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    Memphis group wants to increase traffic fines

    Amos Maki - The Commercial Appeal -

    Memphis has supported a number of grass-roots movements over the years, from the struggle to save Overton Park from an interstate highway, to pushes for bike lanes and a new development code.

    Now, a local group that supports bicyclists and pedestrians is working with a City Council member to increase fines for motor vehicle, pedestrian and bicycling violations.

    Livable Memphis and Councilman Lee Harris say they would like to hike the fines to promote safer streets. The group would like some or all of the fines collected to fund bicycle and pedestrian safety education.

    “It will be everything from jaywalking to bicyclists ignoring traffic signals to motorists who park in bike lanes,” Harris said. “It’s all about making Memphis streets safer.”

    On Saturday, Livable Memphis will host an event to show how low Memphis fines associated with motorist, pedestrian and bicycle violations are. The event starts at 10 a.m. at the Briggs Student Center at Rhodes College. After the 10 a.m. meet-up, volunteers will fan out in surrounding neighborhoods to take pictures of violations.

    “We think that increasing the fines might help change behaviors so that all users of the public right of way behave in a safer, more responsible way,” said Sarah Newstok, who manages Livable Memphis, a coalition of community groups.

    A Livable Memphis comparison found that the city’s fines for motorist, pedestrian and bicycle violations are among the lowest fines anywhere in the country.

    “For every violation, Memphis was far below the average and almost always the lowest fine across the nation,” Newstok said.

    For example, a motorist’s penalty for failing to exercise “due care” to avoid a collision with a pedestrian is $15.

    Failure for a bicyclist to come to a complete stop at a red light results in a fine of $15. Seattle fines a cyclist $103 for the infraction, while Oklahoma City charges $162.

    A Memphis bicyclist’s fine for “failure to comply to the rules of the road” is $15, the lowest in the country. The fine for pedestrian jaywalking is $5, which the group says is also the lowest in the country.

    Harris said while he thinks Memphis fines should be raised, he suspects that $250 is too high for Memphis to sustain.

    “Right now I don’t know if there is a path to getting (the fines) as high as they want,” Harris said. “Either way, we’re going to go up on something.”