ticketing the people biking on sidewalks instead of the prostitutes walking on them

I think I’ve mentioned here before that, each night, our city is beset by a band of petty criminals on bicycles, a little peddle-powered army of addicts that live like parasites on the fringe of society. Most deploy from the homeless encampment on the banks of the river. They coast around town on their bikes, looking for anything they can find that isn’t bolted down; metal that can be sold for scrap, lawnmowers, potted plants, change in the seats of unlocked cars, basically anything that can be sold for meth, crack, or whatever else happens to be on the menu that day in Ypsilanti.

Lately, I guess, it’s been getting worse. For one thing, they aren’t waiting until dark. They’ve been cruising all day, looking for opportunities, trying car door handles, making notes of things to pick up later. A couple days ago, Linette and I watched the same guy go up and down our sidewalk three times, peddling slowly and craning his neck around to see into people’s yards. And he didn’t seem to care what we thought about it. I guess that’s what happens when local jails fill beyond capacity, and we stop putting criminals away unless they’re covered in blood. Well, I’ve just been informed that Ypsilanti Police Chief Matt Harshberger has a plan to deal with it. Here’s the announcement that was released from his office earlier today:

Due to the apparent increase in the use of bicycles to facilitate illegal activities in the downtown and surrounding neighborhood areas, the police department is beginning enforcement of the following laws/ordinances pertaining to bicycles. Please get this information out to your neighbors and fellow businesses ASAP.

1. No Riding Bicycles on Sidewalks in Business Districts — it is a violation of city ordinance to ride bicycles on sidewalks in designated business districts (Downtown and Depot Town). Folks with bicycles can walk their bikes in these areas on the sidewalks, but they cannot ride their bicycles. The penalty is a civil infraction (ticket).

2. No Riding Bicycles on City Streets after Dark without a headlight — it is a violation of the Michigan Motor Vehicle Code to ride bicycles in the street after dark without a headlight. The penalty is a civil infraction (ticket).

My first inclination was to be pissed off when I read this, but now I can kind of see where he’s coming from. Given this change in policy, city cops now will have a reason to stop and question a person cruising slowly down the sidewalk, looking into yards. They’ll be able to issue a ticket, which will establish where and when said person was lurking, and maybe, in the process, they’ll be able to see whether or not this person has got any stolen items on him. That make sense. And, as the Chief points out, it’s already the law. They’d just be enforcing it more strenuously.

On the other hand, it’s really going to complicate life for those of us non-criminal citizens (NCC) who are trying to raise families here, drive less, shop at local stores, etc. I was going to make a snarky comment here about how this new policy would force me to put my three year old daughter and her tricycle into the street now, to take her chances with the testosterone-drunk young men who are constantly spinning their tires and flying by at several times the speed limit, but I don’t have to pull on your heartstrings to make the point. There are other examples.

How’s this for one… My wife and I both like to ride our bikes. On several occasions this summer, we’ve ridden our bikes to either Dos Hermanos or the food co-op to pick up groceries. Neither of us, by the way, likes riding in the road. When possible, especially if Clementine is riding in the back, we like to ride on the sidewalk. This is especially true on Michigan Avenue. So, what’s the new policy going to mean to us? It’s probably going to mean less biking, less local shopping, and more driving. I understand why the police feel that they need to do something, but I wonder if they thought about the unintended consequences. I know that property theft sucks, but I don’t think that now, with the fuel situation being what it is, is the time to discourage anyone from bike riding.

And, before you go to all the trouble of leaving a comment, I know that bicyclists are probably safer when they’re on the road, and I know that bikes on sidewalks can result in the injury of pedestrians. I just also know that this new policy, if it’s enforced broadly, is going to keep me away from certain stores. Hopefully, it helps apprehend enough bad guys that it’s worth it.

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  1. mark
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I suspect that, in practice, very few tickets will be written to those of us who live in the neighborhood. My guess is, more than anything, this new policy will be used to harrass those individuals who appear “suspicious”. On another day, this might get me pissed, as I don’t much care for laws that aren’t administered fairly and evenly across the board, but these guys really do need to be stopped.

  2. Chelsea
    Posted August 7, 2007 at 6:14 am | Permalink

    I think you’re right. Remember, too, that it’s a whole lot easier to enforce a law that’s already on the books than it would be to create a *new law or laws. I’m not sure, off the top of my head, that I have any better ideas. Do you?

  3. Steve Love
    Posted August 7, 2007 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    Read your Darwin. They will adapt. Take away their bikes and they’ll be on rollerblades.

