Bicycle harassment debate far from over

Thursday, July 9, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 9:31 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 9, 2009

COLUMBIA – Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade says public discourse is the answer to the growing split between bicyclists and motorists in Columbia.

At the July 6 meeting, Wade said the City Council may have acted too hastily in its decision to pass the bicycle harassment ordinance and recommended the council suspend it.

"My goal is not to repeal the ordinance, but to put it on hold, pause a bit and start listening and thinking," he said in an interview.

Wade said he's heard comments about the building of a backlash against cyclists in Columbia. He said some citizens were upset about how "one small, specific group has gotten an undue amount of council support." Wade was referring to Columbia's recent promotion of infrastructure that facilitates nonmotorized transportation, specifically GetAbout Columbia.

He said he thought the passing of the ordinance was the last straw in the brewing dispute and acted as a catalyst, evoking strong public disapproval of the council's supposed catering to cyclists.

Ian Thomas, executive director of the PedNet Coalition, said his group never foresaw the council potentially reversing the ordinance.

"We've been upset at Councilman Wade's decision to suspend the ordinance," Thomas said. "We're not making this into a contest between cyclists and motorists, but there's nothing in the ordinance that any reasonable person would object to."

Thomas said that this was a very specific ordinance with a very specific purpose.

"If a person in a vehicle taps their horn to alert a bicyclist that they're going to pass them, that's OK," he said. "If a person chooses to ride the cyclist closely while laying on the horn, that's not. There's a huge difference."

He said the ordinance addresses this kind of behavior and that education would help immensely. He urges those who are outspoken against it to read it for what it is.

Thomas said that the ordinance was a good step forward to achieving PedNet's vision of a multi-mobile community, as well as providing police with a more fitting punishment for violators.

"The police aren't going to charge a person with third-degree assault if a car swipes a bicyclist and he or she falls ... they're just not," he said.

Although Thomas agrees that tension has been brewing over the last few weeks between cyclists and motorists, he said it sends a bad message for the council to second-guess itself.

Wade wasn't the only one to have second thoughts after the ordinance's passing. At the July 6 meeting, Second Ward Councilman Jason Thornhill said he felt a little hesitant about voicing his own unease with the ordinance.

"Jerry and I both had similar feelings about the ordinance in general, but he addressed it first and put it in the best light," Thornhill said.

Prior to the meeting, he experienced similar static in the community, especially from his constituents.

"I started receiving numerous phone calls and e-mails about this," Thornhill said. "People who recognized me were stopping me and asking, 'Why are you doing this?'"

Thornhill admitted that he would have voted differently had it not been for the overwhelming amount of supporters of the ordinance showing up to the June 15 public hearing.

"The general feeling at the public hearing swayed me, and I voted with the momentum of the movement," he said.

Thornhill said that had there been a representative number of people at the public hearing who opposed the ordinance, he would have voted differently.

Jill Mackey, current secretary for the Columbia Bicycle Club, said she's been to other communities that have done much better than Columbia to protect cyclists by enacting ordinances similar to the one that is up for suspension.

"I support the ordinance," Mackey said. "Some people are aggravated if it takes 10 seconds out of their life to pass you, and then they deliberately swipe by you with their vehicle. It's assault, that's the only word for it."

Bob Smith, also of the Columbia Bicycle Club, said this certainly proves that Columbia is not a "bike-friendly" town.

"If the good councilman wants to declare war on bikers, then maybe we need to organize together to fight back," Smith said.

Avid cyclist Rick Meridith said the whole ordeal is "just a misunderstanding."

Meridith, who's been cycling for 15 years and supports the ordinance, said "bicyclists have to be more responsible than automobiles, respectfully."

Karen Bataille, president of the Columbia Bicycle Club, doesn't know if the ordinance will do any good. She mentioned that laws don't stop people from running red lights.

"All communities have bad players, motorists and cyclists," she said. "Bottom line: we need to either educate more, or expand the ordinance to include those outside of cyclists, like pedestrians and people in wheelchairs."

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Charles Dudley Jr July 9, 2009 | 5:19 a.m.

This ordinance should never have come into being. There are laws already in place on the Missouri books. This was put into place just to pacify if not temporarily a tiny majority of the community.

