Downtown's no-ride zone

Two stories in Sunday's Mail Tribune illustrate the changing nature of transportation in the Rogue Valley. One suggested the "young" and still developing bicycle alternative is slowly but surely gaining acceptance. The second suggested that with that acceptance comes an expectation of responsibility.

The first story detailed a move away from the automobile by a small group of people, who among other things hope to create a car-sharing cooperative. Members of the group are riding bikes, walking and taking public transportation to handle their daily travel and hope to share a hybrid car they could use on longer trips.

The group, Ashland Car Share, is — as evidenced by its name — situated in a community more likely than most to embrace alternatives to autos. But Ashland residents are hardly alone in that these days, as people everywhere are looking for ways to beat the high price of gasoline. Medford has increasing bicycle traffic, ranging from people who can't afford four-wheeled transportation to professionals who have made a choice for financial, fitness or environmental reasons.

A lot of those bike riders obey the laws of the road — OK, let's say "loosely" obey the laws of the road. But far too many zip through stop signs and red lights as if the rules don't apply to them.

Medford police are trying to make the point that there's a least one rule that definitely does apply: In downtown Medford, if you ride your bike on the sidewalk, you're setting yourself up for a $100 ticket. City police officers began cranking up enforcement of that rule earlier this month and plan to continue it indefinitely.

As they should. You can make the argument that a bicyclist most endangers himself if he runs a stop sign. But a bike rider on the sidewalk can inflict serious harm to the unsuspecting pedestrian who steps out of a door in front of him or turns just as a bike is rushing past.

The ticket for running a red light or a stop sign can run hundreds of dollars for a bicyclist, who faces the same penalty as the driver of a car. That would be a deterrent, if tickets were regularly handed out. They are not and the result is that bicyclists routinely fail to stop.

We should say we have no objection to the cyclist who slows to a crawl, carefully looks all ways, and then rolls through a stop sign. Traffic lights are another matter — and in either case, the bike rider is risking a big ticket from a cop who may not be swayed by the fact that it takes a lot of energy to get back up to speed.

It's unfortunate that downtown Medford is one of the least bike-friendly places in the city, with no bike lanes anywhere in sight. The city should find some way to rectify the shortcoming by providing at least a couple of safe passageways in the central business district.

Until that happens, cyclists will have to proceed with extreme caution through downtown. They should do themselves and everyone else a favor by doing that on the street rather than the sidewalk.

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