Sunday, February 07, 2010

A Lawless Republic

Is Key West a lawless republic?  Well, no, there are plenty of laws, maybe too many.  But it seems that maybe the enforcement of the laws we do have is more a matter of choice than a requirement of the job.

On January 22, 2008 then-Patrol Operations Captain Donie Lee issued a press release that began: "The Key West Police Department warns visitors and locals alike that its road patrol officers have started diligently enforcing bicycle laws within the city limits."

I don't believe that I've ever personally witnessed a bicyclist pulled over by the police for any kind of infraction, yet I see every day that I'm out in Old Town locals and tourists both blithely ignoring the laws that apply to them as bicyclists which, according to Florida state law, are most of the same rules that apply to motorized vehicles.  The most common offense I see is failure to stop at traffic lights and stop signs, followed by passing on the right (a very dangerous practice), and traveling the wrong way on one way streets.  Lights at night is another area of widespread non-compliance.

As an occasional bike rider, I try to obey the laws both for my own safety and to set an example for others who might know about the 'stopping' rule.  If we truly want to make Key West a bicycle-friendly town, we need to show the outlaw bikers (sounds fierce, doesn't it?) that it's in their interest and the interests of others for them to be more responsible when riding.

Or else, the state laws and local ordinances become another instance of 'rules' that are passed then enforced selectively and capriciously to satisfy the community's desire to control those of whom it disapproves, while not restricting others from breaking the law.  Like the open container law, or the seat belt law, or bubba parking permits, or any of a number of other ordinances that are enforced that way.

A few days ago I was traveling down Whitehead St. from Truman.  There was a group of tourists on bicycles, six or seven of them, going in the same direction and they were slowing down the automobile traffic behind by riding in tandem, slowing to gawk at the Hemingway House, then trying to thread their way between the cars lined up for the traffic light at Southard St.  It was then my bad luck to get behind them again as they repeated their actions from Truman Ave. and Olivia St.

It must have been my unlucky day because I passed them only to be caught behind a Conch Tour Train moving at 5 mph while the driver pointed out the trees at Jackson Square and at the Banyan Resort.  There's another little-known, rarely enforced ordinance declaring that vehicles mustn't travel at less than 20 mph on city streets when able to do so.  Follow a tour train around some time and see how rarely they even get to 20 mph and how often they crawl past some landmark or another.

There are laws in effect and ordinances too that I don't agree with, either in whole or part, but in general I try to be law-abiding, and I try to be courteous to others, whether they are pedestrians, motor-vehiclists or bicyclists.  I hope for and expect to get the same back, but I don't always.

One more gripe and I'm finished.  There's another City Ordinance that limits delivery trucks of a certain size to making deliveries before 10 A.M.  The ordinance also specifies that delivery vehicles have to use designated unloading areas and may not impede traffic while parked.  Twice in the past ten days the Budweiser delivery truck blocked off Olivia Street at Duval for upwards of ten minutes while making deliveries to a small market there.  One sees the same thing on Angela St. near Mangoes, sometimes lining up two or three on one side and one or two on the other and completely blocking traffic.

Here's the entire press release from now-Chief, then Captain Lee:
January 22, 2008


The Key West Police Department wants visitors and locals alike that its road patrol officers have started diligently enforcing bicycle laws within the city limits.
This new bicycle campaign is not meant to punish violators, but to educate them on proper bicycle safety.  But after due warning, citations will be issued.
"Bicyclist should be aware that they are required to follow a lot of the same traffic laws as other vehicles do," said Patrol Operations Captain Donie Lee.  "The have to obey stop signs and traffic control devices.  Also a bicyclist can be arrested with driving under the influence on a bike."
Another law entails that bicyclists can't ride the wrong way down a one-way street unless they ride on the sidewalk.  If a bicyclist chooses to ride on the sidewalk, he or she must yield the right of way to pedestrians and must give an audible signal or warning that he or she wants to pass a pedestrian.
Bicyclists are also required to have lights on their bikes at night.  A white light visible from at least 500 feet must be on the front of the bike, and from the back, a red light must be visible from at least 600 feet.

For more information about bicycle safety laws or the Key West Police Department's new enforcement efforts, contact Capt. Donie Lee at (305) 809-1013.


Susan said...

We make a point, when visiting, to be careful about following rules while on bikes. We stop at stop signs, signal our turns, ride single file, and most importantly, don't ride at night or if we've had anything to drink. In part it's because you taught me to be a rule follower, but mostly it's self interest. Nothing would ruin a vacation quite like a trip to the ER.

RumShopRyan said...

I guess people on island just get use to the slow going with bikes and tours. Me, I only visit and don't have patients for such things. Personality flaw. Bikes should be aware of their surroundings and let cars pass.

Gary Thomas said...

One time at the corner of South at Simonton a group of four tourists walk against the red light and in front of my car. I had the window rolled down and politely asked "Do they have traffic lights were you come from?" Then I added "They work the same way here" to which one guy told me what I could go do with myself.


Cayo Joe said...

Well, it's now mid-August and KWPD appears to have done... nothing. Seems like the promised "crackdown" is as evanescent as every other promise from our esteemed city government. It does occur to me, however, that even if Chief Lee DID get the guys and gals in blue to crack down on the scofflaws, there'd be whining and complaining to the CRB and probably a lawsuit or three alleging police brutality, violation of civil rights, elder abuse, etc., etc. Key West is our beloved loony bin after all....

Unknown said...

It is legal to pass on the right on a bicycle as long as there are no cars on the right and it is legal in all of old town to take the whole lane and ride side by side, Florida state law, look it up. And how far are you going, 1 or 2 miles and you still are bitching? Why dont you start the blue newpaper 2 ya old grump.

S/V Blondie-Dog said...

Me does think that you make a number of valid points... however me does think that Budweiser trucks should always get a free pass when making their deliveries. :)

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