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  • Police campaign hits jaywalkers, cyclists and drivers

    June 4, 2005, 4:33AM

    DOWNTOWN CRACKDOWN
    Watch your step

    Ignoring the rules could be a costly mistake as a police campaign hits jaywalkers, cyclists and drivers with information — and tickets
    By THOM MARSHALL and BILL MURPHY
    Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle


    After laboring for years to pump new life into downtown Houston, city officials are launching an effort to control a byproduct of their success: burgeoning traffic that poses a growing danger.

    The combination of congested streets and bad habits is making downtown more perilous, authorities said Friday, and Houstonians can police themselves or face the consequences.

    The Police Department has begun the first phase of the Downtown Mobility Initiative, designed to educate drivers and walkers about the traffic ordinances — and then respond sternly with those who don't get the message.

    "Our goal is to start with information and education," Capt. Mary Lentschke said as she announced the program. "We plan only to use citations when our education efforts seem to fail."

    The plan drew its share of wisecracks from jaywalkers Friday, including a jurist.

    "It does my heart good to know that the Police Department is focusing so much attention on serious criminals," said Harris County Court at Law Judge Gary Michael Block as he returned from lunch. "Judges now feel safe."

    Members of another group that will come under close scrutiny, bicycle couriers, said the crackdown may make them a bit more cautious, but it won't stop them from using the tactics they need to deliver packages swiftly.

    Courier Ben Mejia said he has been slowing down at intersections since learning of the crackdown, but still runs red lights if no police are around.

    "When you are doing this for a living, you've got to," he said.

    The idea for the initiative began with Chief Harold Hurtt, said HPD spokesman Alvin Wright.

    "The chief noticed a lot of folks jaywalking downtown," and asked for a study of the problem, Wright said.

    Police said that, in a three-week period, they observed 7,045 pedestrians at downtown intersections during morning and evening rush hours and lunchtime, and determined that 25 percent (1,756) violated ordinances.


    Dangerous streets
    The department could not provide statistics Friday on the number of pedestrians or bicyclists killed in downtown accidents in recent years. Citywide, Wright said, there were 1,717 accidents involving pedestrians or bicyclists in 2003, including 108 in HPD's District 1, which includes downtown and other areas of central Houston.

    In the first quarter of 2004, Wright said, 481 accidents involving pedestrians or bicyclists were reported, including 39 in District 1.

    Lentschke, with HPD's special operations division, said the program's goal is to increase safety for the growing number of people in downtown.

    The first phase, which began Wednesday, involves spreading the word about transportation laws and safety, she said. That includes police meetings with downtown businesses, residents and groups.

    Lentschke said police also are distributing a brochure about pedestrian responsibilities and the Downtown Mobility Initiative, with a list of ordinances governing bicycles, motor vehicles and foot traffic.

    In the second phase, beginning June 13, officers will monitor various downtown intersections during the morning and evening rush hours for three weeks. Violators may receive warnings or be given citations.

    Lentschke said $70,000 has been set aside to pay the officers' overtime.

    Fines for walking or cycling offenses can range from $1 to $200, she said. But she emphasized that the initiative does not focus on ticket writing and is not a money-making scheme.

    "If it were a revenue issue, we wouldn't take the time to educate the public," she said.

    Many people view pedestrian infractions as minor issues that police should overlook, Lentschke said.

    But pedestrians who "dart across the street, walk against traffic signals or walk in the roadway" impede traffic and endanger themselves, she said.

    "We have also received a number of complaints regarding bicyclists in the downtown area," Lentschke said. "Bicyclists have been known to run red lights, intrude on sidewalks and weave in and out of traffic — oftentimes make up their own rules of the road. This is a hazard to everyone."

    She said police have met with groups of bicycle couriers to inform them about the Downtown Mobility Initiative and higher expectations for compliance with traffic laws.

    Several couriers making deliveries at the county Civil Courts Building on Fannin said the crackdown will cut the number of deliveries they can make. Many are paid by the delivery.

    "They don't give tickets to people who run bicyclists off the road or turn in front of them from the wrong lane," Mejia said.

    He and fellow courier Jesse Rojas estimated at least 90 percent of their colleagues merely hesitate at red lights and proceed if no cars are coming.


    Inconveniences cited
    Several said the crackdown on riding on the sidewalk is unreasonable. Most couriers use sidewalks only when approaching a destination, Rojas said.

    Mejia said an HPD bicycle officer informed him about the coming crackdown.

    "Actually, he rode up to us on the sidewalk and warned us that we couldn't ride on the sidewalk," Mejia said, questioning whether police apply a double standard when it comes to their own behavior.

    Some pedestrians weren't too thrilled to learn about the program, either.

    "They have more important things to do than to mess with" jaywalkers, said county employee Jack Yuran, after jaywalking at Main and Preston. "It's not going to help. People are going to do it anyway.

    "If you stop, look both directions and nobody is coming, who's it hurting if I cross?"

    Cecilia Garcia, an office worker, said she jaywalked at Main and Preston because of the long wait for the "walk" signal.

    "It's a good thing that they are trying to enforce the law," she said. "But sometimes you are in a hurry and you're waiting for the light to change."

    Lentschke said she knows the initiative is drawing complaints.

    "I've already seen a few e-mails where there's some criticism that we're spending our time on jaywalking, versus robbers and murderers," she said. "But if people think of this as a little controversial, it gets them talking. It gets them paying attention to the subject and maybe that will direct its way into complying when they are standing on the street corner."


    Improvements planned
    Bob Eury, president of Central Houston Inc., said the safety of pedestrians and others has been a key concern during the past 10 years of downtown redevelopment. The benefits of these efforts will be more apparent, he said, when major street work is completed this fall.