  4. Dirtgrain
    Posted August 7, 2007 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    What else could one do? I suppose keeping your car empty would help. Keep your valuables out of sight.

    You could visually ID the person and then follow him or her in your car to see where he or she resides. That’s risky, though.

    Strike up a conversation with the would-be thief?

    Make sure your dog is visible. If you want to add to the effect, put foam around your dog’s mouth–and maybe some fake blood, and get a chew toy that looks like a human skull.

    Do those “Warning: Dog” signs deter at all?

    Pretend you have leprosy. Just wave at him as he rides by and have a fake hand fall off.

    Put a fake skunk in your yard at night.

    Make it look like evil witches live at your house.

    Sabotage the would-be thief by putting tacks on the sidewalk. Nah–too much liability, and you’d be fighting crime with crime.

    They could set up sting operations. Leave a heaping wallet on a car seat, and stake out the car that night if a would-be thief had ridden by that day. Maybe a neighborhood watch group could help with the initial stake out.

    I worry about profiling.

    Do we have to get our bikes licensed in Ypsilanti? I never have. That could be a potential ticket, too–and a way to verify if the bike is stolen. But I hate the concept of bike licenses, and that might discriminate against poor people.

    Could we make an anti theft-scouting law? Nah–violation of liberty, I think.

  5. egpenet
    Posted August 7, 2007 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    Bicycles SHOULD be licensed. (Another nominal way for the city to make some $$$)

    I saw only ONE bicycle on the sidewalks of N. Huron today. The kid was listening to his MP3 (not an i-Pod) and appeared NOT to be an avid reader.

    Obviously, the word is out.

    What they did before bicycles was park a van on a side streeeet, then cruise the neighborhood and throw stuff in the van and tail out. Watch for this kind of stuff.

    What I’ll really miss is watching guys on bikes from the Burger King on E. Michigan Ave. riding down the center turn lane carrying all kinds of weird stuff on the handle bars or on the rear fender to the pawn shops … chain saws, post-hole diggers, tool boxes, aluminum screens, coppper pipes … all kinds of stuff. All the while Sheriff cars are passing by … and the hos are waving to solicit their Johns. What a life!

    I’ll miss the bike parade.

    But if we got Minzey to close the pawn shops … THAT might help.

  6. maryd
    Posted August 7, 2007 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

    and we are supposed to be short on police to enforce the important stuff. While I love our boys in blue, I have to wonder about this enforcement. My neighbor put out a computer monitor for the junk pickers and instead received a littering ticket from the police…(4th of July week) I was ticketed for a couch that sat a few weeks on the porch before a friend got it for their apartment.
    Continue on your bikes, I too, am way scared of the roads on my bike.
    I say vote no for City Income Tax

  7. Posted August 7, 2007 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

    Speaking as a regular (daily) cyclist and pedestrian downtown, I’m very much in favor of enforcing the “bike in the road” ordinance, but it really ought to be citywide, rather than just in downtown/Depot Town.

    * Biking on the sidewalk is *very* dangerous for pedestrians. I almost daily see bicyclists on the downtown sidewalks cream people coming out of stores or coming around corners, or even when the pedestrian is in plain sight, but the bicyclist is swerving to hit the handicap curb ramp. Rarely are bike/pedestrian collisions fatal, but they can be.

    * Biking on the sidewalk is dangerous for cyclists. Numerous studies show that you are much more likely to be hit by a car when biking on the sidewalk than when biking on the street. As much as 24 times more likely, depending on how the particular study is measuring things.

    Sure, maybe you’re not comfortable biking on Michigan Ave / Huron / Hamilton. That’s cool – bike on a parallel street. Or get off your bike and walk a block to get past the street you don’t want to bike on.

    Mark, from your house, it’s perfectly possible to get to Dos Hermanos (e.g.) and back without taking Hamilton, Michigan, Huron, Washtenaw, or Cross (call them “the scary streets” for short). Sure, it’s about one block further than a route that uses the sidewalks on the scary streets.

    Bikes are vehicles, according to the State of Michigan (and all other Sttes) and should be used as such: ride on the street, in the correct lane, signaling turns, stopping for lights and stop signs, etc.

    Granted, I don’t totally understand the nexus between “biking on the sidewalk” (vs. the street) and “crime”, but I do understand the overwhelming safety data behind biking in the street, and there are plenty of things we can do to advocate for an improved bicycling environment that actually make sense. (And there are plenty of things we can snark about without snarking about “actually enforcing sensible laws that are already on the books.”)

    I think the fact that I’m about to say this means I’m officially a seasoned urban cyclist, but: if you’re scared of riding in the road, drop me a line and tell me where you live and where you need to go; we can find a time for me to come out and ride in the street with you. (Or behind you, if you like – I think “hit from behind” is the most common street cycling fear, though one of the least common actual crashes.)

  8. Posted August 8, 2007 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    Murph’s right, although many of the studies he cites fail to take into account rider skill level, accident severity, location, etc. There are a lot of accidents on multi-use paths, for example. But part of has to do with the fact that people who ride on the road are a lot more skilled than people who ride on multi-use paths. Also, accidents on the road are generally more severe than accidents on multi-use paths (higher speed, rear collisions, etc).

    One of the studies surveyed League of American Bicyclist riders and found that they tended to get into accidents more frequently on the sidewalk. Well duh. When a LAMB rider decides it’s safer on the sidewalk, s/he is probably riding on a _very_ busy road and therefore very busy sidewalk. Comparing a quiet rural road to a busy urban sidewalk isn’t exactly fair. Several other studies makes the same mistake with urban commuters.

    The road is still probably much safer, but we should be skeptical of bad science. Epidemiological studies rarely give us the sort of causal relationship we like. All we can say is that there’s a correlation between sidewalk riding and an increased risk of running into something. :)

    Does the new law make allowances for children riding on the sidewalk?

  9. Ingrid
    Posted August 8, 2007 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    The new law should make an allowance for children riding on the sidewalk. My son is 7; he stopped using training wheels about a year ago. I don’t see how he can get from Depot Town to Riverside Park without riding on the sidewalk on Cross. He’s never had a problem or hit anyone when he rides on the sidewalk. We stop and walk at the intersections with driveways. I’d be willing to drive on the street, but there is no way that I’m letting him ride on the street on Cross. Are they going to ticket my son?

  10. egpenet
    Posted August 8, 2007 at 1:59 pm | Permalink


  11. Dirtgrain
    Posted August 8, 2007 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    Ingrid, are your sure your son isn’t stealing anything? I’ve heard that bicycles are a gateway toy to thieving. Watch for signs: http://www.dkimages.com/discover/previews/990/10090213.JPG

  12. Mark H.
    Posted August 8, 2007 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    I like riding downtown with my sons, who are 9 years old, and we ride on the sidewalk. We don’t steal any property whatsover on these sojourns, but i guess I am violating the law by riding behind them and coaching them on when it’s safe to cross those “scary” streets Murph mentions, and all the other streets too.

    One of the huge problems with riding in the streets in Ypsi, even for adult bicylclists, is that so many drivers don’t want to share he road. More than a few times drivers on Forest Ave have yelled at me to get out of the street and on to the sidewalk with my bike! ANd lots of the streets have places where it is not wide enough for a car to pass a bicylist, and my observation is that lots of our local drivers don’t believe they should have to drive behind a bike: They will pass, even if that means crowding into the oncoming lane of traffic, or, worse, crowding the bike toward the sidewalk.

    The advice to ride dead center in your legal lane is good advice, but lots of drivers will still crowd you. This at least is my experience commuting up and down Forest, and so i often opt to bike home on the sidewalk – where i rarely see anyone walking and always give the pedestrian plenty of room if i see one.

  13. Mark H.
    Posted August 8, 2007 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    and i should add that while some street renovations have added some bike lanes at places around town, most of Ypsi has no bike lanes at all, which compounds the problem of “sharing” the road, as nothing indicates to drivers that it is their responsibility to let the bicyclists use the road….

  14. mark
    Posted August 8, 2007 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

    Just to clarify, it’s not a “new” law. The law has been on the books for some time. It’s just that it had never, until now, been enforced.

    And, Ingrid, I suspect that Ed’s right, and that the police won’t ticket your son, or, for that matter, anyone in Mark H’s family. The law will probably be applied somewhat unevenly. Our cops, as we all know, have more important things to do that bust 7 year olds on bikes.

  15. mark
    Posted August 8, 2007 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

    And thanks for offering to ride everyone around town on your handlebars, Murph. That’s sweet.

  16. egpenet
    Posted August 9, 2007 at 12:00 am | Permalink

    Prostitutes should ALSO have to walk in the sreets … and therefore should pay a license to hook. Soliciting from a sidewalk should be a misdemeanor. (See my McMansions comment for an even more draconian suggestion.)

  17. soundman
    Posted August 9, 2007 at 3:25 am | Permalink

    The other day I watched a bum on a 10-speed with a bent front wheel balancing a dirty king-size mattress on his head and trying to ride. He had swiped it from the old folks home on Cross.

  18. soundman
    Posted August 9, 2007 at 3:36 am | Permalink

    Somewhat related – Has anyone talked to a cop around here that has been decent? By decent I guess I mean in a ‘social skills’ way.
    My only interaction with them has been flagging down patrol cars and letting them know something was going on: Someone breaking into a house, fight next door, neighbors front door wide open for a week straight (in the winter) with no signs of life, etc, etc.

    Every single time I’ve been met with a combination of indifference and the feeling I shouldn’t have bothered them/should not be bothering them.

    I guess having to put up with a lot of the fools around here would make you jaded, but man…

  19. UBU
    Posted August 9, 2007 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    Ingrid — to answer your question — your son will NOT get a ticket for riding on the sidewalk, he will just get his feet cut off.

  20. Katy
    Posted August 10, 2007 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    The morning after I read this post I saw… a police officer on a bicycle riding on the sidewalk along Michigan Ave.

  21. egpenet
    Posted August 10, 2007 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    For a couple of days, bike traffic nearly ceased on the sidewalks. Everything’s back to the usual, including adult males on bikes along N. Huron, complete with saddle bags.

    I’d like to see all bicycles licensed followed by a lockdown downtown and in the Historic District on all adults on unlicensed bicycles … and ticketing of adults on bicycles on sidewalks. Either do it, or don’t.

    All this stuff about bikes … and what’her’names bike racks are STILL empty!

  22. mark
    Posted August 10, 2007 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    I just received this from a resident of Normal Park:

    Dear People of Ypsilanti,

    Recently, the Ypsilanti Police Department issued a
    notice that they will be enforcing the bicycle
    ordinances regarding no biking on sidewalks in
    business districts and the need to use headlamps at
    night due to an increase in crime among people on

    While biking on sidewalks is a dangerous activity due
    to lack of visibility for motorists, cyclists, and
    pedestrians, riding in the street in Ypsilanti is
    often unnerving and at times dangerous due to a lack
    of knowledge about the principles of road sharing
    among many motorists and cyclists, alike (not to
    mention some rough and narrow roads in certain

    In an effort to raise awareness about cycling and
    driving safety, I am proposing that interested people
    form an Ypsilanti specific committee to address issues
    like road sharing, bicycle friendly communities, and
    bike safety. We will also talk about what people are
    already doing in this state and near-by communities
    regarding bicycle awareness. Chief Harshberger is
    willing to assign an Ypsilanti officer to such a

    Interested folks please respond to this email by
    August 16. I will work on coordinating a meeting the
    last week of August once I hear back from people about
    their willingness to participate on such a committee.

    Also, please forward on to other Ypsi folks that you
    think might be interested in such an effort.


    Natalie Holbrook

  23. mark
    Posted August 11, 2007 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    According to the paper, it’s $120 fine. The article also says the “new initiative that makes Ypsilanti the only city in Washtenaw County to actively ban bike riding in business districts,” which isn’t really true as I understand it. You can still ride your bike in the business district, you just can’t ride on the sidewalk.

  24. Katy
    Posted August 11, 2007 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

    Soundman – I’ve had a variety of personal interactions with the YPD ranging from adequate to excellent. However, I’m still disturbed by what I witnessed a month or so ago when officers pepper-sprayed a neighbor (minor) kid, in front of his mother no less. Some are really decent folk, but some could stand to be weeded out IMO.

  25. maryd
    Posted August 12, 2007 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    It is interesting that there is the time and money to bother families and children riding bikes. Friday’s A2 News was ironic, with the front page story about enforcing bike rules as a headline and the crime page showing B&E’s galore! I know that some of these criminals use bikes, but that is a far cry from what I read on the front page. I hope our boys in blue show discretion. (maybe too much time on their hands??)
    I would not ride through depot town except in the early AM before traffic as there are no bike lanes and cars come and go in every direction.

  26. mark
    Posted August 12, 2007 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    Katy, if you have more information on the incident you mention, I’d love to hear it.

  27. Katy
    Posted August 12, 2007 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    I wrote about it on another site, which happens to be down at the moment. I’ll forward you what I wrote once I can retrieve it rather than try to piece together details since it’s not entirely fresh in my mind. I don’t know what (if anything) came of it, since I wasn’t sure how to approach my neighbors about it.

  28. Suzie
    Posted August 12, 2007 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    soundman, *all* the cops we’ve talked with have been very ‘decent’ in a ‘social skills’ way. It’s possible if you flagged them down instead of calling that they may have been on their way elsewhere.

    re: vans in alleys: I would add, ice cream trucks. We don’t have kids, but if we did, there is no WAY we’d let them get ice cream from the ice cream trucks we’ve seen driving around.

  29. DennyC
    Posted August 12, 2007 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    As a resident of the Downtown Area, I for one am happy to see these existing laws enforced. Public Safety is not just about the reduction of crime. My resident parking is behind my building so I exit through an alley. I must stop before the sidewalk and honk to warn pedestrian traffic that I am pulling out onto the sidewalk and stop again before I pull out onto Michigan Ave.

    My car has been hit twice by cyclists who ignore the honk and speed on through the alley/street intersection. Once, after honking and pulling out I hit a cyclist. Fortunately, I was already hitting the breaks for the street as the cyclist appeared in front of my car and she suffered only minor scrapes (no helmet). She never even slowed down for the alley. Cyclists are supposed to ride in the street with the flow of traffic. Had that individual observed either of those regulations I would have been spared the trauma of thinking that I killed someone.

    Cyclists, joggers and walkers alike can all use a reminder that crossing an alley is exactly like crossing a street. You must stop at the intersection and look both ways before crossing.

    Thanks for letting me vent!

  30. egpenet
    Posted August 12, 2007 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    I wrote to Cheif Matt and suggested that we atteempt to lower the speed limits 5mph throughout the city and enfore them, as well. I think it would help with vehicle traffic. And the slower speeds might encourage more cyclers to get off the sidewalks.

  31. maryd
    Posted August 12, 2007 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

    Again today I went out on my bike and it is not safe to ride on the street on either Mich. Ave or Cross St. in the disputed areas, except in the early AM. I did see a few kids riding on the sidewalk looking worriedly over their shoulders. no doubt worrying about a $125 fine.

  32. Ol' E Cross
    Posted August 12, 2007 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

    From the chief’s letter, it looks to me like we can ride our bikes on sidewalks, except in the business districts.

    I ride through Depot Town nearly daily and would have to agree that the foot traffic and outdoor seating make it bad form to ride on sidewalks for those two blocks.

    After dark, we have to ride on sidewalks (but not in the business districts) unless we have headlights, then we can choose to ride the streets.

    This doesn’t seem to be a plague on cyclists. It also doesn’t seem to be a very effective crime stopper.

    Isn’t camping along the river illegal? Why not just raid the encampment?

  33. Posted August 13, 2007 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    I have to say that our interactions with YPD have been …outstanding. Considering that we’re a pair of obvious dykes parenting a runaway teenage niece. I’m grateful that they’ve been consistently professional and even somewhat sympathetic. Sometimes they’ve gone the extra mile and done things like visit the kid at school. At a benefit at Cady’s one of the officers remembered us–not hard–and came up to inquire how our niece was doing. I’ve also dealt with them over numerous noise complaints (living close to Student Party Hell), traffic stops, thefts from cars, anti-gay vandalism at home, setting off the alarm at the Senior Center–even once, a hyperactive 2 year old escaping from a choir practice at my house and getting picked up on Summit. Never once have they treated us as “other” or acted in a discriminatory manner. I’m kind of surprised I can say this, myself. I am generally pretty suspicious of authority, but they have been uniformly great. (Oooooooo, hadda do it.)

    The NPNA got a message regarding this topic from Herschberger the other day saying they’d arrested a guy on a bike with a mass of stolen property in his backpack. I dunno; it just doesn’t seem all that horrible to me to enforce this law. Really, isn’t EVERY law differentially enforced? Look at the black-white ratio in prisons. Look at the laws on public sex; certainly they are used to target queers rather than straight people necking in cars. I think I’m saying that the problem is institutionalized discrimination, rather than bike laws.

  34. Mark H.
    Posted August 13, 2007 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    Just to clarify – i am not too worried that me and my sons will be ticketed on our biking outings around town, and i don’t object to enforcing these no bikes on sidewalks in downtown district rules. Not at all…

    and it is a real comfort, Lisele, to read your comment. Ypsi is such a great town, for all its real problems….

  35. Jill
    Posted August 13, 2007 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

    Tonight at about 11:00 pm, I saw a guy riding his bike on the sidewalk downtown but he had a headlight on the bike. Would the fact that he had a headlight on cancel out the “riding on the sidewalk” violation? Just wondering. :-)

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