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Laura J. Gardner | The Journal Gazette
Bicyclists watch for traffic on the corner of Calhoun Street and Wayne on Tuesday morning. Mayor Tom Henry announced plans this morning to make Fort Wayne more "bicycle friendly."

City looks to update antiquated bike laws

– City Council members will soon be wrestling with bicycles on city streets and how they should – and should not – interact with motorists.

A bill will be introduced tonight updating Fort Wayne's traffic ordinances to deal with the new prevalence of bicycles on streets, sidewalks and in bike lanes.

"There are big chunks of our bicycle ordinance that haven't been enforced for years or decades, and parts that it would be silly to (enforce)," said Mitch Harper, R-4th, who was on the committee that drafted the changes.

Among the provisions being dropped is a section of the 1974 law that requires bicycles to be inspected and licensed. As the memo accompanying the bill dryly notes, "this provision is seldom, if ever, enforced or implemented."

A section making it illegal to alter or remove serial numbers, however, remains.

Harper said the current laws and the state laws they're based on are a patchwork of original language, updates and provisions that do not recognize the current realities. For example, there is no recognition of bike lanes.

"The important thing to remember is it's not just a bicycle ordinance, but also an ordinance of how motor vehicles relate to bicycles," he said.

The proposal was drafted to put the emphasis on safety rather than to create limits on what can or cannot be done. For example, some bike riders prefer to be on the sidewalk, some prefer to ride on the road. Rather than prohibiting one or the other, the proposal emphasizes that when on the road bicyclists must follow all existing rules of the road, and when on sidewalks they must give right of way to pedestrians.

The bill clarifies how motorists and bikes interact, spelling out when cars can, for example, pass a bike moving in the same direction, when they can turn in front of a bike, and that they cannot block bike lanes.

It also states that bike riders don't get to pick and choose which rules of the road to follow, noting that bikes cannot "overtake standing vehicles in a travel lane" – meaning that if cars are stuck in traffic, bikes on the road should be stuck there, too, rather than passing on the shoulder.

Typically, bills are introduced in the council one week, are discussed and debated in committee session the next week, then move to final approval. This bill is expected to be debated in committee Sept. 4.

Harper said the bill under consideration does not affect recreational trails, which will be part of a separate process.