COLUMBIA —A student in PedNet's recent Confident City Cycling class moved to the center of the lane to turn left at an intersection, as the student was instructed to do. A Columbia police officer then pulled the bicyclist over, said Ian Thomas, PedNet executive director.
PedNet instructor Tim Overshiner explained to the officer that the bicyclist was correct, Thomas said, and the officer agreed she should maybe get a better handle on the bicycle laws.
After that, PedNet approached the Police Department about hosting educational sessions regarding bicycle laws and enforcement. This month, the Police Department will be honing in on bicycle and motorist enforcement.
Citing more bikes on the road and injuries that are becoming too frequent, the Columbia Police Department is labeling this month: Operation Share the Road.
The label, which denotes the department's "directed activity" for the month, means police will be actively enforcing bicyclist and motorist laws when not pursuing other calls, said Capt. Stephen Monticelli. Past directed activities have included DWIs or vehicle registration violations.
"We're going to see a lot more bicycles out there," Monticelli said. "I just don't want to see our number of accidents going up because of that."
From Oct. 1, 2006, to Sept. 29, 2008, there have been 37 reported accidents involving bicyclists, including 26 injuries and one death, Monticelli said.
Last month, Thomas said, every Columbia police officer took PedNet's hour-long course about bicycle and motorist laws.
This month's activity is not directed only at bicyclists, Monticelli said, but also will try to make sure motorists respect bicyclists on the road.
"A lot of this stuff is common sense," he said. "It's courtesy more than anything."
Such laws include requiring bicyclists to have a front light and a rear reflector when riding at night. For motorists, the laws include yielding to a bicyclist when making a right turn.
When a police officer pulls over a bicyclist, Thomas said, they'll also hand them the state statutes regarding bicyclist laws.
PedNet has told the city's prosecutor that it is interested in allowing bicyclists to take a class instead of paying a fine resulting from police enforcement.
Rose Wibbenmeyer, the city prosecutor, said she thinks the class would be better punishment but isn't sure how it would work procedurally. Wibbenmeyer also said most people just pay their fine without ever talking with anyone.
"I'm not really sure how that's going to play out," she said.
Columbia resident Brad Eiffert spent about six and a half years in Davis, Calif., a city that has won national awards for its bicycle affinity. When he moved back to Columbia, he said he was shocked when he saw bicyclists zipping through stop signs.
"It freaked me out," Eiffert said at a GetAbout Columbia meeting last week. "It was like anarchy."
Eiffert said enforcement could help bring a modal shift of more people out of their cars, which is the goal of GetAbout Columbia.
"This will be big," Eiffert said. "It changed the entire culture and entire environment in which you rode."