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  • Writer's pictureDave Shellnutt

Bike Lane Parking: Citizen Ticketing & Automated Enforcement

It’s an everyday occurrence for pedestrians and cyclists — a motorist parked in a bike lane or on the sidewalk forces you to detour into the street — and into motor vehicle traffic. When vehicles block bike lanes and/or sidewalks, it's not just an inconvenience and safety hazard. It’s against the law.

To that end, we encourage municipalities across Ontario to take action and consider employing technology and community solutions like  Bike Lane parking enforcement cameras in Chicago, or citizen led bike lane bounty programs discussed in New York City and Austin, TX.

We represent quite a few people on bikes hit by motorists after having to exit a bike lane to merge with faster moving traffic due to Bike Lane parking. Serious injury can result, and that comes with a huge cost.

Additionally, the substantial investment we have made in cycling infrastructure and its aims to reduce congestion, GSG emissions, etc., cannot be squandered by the selfish tendencies of individual motorists.

In 2022, New York City Councillor Lincoln Restler introduced a bill that would give civilians the power to report bike lane blockers, as well as vehicles that block entrances or exits of school buildings, sidewalks and crosswalks. New Yorkers who submit evidence of a parking violation would earn 25% of a proposed $175 ticket.

“There’s so little threat of enforcement for parking these days that it’s sort of the Wild West in the streets now.” - Cllr Restler

Sadly, a change in council meant the bill has yet to be voted on, but Councillor Restler is fighting on.  In the meantime, NYC’s Department of Transportation has launched a mapping tool to identify problem areas.

It’s likely that civilian enforcement would end up generating more tickets than municipalities currently issue. Revenue for both the City of Toronto (and others) and it’s residents. New York City’s citizen reporting program for idling vehicles in 2021 issued 12,267 reports, with 92% of those reports resulting in tickets. $2.3 million for NYC and $724,293 for the civilians who reported violations.

In 2019, Washington, DC, sought to pass legislation that would have trained a group of residents in each of the city’s eight wards to conduct certain traffic enforcement activities. Austin, Texas, also toyed with the bike lane reporting idea, with the same 25% cut of the fine for individuals who report infractions. It’s unclear if Austin has moved forward with the plan, but in any case, it demonstrates that municipalities south of the border are looking at alternatives to police to keep their bike lanes clear and running safely.

It is our hope that Cities like Toronto will take necessary steps to assess the viability of such programs. Of course, in doing so they must be mindful of equity considerations. We must not surveil and target historically surveilled communities.

Sarah Kaufman of the NYU Rudin Center for Transportation, reports that citizen complaint programs have raised equity concerns. Kaufman said, “wealthier residents tend to call in more and report issues.”

“In every city that has a 311 system it tends to be whiter, wealthier residents who are calling.”

We also need to consider penalties scaled to income. The proposed NYC $175 ticket is high enough to harm lower-income New Yorkers. A person making NYC’s minimum wage of $15 an hour would have to work more than 11 hours to earn that figure.

Police departments, perhaps fearing budget reductions (for work they aren’t doing), have expressed concern of incidents of road rage. An NYPD spokesperson expressed concerns that the proposed NYC law could result in violent conflicts between drivers and civilians reporting illegally parked cars.

We know in Toronto traffic enforcement officers endure threats from angry motorists. That said, ticketing power or not, cyclists face assault and jeering from motorists every single day. Surely, we can look for non confrontational means to help people report infractions safely, from a distance.

While we’re hopeful that automated enforcement and citizen reporting could produce a deterring effect, it certainly should only be part of the solution. Structural changes, tougher road safety laws, public education campaigns, and connected purposeful bike infrastructure must all be part of the solution.

“It’s incredibly tempting to turn to an enforcement scheme because that makes money,” she said. “If this is a real public safety concern then we need to be addressing it, but we need to be addressing it in a way that’s equitable and actually serving the community.” -  Joanna Weiss, co-founder of the Fines and Fees Justice Center. 

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