Update: TPD will also be using plain-clothes officers and unmarked cars to find motorists who are violating the “three-foot law.” Read a little more about it here.

Starting today, Tucson Police Department officers will begin increased enforcement of bicycling and pedestrian violations.

According to a press release, TPD received a $44,000 grant from the Governors Office of Highway Safety. The grant is aimed at reducing collisions between cars, bikes and pedestrians.

TPD Sargent Jerry Skeenes said instead of focusing on stop-sign violations they will focus on wrong-way riders, sidewalk riding and cyclists riding without lights at night.

“We are not bicycling experts so we left it up to the bicycling community to tell us what they think are the hazardous ones and the ones they would like to see enforced,” Skeenes said. “We are not going to go out and try to pick some kind of duck pond just to get numbers. We are going to try to enforce something that will hopefully make a difference.”

Erik Ryberg, a Tucson lawyer who specializes in bicycle-related cases, said he was thrilled to hear TPD wouldn’t be focusing on stop signs, but instead on things he said might actually improve bicycle safety in Tucson.

“It is as if the universe has been turned inside out,” Ryberg said. “I can’t believe TPD is going finally going to focus on cycling habits that actually cause injuries. This is actually the first positive step I have seen the Tucson Police Department make in the several years now I have been following this. ”

Skeenes said in addition to ticketing cyclists they will be on the lookout for drivers who don’t give cyclists enough room or turn in front of bike riders.

So far the main areas that have been identified for the targeted enforcement are the University of Arizona, the Fourth Avenue area and downtown Tucson.

Skeenes said officers see cyclists and pedestrians violating the law often, but don’t have the time or resources to enforce them. He said the grant allows them to educate the community and hopefully make everyone safer.

“A lot of people get away with a lot of violations and they have never been hurt or it hasn’t made an impact on them,” Skeenes said.  “This will, hopefully, be a time where they start saying, ‘I really need to pay attention to what I am doing and do the right thing to make me safer and make the community safer.'”

Ryberg said he hoped the officers would be able to give out warnings rather than write tickets.

“I hope they are going to give out more warnings than tickets because most of the people who ride their bikes on sidewalks or ride the wrong way think they are riding safely,” Ryberg said. “There is a whole population of people out there who were taught to ride against traffic. I hope those people aren’t going to penalized for doing what they think is the right thing.”

Skeenes said cyclists were fortunate because if they are ticketed they have the option of taking the free diversion class instead of paying the fine, which is not an option for pedestrians.

The increased enforcement begins today and wraps up at the end of September.

23 thoughts on “Strict bicycle enforcement starts today; will focus on dangerous riding habits”
  1. I have some problems with this. There are some places in town where it’s safer to ride on the sidewalk than on the street. And there are some places where you have to ride against traffic. Maybe I’ll make a video and send it in to TucsonVelo.

    I believe there is a law thing that says a person is allowed to break the law in order to save themselves if they feel their life is in danger. Dear bike lawyer, does this apply to cyclists as well? I can show you a bridge no sane person would cross using the bike path that I use every day on my bike ride to work. Yikes!

  2. Are these “some places” the only places to use to get from A to B? There’s got to be a lower traffic volume alternative . . .

    Cyclists have to obey the rules of the road as if we’re cars – I don’t believe there is an exception if our life is in danger.

  3. The bridges across the Rilitto on Oracle,
    First Ave., Campbell et al are a toss-up.
    Certainly not designed for bike traffic and
    generally heavily used. I use the sidewalk
    if there are no peds on it because it is
    safer. If there are peds on it, I’ll wait for
    them to finish or follow them….or ride
    the lane if traffic is light. These are not
    the targeted sidewalks, anyway. It seems
    maybe enforcement acknowleges our
    plight at these particular crossings.
    If a list of bridges that fit this catagory
    can be made, it would be a good idea
    for the BAC to get bicycle exemptions
    posted for their use.

  4. I’ve been known to ride on some sidewalks to get to or from a bike rack (the downtown public library, for example) but I ride verrrrry slowly, barely more than walking speed. But I agree there are some places in town where you are taking your life in your hands not to ride the sidewalk. Some of the bridges over the Santa Cruz are pretty bad, as are some of the underpasses. I was nearly killed going under the freeway at Grant once.

    As for Frank’s exemption question, above: you are speaking of the “necessity defense,” which says you get to break the law if not doing so will result in a greater harm. The usual example is that you can invoke the necessity defense when charged with trespassing after breaking into a burning building to save a stranded child. Something tells me it isn’t going to work on your cycling violation unless maybe you can show you were avoiding an out-of-control truck that had lost its brakes.

    Erik Ryberg

  5. My vision of the future of the bike
    route from the U of A to down-
    town is probably worse than most
    people’s, but I see the choice as
    being doored or falling on the tracks.
    How bad would the history of
    instances have to be (in deaths or
    injury) before the necessity defense
    would kick in for cyclists using the
    sidewalk on that route. Parents ride
    with their children all the time there
    and, so far, it’s pretty easy to show the
    city is making no effort to accommodate
    what has or will be lost to cyclists as a
    viable, pre-existing route.
    Where is that fuzzy line and who would decide?

  6. Mike—thanks very much for writing your article and listing the diversion option. That’s exactly the bicyclist behaviors of concern that I advocated with city prosecutor Laura Brynwood, Sgt. Slyter, and Sgt. Tosca to have TPD concentrate on. I’ve also left messages with Sgt. Lopez and another Sgt (can’t remember his last name, but first name is James) who were listed as the folks in charge of this latest enforcement action. Do you by chance have contact info for the Sgt you quote in your article? I’d like to get in touch with him also.