    Street work obstructs many sidewalks and crosswalks and leads to makeshift pathways, Eury said.

    "The proclivity of a pedestrian to take things into their own hands has probably been aggravated by the construction," he said.

    The timing of downtown traffic lights also needs to be addressed, Eury said. Construction projects and the advent of the Main Street light rail line have prompted traffic engineers to time lights on most streets to be simultaneously red or green for long stretches, which can tempt drivers to speed up.

    Wes Johnson, a spokesman for the city Public Works Department, said the department plans to begin using a sequential system downtown that allows continuing movement at a relatively low speed.

    This will take a few years, he said, because of the need to replace old switching equipment.

    Dan Burden, a consultant on pedestrian-friendly development, said Portland, Ore., has timed its downtown lights to create an average vehicle speed of 17 mph.

    "If it's possible for someone to go 30 or 40 mph, they're rewarding motorists for inappropriate behavior and punishing pedestrians," Burden said.


    Source: Houston Chronicle
    "Blue Oh-Two" (#424)
    Rick's header, Hondata gasket, Mugen thermostat/fan switch, Mugen radiator cap, Aussie mirror, Lucid's rear speakers, Alpine CDA-7893R & KCE-865B, Muz's saddlebag, Windscreen Light, Modifry's glove box organizer and lots of Zaino!


  • #2
    June 13, 2005, 6:46AM

    WRAP-UPS
    Jaywalkers given fair warning
    By ANNE MARIE KILDAY
    Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle


    Stepped-up enforcement of jaywalking ordinances is scheduled to start today in downtown Houston.

    Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt announced the plan June 1, allowing two weeks to "increase public safety and awareness" through "education and enforcement."

    On Sunday, however, HPD public information officer Joanna Abad said she wasn't aware that officers would begin actually writing citations today — including both warnings and tickets — in a crackdown on jaywalking.

    "I wasn't sure it started (Monday) so I can't confirm that," Abad said.

    Bob Eury, president of Central Houston, Inc., which was supposed to work with the department on the initiative, said Sunday:

    "The last time I discussed it with the police department was about 10 days ago, and I haven't heard anything since."

    "Let me say that we've been urging discretion, and that only the most flagrant people are ticketed for jaywalking," Eury said.

    When HPD announced the crackdown, Hurtt said the department would spend about $70,000 on overtime to enforce regulations against jaywalking, which includes crossing streets at midblock, ignoring "walk/don't walk signals" and walking in the street.

    The fine runs from $1 to $200, depending on the offense.

    Evening rush hour is prime time for jaywalking, when 53.5 percent of the offenses occur.


    Source: Houston Chronicle
    "Blue Oh-Two" (#424)
    Rick's header, Hondata gasket, Mugen thermostat/fan switch, Mugen radiator cap, Aussie mirror, Lucid's rear speakers, Alpine CDA-7893R & KCE-865B, Muz's saddlebag, Windscreen Light, Modifry's glove box organizer and lots of Zaino!

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    • #3
      June 14, 2005, 1:47AM

      RULES OF THE ROAD
      Know the law or risk a ticket

      After two weeks of educating public, police are giving traffic violators citations, warnings

      By THOM MARSHALL
      Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle


      Bicycle messenger Ken Fairbanks sat down in the shade outside Chase Tower shortly after 3 p.m. Monday, unfolded the ticket he'd been issued minutes earlier on Main Street, and said it came as a surprise.

      "I hardly ever get tickets," he said. "There was a person kind of lollygagging along and so I passed him."

      Fairbanks said he and other bicycle messengers who work downtown were aware of the Houston Police Department crackdown on all traffic violations — pedestrians, bicycle riders, drivers — but he said he hadn't realized he was breaking any law by passing a car in the same lane.

      He was ticketed on the first day of the latest phase of HPD's Downtown Mobility Initiative, a plan city leaders say is intended to deal with the dangers of congested streets and bad walking, biking or driving habits. The first phase focused on educating the public to obey traffic laws.

      HPD spokesman John Cannon said the eight police officers assigned to intersections during morning rush hour on Monday stopped 190 people and issued 23 citations, 14 to pedestrians and nine to drivers.

      Three people got citations for crossing the street in the middle of the block and 11 for crossing against the light, Cannon said. Four drivers were ticketed for running red lights and five for "other" violations.

      Officer Charles Russell, working the corner of Texas and Main under the hot afternoon sun, blew his whistle when Penny Mansfield stepped off the curb on a red light. He handed her a brochure about pedestrian responsibilities and the Downtown Mobility Initiative, with a list of ordinances governing bicycles, motor vehicles and foot traffic. Fines for walking or cycling offenses can range from $1 to $200.

      "It'll change the way I walk downtown," Mansfield said. "I'll start looking at the lights instead of the traffic."

      A few feet away, under the awning of the Rice Hotel building, street musician Melvin Dismuke said that more than half the people he sees downtown go by the flow of traffic rather than lights.

      "They've got only so much time for lunch, so much time for dinner," he said. "And the delivery guys have to move fast. And the parking valets have got to do what they do when they can do it."

      Russell said most of the violations he'd seen resulted in warnings, but he had issued one ticket.

      "It's a judgment," he said. "It's all about how negative the person is to education. He (the violator) made it quite clear he didn't care about the peace and dignity of the state of Texas."

      The initiative will continue until June 30 at a cost of $70,000 in overtime.


      Source: Houston Chronicle
      "Blue Oh-Two" (#424)
      Rick's header, Hondata gasket, Mugen thermostat/fan switch, Mugen radiator cap, Aussie mirror, Lucid's rear speakers, Alpine CDA-7893R & KCE-865B, Muz's saddlebag, Windscreen Light, Modifry's glove box organizer and lots of Zaino!

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