If It Rolls In Philly, It Better Not Be On The Phone

Mike Mooney/The Evening Bulletin/AP i i

As of Nov. 1, those who violate Philadelphia's cell phone measure will face a $150 fine. Mike Mooney/The Evening Bulletin/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Mike Mooney/The Evening Bulletin/AP
Mike Mooney/The Evening Bulletin/AP

As of Nov. 1, those who violate Philadelphia's cell phone measure will face a $150 fine.

Mike Mooney/The Evening Bulletin/AP

This fall, Philadelphia's skateboarders, bicyclists and inline skaters will have to either pocket their cell phones or use hands-free devices, making the city the first in the nation to extend the measure to include non-motorists. While that might be a grind for some of the city's wheeled residents, others are cheering the move.

Walking along the crowded sidewalks of downtown Philadelphia, you can't miss these daredevils weaving in and out of traffic, maneuvering aggressively through construction zones and dodging pedestrians while talking on hand-held cell phones.

In a downtown alley, skateboarders whiz by, twirling and flipping their boards in mid-air. Skater John McCafferty says hand-held or hands-free cell phones really don't make a difference.

"So, if I, like, have a Double Gulp from 7-Eleven in my hand, and I'm talking on the Bluetooth, that's OK?" he asks. "All right, that's cool."

Several bicyclists seeking relief from the sweltering heat in Philadelphia's LOVE Park gather around a tree, wiping their brows and drinking Gatorade. Among them is resident Shara Dae, who says she talks on her cell phone while skateboarding, biking or driving her car or motorcycle. But Dae says she has the experience to do it safely.

"It will just be another annoyance. There's just something else now, and now you're going to dictate to me how I should ride my bike and what I should be doing on my bike," she complains.

But driver Margaret Ciampitti calls bicyclists who talk or text on hand-held cell phones roadway hazards. "I'm driving my car, and this kid was on a bicycle — he's texting. He veers off into my car — I give him the horn, he gives me a hand gesture! How dare he do that to me? He's the one texting and not paying attention," she says. "You know, I'm happy that they are doing this ban before someone gets killed."

Philadelphia has more than 200 miles of bike lanes, but the designated lanes didn't protect cyclist Michael Stersey from a near-fatal collision with a car.

"Somebody was on their cell phone and not paying attention and was driving too fast," he says. "I got blindsided because he tried to pass another car." Despite the bruises, Stersey says he still talks on his cell phone while on his bike.

Resident Michael Connors strongly supports the cell-phone ban. "This town has not stepped up to do anything bold in years — decades — and it's about time we did."

As of Nov. 1, those caught violating the new law will have to dig deep into their wallets: A first offense will cost $150. Repeat offenders will have to dig even deeper.

Windsor Johnston reports for member station WRTI.

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