    Good to see the issue of sidewalk riding comes up as a discussion item. There are many good reasons and locations to permit sidewalk riding, especially in particular areas of concern provided there’s not much pedestrian use and certain dangers present regarding the roadway. I think Coghauler should bring this up on the BAC. This is one of the only locations in the nation that bans cyclists of nearly all ages on all sidewalks. Some cities, such as Tempe, permit cyclists to ride on sidewalks as long as they’re going in direction of roadway travel and yielding to pedestrians. Most cities only have prohibitions on sidewalk riding in downtown, CBDs, and university areas. Many cities do not ban youth pedestrians using sidewalks. The one exemption here, due to state statute, is if a child is technically not riding on a bicycle due to wheel size then they are permitted to use the sidewalk (or some folding bikes that have small enough wheels). There are some other specific exemptions, such as one I requested for the Stone Avenue underpass that Jim Glock approved.

    My thought would be to allow youth cycling on sidewalks (we teach them about the dangers to watch out for in our school safety classes), cycling on sidewalks in the direction of traffic and yielding to pedestrians, and “wrong way” cycling on specific sidewalks where necessary (e.g., the sidewalk on Alvernon where we got the toucan approved, some bridge sidewalks such as Campbell, Grant and Speedway underpasses of the UPRR). Most sidewalks downtown would still need to prohibit cyclists although there are specific areas where it may be permitted (e.g., the plaza and bridge connecting from north of city hall to La Placita and the TCC).

    Matt Zoll

  7. Sorry, meant to clarify that for underpasses such as Speedway and Grant at the UPRR those should really only allow cycling in the direction of travel. Another very good example is the 22nd Street bridge over the UPRR. Would only want people to be cycling with traffic on these because when they exit the underpasses or bridge they would be riding wrong way across various intersections.


  8. Does allowing/teaching youth to ride on sidewalks create a problem down the road? Does this just create another generation of sidewalk riders?

    I agree that some problem areas might need an exception, but I’m concerned with a blanket “youth” exemption. Seems like it might be harder to re-train them to ride in the road once they turn 18. Any experience with this or other communities that have this age differentiation?

  9. Report from fellow bike commuter: Yesterday right after work I watched two motorcycle cops pull over four bicyclists in less than five minutes at the corner of Stone and Council (NE corner of Public Works Bldg). All four were riding on the sidewalk (and avoiding the dangerous conditions on Stone). One was on that super wide paved sidewalk on the east side of Stone that resembles a bike path.

  10. Colby–very good question and points. In our elementary classes we teach kids about the dangers of sidewalk riding. However, we recognize that many of these kids will be riding on the sidewalks regardless of the law (which few parents know about or agree with for children). We also teach them to ride with traffic and not opposed to it, whether on sidewalks or in the roadway. Incidentally, there is no law against sidewalk riding in the County or the State.

    We’re starting a middle school education program we hope by this fall. With that program again we will teach the dangers of sidewalk riding and more strongly emphasize riding in the roadway. These kids will soon be drivers too so we hope to catch them at a time when they are getting to be much more mobile through human power and to help them develop a strong pro-bike attitude and ethic as they mature. We’ll do our best to help them understand the issues about sidewalk riding and how to be as safe as possible on the roadways.


  11. Sidewalk or not, riding down against traffic is always dangerous. If you are going down a route that is so dangerous that it is necessary to ride down the sidewalk AND against traffic, you should change your route.
    I’m happy to see this happen, I don’t see any other way to educate bike salmon other than law enforcement getting involved, as most people who do this are already have a certain mindset in place.

  12. I would love to see tickets handed out to drivers who constantly drive their cars in bike lanes or pass way too close to bikers who are riding exactly as they should. THAT would make biking safer. Biking deaths seem to happen way more because a biker was hit from behind by a car, and not because they biker was on the sidewalk (though as a driver/biker I really do hate it when biker ride the wrong way on sidewalks). Either way, as the more vulnerable party on the road, seems obvious to me that if the intent is to make biking more safe, then the focus should be more heavily weighted on the car drivers and not the bikers.

  13. Thanks for the repy…sounds like you’re on top of it. Hope the middle school program goes well – agree that this is a critical age.

  14. Not always. In some places where you have to go around an obstacle (e.g., over the freeway) there is nothing better without riding *miles* out of your way, and one would hope that officers will not be ticketing in these places.

    Then again, one would hope they should be ticketing cars that are tailgating and honking at cyclists, passing you with only inches of room, etc., but it’s a lot politically easier to enforce against cyclists than against aggressive and unsafe motorists threatening our lives.

  15. I agree that bikes should not be on sidewalks, but like many have suggested it’s not a black and white issue. My neighbor just got a ticket for getting on his bike at Shot in the Dark’s bike rack and coasting over to the adjacent alley. Is that ticket really going to make Tucson safer?

    Maybe I’m overreacting, but as Tucson tries to revitalize downtown and promote bike riding they are sending the wrong message with this enforcement program. More signs and some kind of education/outreach campaign would be a better investment of the grant money.

  16. Just got a $78 ticket for riding for a very short distance on the sidewalk by an unmarked TPD car. Was traveling in same direction as traffic and no pedestrians present. Tried to sign up for the diversion program but there were not any openings until after the court date, so they want me to go down to city court to get an extension in order to take the diversion class.

    We need to press the city to adopt something like the Tempe law as you describe, I bet the Mayor and most TPD bike officers have ridden on a few sidewalks in Tucson since they took the training wheels off.

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