Where I grew up in the 70's and 80's there were alot of people who rode their bikes to work alot and those roads were far more dangerous than the streets of Columbia with shear drops off and no shoulders along the road sides. There were alot of bikes on the road then just as there are now. Only difference here is they are more condensed into the City limits. Those bicyclists did not go to the cities nor the county to get ordinances passed as we see now here in Columbia. What they did was man or woman up and rode and had responsibility just like other motorists are supposed too.

Maybe that is what the cyclists need to do here is just man and woman up and act responsible for a change just like other motorists do.

It would definitely help as well if CPD when they see cyclists violations stop and ticket these rouge riders for their violations. Everyday in both papers we see citizens commenting about some cyclist breaking a traffic law and a CPD watching it happen with nothing being done. There is a major issue in itself that needs to change.

Thank you to the Missourian staff for allowing me to post here as comments like the one above often get deleted or your account banned over on the Tribune.

(Report Comment)
Greg Collins July 9, 2009 | 8:10 a.m.

"Bob Smith, also of the Columbia Bicycle Club, said this certainly proves that Columbia is not a "bike-friendly" town.
"If the good councilman wants to declare war on bikers, then maybe we need to organize together to fight back," Smith said."

ROTFLMAO ... what a drama queen.

(Report Comment)
Karen Bataille July 9, 2009 | 8:51 p.m.

I'm tired of all the posts about cyclists not obeying traffic laws. Hmmm wonder why we need red light cameras? Must be for all those law abiding motorists!

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro July 9, 2009 | 9:16 p.m.

("At least half of all collisions between bicycles and motor vehicles are the fault of the rider of the bike. These mistakes could be prevented through understanding the traffic laws and through greater care in riding the bicycle.

Cyclist Errors Which Cause Automobile-Bicycle Collisions

Most collisions between bicycles and motor vehicles don't happen just by chance; instead, they are bought about by a misunderstanding of how traffic works. This page focuses on dangerous traffic situations which could result in collisions, injuries, and even death due to the fault of the bike rider. Another page looks at the kinds of accidents caused by motorists. I also have a page discussing all the types of bicycle-motor vehicle crashes and another page discussing how to ride safely in traffic. At the bottom of this page are links to illustrated pages elsewhere. On this page, I will 1) explain which cycling behaviors are unsafe, 2) provide diagrams to show various situations in which the cyclist endangers himself or herself, 3) explain what is happening in the diagram and why the behavior is unsafe, and 4) provide a safer alternative.

Here are some of the errors that bike riders frequently commit which greatly increase the chances of a collision with a motor vehicle:

1. They do not follow the traffic laws for vehicles when operating a bicycle. Instead,
a) they may use the traffic laws for pedestrians and thus ride on the sidewalks or the wrong way on the streets,
b) they may follow the traffic code for vehicles part of the time but not all of the time,
c) they may adopt a policy of hiding from motor vehicles rather than riding in the traffic lanes,
d) they may be guerilla cyclists deliberately breaking the law,
e) or they just might not think about how they are behaving.
2. They don't have lights mounted on their bikes when riding at night.
3. They ride along in the gutter or weave in and out between cars.
4. They don't pay attention to nearby vehicles.
5. They haven't learned how to control their bicycles effectively.
6. They panic when motor vehicles approach.
7. They don't keep the bike in sound mechanical condition.
8. They ride when too tired (or even drunk) to do so safely.")
source and more:

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro July 9, 2009 | 9:44 p.m.

Cyclists will be more respected by the vehicular motorist community when bicycles display a license plate, receive and pass a road rider class and test, purchase nominal insurance and wear helmets, knee pads and other protective gear.
Proper illumination of their bikes in the evening and at night should also be required. Also, get a horn.
PedNet and GetAbout should also partner with either AAA or some other "Motorist" club to build bridges with the motoring majority. Instead they flaunt a 25 million dollar grant and cram "If You Don't Drive A Bicycle You Are Not Worthy" down the throats of car owners.
There have been "bicycle path" designation signs along our streets and roads on metal posts for decades. Bicycles have been around Columbia on campus and elsewhere for decades. Perhaps the problem lies with our mayor, his son-in-law, Ian Thomas, Robert Johnson and PedNet/GetAbout.
The motorist majority is tired of the preferential treatment and overzealous attitude of a cycling community which tolerates unlicensed, unplated, haphazard, irregular, obnoxious, unpredictable, daredevil, circus-driving, horizontal filed, traffic signal ignored, passsing on the right, pompous, elitist, police-ignored, college students, hippy, mountain-men, "homeless," vagrants who mix-in with the few decent bike riders, who did not need PedNet or GetAbout for anything in the first place.
There was already bicycle infrastructure. It's called the ground.
The city council needs to rescind this redundant one-sided ordinance and bring motorists into the fold as allies if a solution of tolerance and understanding is to be achieved.

