A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.
This essay originally was published in the pre-merger Tribune on May 13, 2010, and subsequently reprinted at NAC on June 13, 2013.
My personal view remains that children should ride their bikes on the sidewalk, and adults out in the street, but New Albany's code of ordinances explicitly allows sidewalk bicycle riding outside defined business district boundaries, and just as explicitly prohibits it within those defined boundaries (see below).
However, I readily concede that it would be neither safe nor prudent to force any bicycle rider to ride in the street prior to the city calming and completing its street grid throughout its municipal jurisdiction. Bicycles are on the sidewalk because the streets are dangerous, and the streets are dangerous because successive City Halls lack principled resolve -- which is to say, they're traditionally afflicted with moral cowardice.
Is this the most important issue facing the city?
No, it isn't -- and neither is a $9 million water park. It remains that the more we walk and bike, the healthier we are, and to get more of us walking and biking, we'll be compelled to alter the street grid to make it habitable for all users, and not only their cars.
In broader terms since 2010, there have been a few desultory efforts to cull the ordinance book of past foolishness and irrelevance, but a city council with very little to occupy its time seemingly cannot find spare time to devote to the effort.
I've previously noted, "There are exceptions to every rule, but in New Albany, the exceptions ARE the rules."
That hasn't changed very much, has it?
Courtesy bicycle to the Hotel Silly.
One brilliant late autumn day, I was walking eastbound on Spring Street, with the vacant expanse of the Coyle Chevrolet property to my left.
Some distance ahead, also on the sidewalk, was a bicycle slowly moving westbound in my direction. Annoyed, I glanced to the right, and there it was: Our pristine new bicycle lane, mere feet away. Looking down, I could see my feet actually treading sidewalk, slabs of concrete generally intended for pedestrians, with the actual street reserved for wheeled vehicles.
It occurred to me to be pro-active and civic-minded, grasp this opportunity to teach, and say something helpful to the rider:
“Hi. I’m a cyclist, too, and it’s important for responsible adults to ride our bikes on the street, not the sidewalk, and to respect the motorized traffic laws when we do. Thank you.”
As the bicycle came closer, I could see that the rider was a gray-haired woman. At first, she appeared to be talking on a cell phone, but this proved incorrect. Stepping aside at the last moment, I caught just a snippet of the intense conversation she was having -- with herself.
“ ... keep telling them that the diodes implanted in my body are preventing me from proving my innocence ... “
She rolled past, serenely oblivious, and I decided to forego education, although for a split second I considered calling my friend Scotty and asking him to beam me straight to the house, please.
Hee Haw’s Grandpa Jones once observed that “truth is stranger than fact.” I looked it up, and found that the city’s own laws, even if enforced (insert laugh track), clearly exonerate the sidewalk-wheeling diode woman, as well as her numerous fellow bicycling travelers, increasing numbers of them numbly unaware of bicycling safety and proper traffic etiquette.
Perhaps they’re not riding bikes from healthful or green considerations, but to forage for daily cigarettes and MD 20/20, their drivers’ licenses and motorized conveyances long since having been confiscated by the authorities.
Now, unencumbered by the need to pilfer gas money, they’re free to pedal in the wrong direction when bothering to use the bike lane, weave merrily through the anarchic skateboarders, and smoke in the open air all the while. That’s why I wear a helmet and use a mirror. An air filter may be next. Ready for some dated legalese?
TITLE VII: TRAFFIC CODE ... CHAPTER 73: BICYCLES AND MOPEDS
§ 73.03 RIDING ON SIDEWALKS.
(A) It shall be permissible for any person to ride a bicycle within a residential district of the city. Such person shall yield the right-of-way at all times to pedestrians. ('71 Code, §73.14) (Ord. G-64-180, passed 11-9-64)
(B) No person shall ride a bicycle upon a sidewalk within a business district. ('71 Code, §73.15) (Ord. G-64-180, passed 11-9-64)
Ah, yes, but exactly how was a business district defined back in the rare old times?
§ 73.04 OPERATING BICYCLE ON CERTAIN STREETS.
No person shall ride or propel any bicycle upon any sidewalk within the city bounded by the west side of State Street or the east side of Bank Street, the south side of Main Street to the north side of Elm Street; nor on Vincennes Street from Oak Street to Main Street.
('71 Code, §73.31) (Ord. 4120, passed 3-6-39)
Many more bicycling rules can be found in New Albany’s Code of Ordinances. For instance, when not legally riding on sidewalks in residential areas, cyclists are commanded to operate “as near as practicable to the right-hand edge of the roadway.”
For the sake of safety, bicycles must be in “safe mechanical condition,” and “reasonable and prudent” speeds are requested, although not specifically defined. Also, “no person shall operate a bicycle while under the influence of liquor or drugs, or while physically or mentally unfit to safely operate the same.”
I see no mention is made of craft beer in this context. That’s a profound relief.
Have you ever chained your bike to a signpost or utility pole while ducking inside for a beer? It’s illegal, according to § 73.07: “No person shall leave a bicycle unattended upon any sidewalk, in the areas provided in §73.18, unless a regular parking stand is available for the purpose of parking such bicycle.”
And yes, there is a rule stipulating that parking stands must be removed “at sundown,” which coincidentally, is the name of a great jazz tune from the 1930’s, as performed by Muggsy Spanier.
Guess what? You need a license for your leg-powered conveyance, too.
§ 73.20 LICENSE REQUIRED BEFORE OPERATING BICYCLE.
No person shall ride or propel a bicycle upon any public highway, street, boulevard or other public place in the city, unless the same shall be licensed as herein provided.
('71 Code, §73.28) (Ord. 4120, passed 3-6-39)
Five more pre-WWII passages minutely detail the process of who must apply, the duration and expiration of the license, the forms to be used, certain records kept, non-transference of the license, and its price: .50 cents, with the plate to be “firmly attached to the rear of the bicycle so as to be plainly visible,” and all of it to be achieved and maintained by the office of the City Controller.
Congratulations Marcey “City Clerk” Wisman. You’re off the hook, because the City Controller is Kay Garry. You’d best get on this one quickly, Mrs. Garry, lest Councilman Steve Price begin searching beneath your desk for those long decades worth of missing nickels and dimes.