Chief cracks down on bikes

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Suffolk’s police chief hopes to crack down on people riding bicycles on downtown sidewalks — but first, he has to catch them doing it.

“You’ve got to catch them in the act,” Police Chief Thomas Bennett said. “There haven’t been a whole lot of summonses written.”

City code (86-327) makes it illegal for people to ride bicycles on the sidewalks in a business district, but the code frequently is violated, particularly in the downtown district. However, police officers can’t write tickets for the infraction unless they see the offender doing it.

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“There’s signs up, and we enforce it,” Bennett said.

The issue was brought up at last month’s Downtown Business Association meeting, where Bennett was in attendance. Former downtown businessman G.S. Hobbs said he had noticed frequent violations of the code.

“I just happened to notice that there’s a lot of folks, kids as well as adults, riding bicycles on sidewalks in the downtown area,” Hobbs said in a phone interview. “It hasn’t been enforced, and the police chief was at that meeting and I suggested that be done.”

Hobbs said the practice is dangerous.

“It’s a terrific inconvenience to anybody, but particularly to older people who can’t react as quickly as younger folks,” Hobbs said. “It creates a hazard we shouldn’t have, and it’s something the police should do what they can about.”

The code states that “no person shall ride a bicycle upon any sidewalk in a business district.” A business district is later defined as a block where 75 percent or more of the total frontage abutting the sidewalks is occupied by structures actually in use and operation for business purposes.

People age 14 and older are not permitted to ride a bicycle on any sidewalk in the city. People walking bicycles, however, are subject to the same laws that apply to pedestrians, meaning they are allowed to walk their bicycles on sidewalks.

The code further states that people riding bicycles on sidewalks are to yield the right-of-way to pedestrians and give audible signals before passing pedestrians.

Hobbs says the enforcement of the bicycle ordinance would benefit downtown businesses.

“If it’s there, it ought to be enforced,” Hobbs said. “I believe it’s for the betterment of business in the downtown area.”