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Frank Gray

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Laws aside, bicycles, cars must share road

City Council member Mitch Harper wants to overhaul the city’s bicycle ordinances, and in a way it only makes sense.

The city’s bicycle laws, many of which were written nearly 40 years ago, were passed in an age when children rode bicycles, not adults.

There is a provision that says that bicycles must be licensed by the city and inspected. I find that amusing. If you wanted to license a bicycle today, where would you go and would they even have any licenses to hand out?

Can you imagine going to the police department today to have your bicycle inspected? Does the city really keep an officer on hand whose duty it is to ensure bikes are mechanically sound?

In its day, the licensing requirement might have made some sense. It helped police identify forgetful kids when they left their bikes at parks or in strangers’ yards.

Our current bicycle laws do seem to date to the age of Beaver Cleaver, a fictional character who lived in a fictional world in which bicycle lanes were as unheard of as jogging and tai chi.

Look around today, though, and you’ll find that practically everyone on a bike is an adult. Go on one of the organized rides on the Rivergreenway and you’ll find that there aren’t more than a couple of people who qualify as kids. The rest of the scores of riders range in age from their 20s to senior citizens.

The same goes with the city streets. Most cyclists are adults and most are riding what could be called serious bikes. There’s no need to have some city-appointed employee inspect their bikes. They know how to take care of their bikes themselves.

The city could adopt a whole new set of bicycle-related ordinances, but that doesn’t really solve the problem.

What is needed is an understanding on the part of cyclists that they are governed by the same laws that govern someone in a car, and an understanding on the part of motorists that cyclists are just as entitled to be on the road as any car.

Let’s be honest, though. Bicycles and cars are never going to fit together seamlessly on the same streets.

There will always be cyclists who travel at a painstakingly slow pace, clogging traffic at intersections and irritating drivers. They’ll ride through red lights and blow stop signs without even slowing and ride on the wrong side of the street or the wrong way on one-way streets, further irritating drivers.

Almost every day I see cyclists whose behavior makes me cringe because I have no desire to see them get hit.

Then there will always be drivers who have no more regard for cyclists than they do squirrels. They’ll make right turns in front of cyclists, running them off the road and occasionally running them over. They’ll honk at them in an effort to startle them.

That’s the real key, for people to understand their responsibilities when they’re on the road, whether they’re in a car or on a bike.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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