Bicycling is not a crime

I remember when I read it the first time. I was surprised, and so are most people I mention it to. Of course I’m talking about the City’s Municipal Code (AMC) 4-26.1. Commonly known as Four Dash Twenty Six Dot One or FDTSDO. It reads:

No person shall play baseball, football, hockey or tennis upon any street, lane or alley in the City or upon any vacant lot or premises having an area of less than one hundred (100’) feet in length and one hundred (100’) feet in width.

Basketball, Frisbee, Rugby, Jai Alai, heck even curling are allowed in the street, but think about throwing the pig skin around, or hitting a tennis ball back and forth and your breaking the law (actually, you’re thinking about breaking the law).

This isn’t some uptight HOA “no basketball hoops” rule, it’s the city’s municipal code. And one can only imagine whose car got dinged by a football to make the city feel the need to enact this rule. But a glimpse into how these things come into being will be seen tomorrow night at the city council meeting on the consent calendar (Item 4-I). Read the whole item.

The item is about a request to expand the municipal code to allow the PD to issue tickets to kids riding skateboards in the parking garage, something they can already do by citing them for loitering and or trespassing. From the staff report:

While the Police Department could cite many of these juveniles for loitering or trespassing upon City property, there is no Alameda Municipal Code section that allows the department to enforce riding of skateboards and other coaster devices within the parking garage or on any municipal owned or leased property, buildings or structures.

So there are a couple of questions that should probably be discussed (they are not raised in the staff report) and they are:

1) What is being gained by adding this new language to the AMC?

The staff report specifically says that these scofflaws (aka teenagers) can already be charged. Why the need to more specifically regulate this behavior? It appears that the issue is not skateboarding but improper use of the parking garage. Does adding this to the AMC mean that all of a sudden teens will know that they are not suppose to do it? No.

2) Are these provisions getting too broad?

So let’s dovetail this with one of my big pet peeves about the Cineplex/Parking Garage projects. Bike Parking. The AMC currently says:

It shall be unlawful when and where posted for any person to operate or ride a bicycle, or skateboard, propelled wholly or in part by muscular power within or upon any public park, playground, or school property in the City or parking lot, parking structure owned or leased by the City. [proposed addition in bold italics]

The proposed change is so broad that it will now be possible to criminalize bicyclists riding to the bike parking in the new garage which (in a really bad decision) was placed at the far end of the bottom ramp of the garage. They won’t be able to ride to the bike racks located behind Tucker’s Ice Cream in the municipal lot across from the Theater either. This goes well beyond the staff reports stated concern of skateboarding in the garage.

3) Do we have the police staffing to be spending on increased enforcement of this issue?

Before the Cineplex opened, an issue came to the council regarding the removal of parking in front of the theater and the need to create a non-traffic lane for traffic to drive in. In response to concerns raised by myself and others regarding safety issues that would be created by this arrangement, APD promised to aggressively enforce laws such as not using the bike lanes to pull around cars turning left onto Oak and not allowing drop offs at the theater to block the bike lanes.

To date, I have yet to see one person ticketed for any of these actions in this area, not even a friendly “keep it moving” when officers were out in front. But I have witnessed both of these behaviors numerous times (and I’m not just hanging out to see if it happens, so it must be happening frequently). If the city isn’t able to enforce issues that the council was told would be aggressively enforced, do we need to be adding to the long list of “don’t”s in the city Municipal Code?

Yes the APD is receiving numerous complaints about “juveniles in the Civic Center Parking Structure,” but do we need more regulation on this issue? And I can’t figure out why the number of calls received for this issue go back 7 weeks before the theater opened (and the garage began to get used). There were a ton of kids skateboarding back when the garage opened, but I haven’t seen them much lately. Is it possible that this has died down now that people are parking in the garage?

There are plenty of vehicle infractions on the books that occur nearly every minute in the Park Street area, just sit at Park and Central for a few minutes, and we are not pursuing these. Why the need to add this new crime?

The only reason that we should be looking at this is if there is some large liability issue that arises if the AMC doesn’t contain this language. And if this is the case, the staff report needs to be much clearer about the need and intent.

We’ve already outlawed the time-honored (and loved) activities of football and stickball on our neighborhood streets (and small vacant lots! Cause by golly, those lots should just be vacant). If the city needs to increase the language about skateboarding in the parking structure, then write a new item in the municipal code that is specific to the parking garage and be done with it.

As written, this proposal has the potential to do more harm than good.

On a related note, the Bicycle Master Plan update will be reviewed tonight at City Hall Rm. 360 at 7pm).