You don't need a driver license to pilot a bicycle in Salt Lake City but if you don't follow the rules of the road, you can get a ticket for a moving violation as if you were driving a car.
Salt Lake City resident Art O'Connor found that out the hard way in March. He "rolled through" a stop sign, and a police officer issued him a $40 citation. In addition, O'Connor said, the officer cited him for not having his bicycle registered.
The incident occurred as O'Connor was traveling south on 1700 East near 2100 South. A car going in the opposite direction was stopped at the intersection as O'Connor slowed but didn't make a full stop. When the car moved through the intersection, so did O'Connor.
"I tried to explain to the cop that I was being safe," O'Connor said, "but he didn't want to hear it."
Ellen Gibson was riding her bicycle along the bike route on Wasatch Drive earlier this month when she came to a four-way stop. She slowed to almost stopping and checked to see if there was any traffic at the intersection. There were no cars around, she said, and she proceeded through the intersection. She, too, got a $40 citation.
"If I had been given a warning and talked to, maybe I would have learned something. But now I'm just upset," she said. "What annoys me the most is Mayor [Ralph] Becker saying all this bike-friendly crap. What I've learned is to look for policemen."
It's part of the challenge of making Salt Lake City streets safer for bicycles, cars and pedestrians, said City Hall spokesman Art Raymond.
"Bicycle infrastructure, like bike lanes, helps," he said. "But enforcement has to play a role."
Many bicyclists follow the rules of the road, Raymond said, but some do not.
"The heart of [Becker's] 'The Year of the Bike' initiative," Raymond added, "is to address this very issue: safe biking and following the rules of the road."
Although information from the Salt Lake City Police Department shows 2012 had the lowest number of bike-related citations in five years, law enforcement is not kidding around when it comes to bicycle safety, said Sgt. Lisa Pascadlo. Cyclists will be held to the same standards as motorists when it comes to the rules of the road. Both are vehicles, under Utah law.
"When you are on a bicycle, you are no different than when you are in a car, except you are more exposed to danger," she said. "Bicyclists want to ride the road but, in some cases, want to be treated differently, especially on red lights and stop signs."
When police see a law is being broken, they are required to act, Pascadlo explained. But officers do have some discretion. They can issue a citation or an "educational warning."
O'Connor agreed that cyclists should follow the rules of the road, but he would like to see "even enforcement" of bicycles with motorized vehicles.
That sentiment is echoed by Dave Iltis, editor of Cycling Utah and former chairman of the now-defunct Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Committee.
"If you are driving your car and doing the speed limit," he said, "everyone will pass you."
But Iltis agreed that cyclists should follow the law for their own safety and to enhance interaction between motorists and bicyclists some of whom are ignorant of the rules of the road.
"There needs to be a lot more education [about cycling] in our school system and driver-education programs," he said. "The consequence of a cyclist not obeying traffic laws falls on the cyclist they are the ones who could get hurt."