(Report Comment)
terry bura July 10, 2009 | 12:51 a.m.

Where is the MAYOR in all this, this is his project. You, the city fathers don't put these bicycle's on the sidewalks so why do you put them on a street designed for motor vehicles. The painted bicycle lanes go to a bridge, break, and continue on the other side??? Thursday night about 8:30 pm I met two adult cycleist on the street riding in dark clothes, helmet and NO LIGHTS on the bicycle. Dumb question, What is the actual dollors spent per cycle rider in this seasonal activity? By the way city council when are you going to start buying right of ways so I can drive my snowmobile in town?? Thanks Mayor

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro July 10, 2009 | 3:12 a.m.

@terry bura:
Snowmobiles are cool.
Seasonal, but cool nevertheless.
Maybe we should pattern this city after Colorado, instead of Oregon.
Then we'd

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking July 10, 2009 | 3:44 a.m.

Ray wtore (again):

"Cyclists will be more respected by the vehicular motorist community when bicycles display a license plate, receive and pass a road rider class and test, purchase nominal insurance and wear helmets, knee pads and other protective gear.
Proper illumination of their bikes in the evening and at night should also be required. Also, get a horn."

No. Wrong. YOU would respect them more if they did all this stuff. I'd imagine not one driver in 500 gives it more than a fleeting thought.

Can't you find something better to do than writing your endless posts accusing bicyclists of being the greatest road hazard the world has ever known? Because accident statistics do not bear out your argument. By far, the greatest hazard to motorists is other motorists.

All you're doing is stirring the pot for your own entertainment. Got boredom?

I hope we have a nice little gasoline shortage this summer. I'll enjoy thinking of Ray, sitting in a gas line or at home, jonesing for his fix, so he wouldn't have to actually EXPEND ENERGY to get to the store or elsewhere. EXPENDING ENERGY is just so, well, 19th century.

Because of that, EXPENDING ENERGY for transportation will become so 21st century also, and motorists will have no one to blame but themselves.


(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro July 10, 2009 | 4:16 a.m.

I'll give you my car when you take it from my cold, dead hands ...

(Report Comment)
marvin saunders July 10, 2009 | 4:16 a.m.

I Don't swerve for animals or people on bikes.So think about it when you come to a pot-hole which columbia has alot of.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr July 10, 2009 | 4:51 a.m.

If you want an example of the cheap paint being used on these bicycle tattoos around the city just look at any new area that has been redone and watch how fast that paint has fades.

Another case of keeping Paul the Painter in business.

I wonder if GetAboutColumbia serves Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ Sauce with their Pork?

(Report Comment)
Dave Jones July 11, 2009 | 9:00 a.m.

"I Don't swerve for animals or people on bikes.So think about it when you come to a pot-hole which columbia has alot of."

You are the reason we need to get the harassment ordinance passed. Think about that.

(Report Comment)
joe adamski July 13, 2009 | 3:29 p.m.

Heavens no, lets not have an ordinance on the books that protects a specific group of citizens, extending their rights to use the commons, such as roads they pay for. It might set a bad precident.

Were that thinking extended nationally, we probably would not have civil rights laws, voting rights, womens rights. This BS arguement is as old as they come, and totally wrong headed.

I thought the USA, as well as its citizens had got past that in the past 50 years.

Also, the arguement that somehow cyclists don't already pay for the use of roads because they don't pay gas tax is a red herring tossed out so much it makes the place smell like a fish market. Gas taxes pay mostly for Federal& State Highways. Local streets are funded over 80% by local taxes. And most cyclists are motorists too. The little white stripe on the shoulder is typically the only facilities most cyclists get. Whether shoulders are used for cycling, they are required for road construction by federal warrants.

But my main point still is that the roadways are a public commons, everyone has a right to use them within the parameters of the law. Freight,cars,bikes and peds are entitled to their use. Denying or limiting their use,by overt or covert means ( including legal sanction of harrassment because somehow,bikes and peds 'do not belong' on them is,IMHO, Jim Crow circa 2009

(Report Comment)

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