.  NYC police used radar guns to cite ten cyclists for exceeding the 15 mile an hour speed limit in Central Park. The problem is that for cyclists, the speed limit is 25/mph.

While the New York City Police must be commended for cleaning up the crime ridden streets of the 1970s, it is reasonable to wonder why they are cracking down on minor if not imaginary offenses.  Recently, there was a viral video of police in Brooklyn who had stopped a cyclist but then went after another New York pedestrian for being a New Yorker while the police ignored a drunk stagger across the middle of the street.  Even though they may be some leitmotifs of lawlessness amongst some law enforcers, the problem goes beyond the bad cop paradigm.  This high tech sleuthing for offenses of running red lights certainly is creepy.  But to pin it on acrimony between cyclists and cops from the 2004 Republican Convention seems spurious.  The key may be that it is a $270 fine.

On the left coast, San Francisco is a hub for urban cyclists and thousands pedal across the bay bridges each day.  Well, now San Francisco wants to impose a 5/mph speed limit on cyclists over the iron tower segments and 10/mph elsewhere.  Of course safety concerns are cited.  But pedestrians who are sleepwalking as they gawk, tourists who try to photo and bike and fog creating slippery conditions may explain the accidents involving cyclists.  My visceral reaction is that the rule is less about safety and more about revenue generation. And the $100 fine seems capricious since cyclists do not have speedometers as standard equipment on their bikes.

John Fund wrote a seminal article in the Wall Street Journal about how California is losing businesses in droves to other states. To paraphrase a failed NY gubernatorial candidate, the taxes are too damn high for businesses. But over-regulation makes it confusing and costly to do anything in the once Golden State. The same is true for citizens.  Such a revenue enhancement municipal mentality definitely extends to other issues.

It seems dubious to rigidly enforce such niggling ordinances on citizen cyclists who are doing the right thing using transportation alternatives and can not know with surety if they are in speeding compliance.  If traffic ordinance citations are to be issued, do so immediately by confronting the alleged offender so they can immediately correct their action. Do not use policing powers to be Big Brother for such minor offenses or just to generate revenue.

No comments: