Police on lookout for road violators

By Deirdre Fernandes
Globe Staff / August 5, 2012
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After 20 bicycle-related accidents this year, Newton police will increase patrols this week to enforce traffic laws and educate cyclists, drivers, and pedestrians about sharing the road.

During the weeklong effort, police will monitor many of the heavily cycled roads around Newton and ticket both cyclists and motorists who violate the rules of the road.

“There’s definitely an issue where awareness needs to improve for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists, too,” said Captain Howard Mintz, head of the Police Department’s traffic bureau. “It’s been very difficult.”

With an increase in cyclists and the city trying to add more bike lanes, Mintz said police thought it was critical to ensure that everybody obey traffic laws.

A cyclist died in Newton in 2010 after he crashed into a car that was stopped at an intersection, according to police. Last year, Newton experienced 31 bike-related crashes and incidents, and police issued eight tickets to motorists involved, Mintz said.

So far this year, 20 bike-related accidents have been recorded. Police have written eight tickets connected to those incidents, and they have gone to both cyclists and automobile drivers, he said.

A 2009 state law allowed local authorities to use the same ticketing process for bicyclists as motorists.

Helen Rittenberg, the president of Bike Newton, said she believes that Newton’s enforcement efforts will grab the attention of cyclists and drivers.

“Unfortunately, there are some cyclists who don’t follow the rules of the road, and there are many motorists who don’t follow the rules of the road,” Rittenberg said. “Hopefully, with citations people start to pay more attention and bike more safely and drive more safely.”

Communities around the state are trying to improve bike safety, said David Watson, the executive director of MassBike, an advocacy group.

Many are opening up bike lanes or bike paths and implementing safe routes to schools, Watson said.

But he said he hasn’t seen a stepped-up effort at ticketing violators statewide.

“I don’t see enforcement happening consistently, for bicyclists’ violations or for motorists endangering cyclists,” Watson said.

In Newton, police will focus their attention on heavily biked areas, such as Commonwealth Avenue and Beacon Street, Mintz said.

On a recent morning, Bela Lazaj walked along the carriage lane on Commonwealth Avenue with her mother and toddler daughter in a stroller.

The lane, a one-way street that runs parallel to the main road, is used by runners, walkers, cyclists, and cars. Police enforcement of road rules would be helpful, especially as bike traffic picks up when nearby Boston College is in session, Lazaj said.

“It gets a little crowded,” she said.

Charles Collins, who lives along the carriage lane, said there hasn’t been enough enforcement by police. Cars and cyclists speed down Commonwealth, he said.

He welcomes the Police Department’s efforts next week to ticket violators, but worries that without more constant enforcement behaviors won’t change. “The city has to get serious about pedestrian and bicycle safety,” Collins said.

With more cyclists on the road, the idea of driving defensively is more important, he said.

“Having to be aware of bicyclists pushes it to a whole new level,” Collins said. “And they’re certainly entitled to their share of the road, but they need to be aware too.”

Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at

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