LONG BEACH TOWNSHIP — Howard Hait was pedaling along on his bicycle on Ocean Boulevard toward Beach Haven — during one of those stale summer days fit for a bike breeze.
The 55-year-old has experienced a lot of those days along Long Beach Island. He’s a summer resident in Ship Bottom.
As Hait pedaled, he approached a stop sign. The 55-year-old slowed ...
Looked for traffic ...
Continued on his way.
His foot never touched the ground — an incomplete stop. So when Hait rounded the corner, he was greeted with what he called “a sting operation,” a yellow-shirted officer on a bike.
“He pulled me over and asked if I knew what I did, and I said, ‘not really,’” Hait said. “He lectured me and told me that he could give me a summons if he wanted to. Then he offered me a pamphlet. He had a real attitude.”
Police departments in the region’s shore communities are using education instead of writing tickets this summer, hoping to teach riders to obey traffic laws. Officials hope the lessons will reduce the number of injuries because of accidents involving bicyclists.
About 20 such accidents have been reported this summer across Long Beach Island — consistent with last year’s totals, said Lt. Paul Vereb, of the township’s Traffic Safety Unit. Some of the bicyclists were critically injured.
“Over the last 10 years, we’ve had more bicyclists struck than pedestrians, so it’s on the (rise),” Vereb said.
That trend was reflected in a July 31 accident in Atlantic City, when Robert Parker, a city resident, was struck by a jitney. Officials later said Parker was going the wrong way, traveling east against traffic on Atlantic Avenue when he disregarded a red light, causing the collision.
But when you’re on vacation, riding a 21-speed Schwinn, bike laws usually aren’t a main priority.
Ocean City Police Lt. Steve Ang attributes some of the problems to riders’ ignorance of state laws.
“What you find is that most bicyclists, although they are required to obey New Jersey traffic code, the large majority don’t obey those rules,” Ang said. “I would say bicyclists think they are pedestrians and they have the right of way as a pedestrian does, and I think that creates confusion for the rider and motorists who are yielding to bicyclists.”
Ang said Ocean City has experienced one minor accident involving a bicyclist this summer. The bicyclist wasn’t at fault since the driver didn’t see the bicycle.
“Fortunately, I think our roadways are conducive to slow speeds,” Ang said. “When you’re driving 25 miles per hour or less, you have more of a chance to see a bicycle.”
Bike routes also have helped, Ang said. A few years ago, Ocean City opened a bicycle-friendly road on Haven Avenue from 9th to 34th Streets. Now, the city’s bicycle committee is establishing a bike route through the full length of town.
“It’s a long-term process,” Ang said.
That process has been successful for Brigantine, where police Lt. Jim Bennett said problems with bicyclists not adhering to traffic laws have been minimal because of a designated bike path on Brigantine Avenue. He said there have been no accidents involving bicyclists this summer.
“The biggest problem has been bikers riding against traffic and riding double in the bike lane and protruding into lanes of traffic,” Bennett said.
He said reports of these incidents have dropped off significantly since the beginning of the summer, when the Police Department launched a bicycling education campaign.
On Long Beach Island, Long Beach Township Police Chief Michael Bradley said the enforcement and education efforts were increased because bicyclists ignore stop signs and red lights and ride in the wrong direction against traffic. Vereb said the township’s stepped-up enforcement was requested by Mayor Joseph Mancini and Board of Commissioners.
“We started doing it this summer and a lot of people have been complaining that it’s harassment. It’s not,” Vereb said. “If we had cars going in the wrong direction and running red lights, we would pull them over, too.”
Hait likes the education initiative and is supportive of police issuing summonses if things get out of hand — just not to him.
“I most certainly do think there is a problem with bicyclists not following the law, but it has nothing to do with 55-year-old bicyclists like me,” Hait said. “Riding in the wrong direction and children not wearing helmets continues to be a problem. But my opinion is that they’re clearly targeting adults because they can write them tickets. You can’t write a ticket to a child.”
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