December 29, 2009

No Fancy Riding- Milwaukee

No 'fancy riding': city set to bring cycling rules up to speed

By Tom Held of the Journal Sentinel

Dec. 21, 2009
Barring unexpected opposition, bicyclists in Milwaukee will soon be free to ride two abreast on city streets and register their bikes only if they choose.

An ordinance with those changes to the city’s cycling regulations will go to the Common Council on Tuesday, with the support of a council committee, the police and the Department of Public Works. The Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin also supports the new ordinance.

Most of the changes being proposed simply bring the city’s rules on pace with state law covering bicycles and rules of the road.

The new ordinance has some language, though, that leaves room for interpretation, if not debate and legal challenges. Some of it seems amusing, especially a prohibition against “any acrobatic for fancy riding on any street.” (The Sanata Cycle Rampage may be one large moving violation).

In the most significant changes, the measure eliminates the city’s prohibition against riding two-abreast and the required licensing of bikes.

The mandatary licensing was rarely followed and rarely enforced. Going forward, the registration will be voluntary, providing police a means to trace and return stolen bikes and providing owners with a form of identification.

For the first time, it will cost $25 to retrieve a bike that the police have impounded.

The ordinance also incorporates the “dooring” law that requires motorists to check for bicyclists before opening a car door into their path. The Legislature put that “check first” requirement into state law earlier this year.

Subject to intepretation:

Two-abreast: The provision allowing cyclists to ride two abreast includes the caveat, “if the flow of traffic is not impaired.” That language would require a discretionary call on the part of a police officer issuing a ticket, and the potential for an argument in court.

At stake would be a fine of $10 to $20.

Brakes and fixies: The ordinance requires that bikes be equipped “with a brake in good working condition, adequate to control the movement of and to stop the bicycle whenever necessary.”

It does not specify that a fixed-gear bike must be outfitted with a hand brake, nor does it confirm that the braking action of the rider pushing backward on the pedals to slow the bike would be sufficient.

Ald. Nik Kovac said he interprets the ordinance to say “your brakes are your legs.” Dave Schlabowske, the city’s pedestrian and bicycle coordinator, said he reads it to say that a separate hand brake is required.

Different courts across the country have provided different rulings on the topic.

Stay off the sidewalks: Unless you’re a child under 10 being supervised by an adult, the ordinance says don’t ride on the sidewalk. Even those youths are prohibited from riding on a sidewalk that abuts a building, which eliminates a pretty good share of the riding area in the city.

The ordinance also prohibits riding on public school grounds or public playgrounds, in any circumstances, even for children, unless part of a sanctioned function.

Sidewalk exceptions: Riding on the sidewalk is allowed in a few areas to provide safer routes for cyclists.

Those include: sidewalks on grated bridges that lack bicycle surface plates; (The grates become slippery when wet) sidewalks on the viaducts on 6th St., 16th St., 27th St., and 35th St.; the bridges over the Milwaukee River on E. North Ave. and E. Locust St., and the sidewalks along Commerce Ave, on the Beerline bike trail.

Keep your hands on the bars: According to section 102-7-3a., cyclists have to keep their hands on the handlebars and their feet on the pedals. This section includes the rule against “acrobatic” or “fancy riding” on any street.

Red reflectors: For riding at night, the ordinance requires a head light that is visible from a distance of 500 feet, and a red reflector of at least two square inches on the rear. A red light on the back is not a substitute for a rear reflector.

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