A Charleston police motorcycle officer stopped at least three bicyclists Thursday morning on King Street and issued them tickets for riding on the wrong side of the street, said Tom Bradford, director of Charleston Moves, a bicyclist advocacy group.
Those are the ones Bradford saw with his own eyes, but he's heard chatter in the cycling community that police are handing out more tickets. Are police conducting a crackdown on bicyclists?
Not so, said Lt. Chip Searson, supervisor of the city's traffic division.
No one has ordered stepped-up enforcement of bicycle traffic laws, he said. Police are trying to educate the public, those who ride on bicycles and those who drive cars, about the importance of safe bicycling, Searson said.
"Folks riding on a bicycle are bound by the same laws as folks driving a car," Searson said. "Of the six (traffic) fatalities we've had in the city since Dec. 18, 2009, three of them have involved bicycles."
Bradford said Charleston Moves met more than a year ago with city Police Chief Greg Mullen to discuss more intense enforcement of laws for bicyclists.
"We don't want people killed," Bradford said. "We want the laws enforced for the safety of the bicyclists and the safety of the motorists and for order on the streets."
Master Police Officer Brad Wilson, a supervisor of the motorcycle units, said the July 21 automobile-bicycle collision that killed bicycling advocate Edwin Gardner was a turning point, for himself and other traffic officers.
"That was a real big eye-opener for me," Wilson said. He was one of the fatality team investigators in the case, which ended with the vehicle driver being found at fault.
"We want to educate everybody, not just the people who ride bicycles on a daily basis," he said.
Wilson said many bicyclists he's pulled over for running stop lights or stop signs did not realize they had to obey the same traffic laws as drivers of automobiles. "Our job is to educate them," he said.
Peter Wilborn, a Charleston attorney and bicycling advocate, said he thinks police are cracking down.
"As long as the desire is not to be punitive, if it's to be educational, it's a good thing," Wilborn said. "We'll have to see if it makes things safer."