Sidewalk use to expand to cyclists, just not downtown

Ordinance could be revamped and effective by Dec. 27

By: Chris Jackett | Royal Oak Review | Published December 12, 2012

ROYAL OAK — Some ordinances are more overdue for an update than others.

The City Commission gathered in front of about two dozen cycling enthusiasts Dec. 3 to update an ordinance that had been titled “Animals and vehicles on sidewalks” since its adoption in 1927. It previously prohibited driving, leading or backing any animal, wagon, truck, carriage, bicycle, motorcycle or motor vehicle on or along any sidewalk throughout the entire city.

The commission realized that many aspects of the outdated ordinance are not always enforced, since strollers, motorized wheelchairs and dog walkers can all be seen downtown. However, several “near misses” between bicyclists nearly colliding with walkers on downtown sidewalks set in motion the need for a change.

“It’s not about banning them downtown,” City Manager Don Johnson said of bicycles. “It’s about allowing them in places other than downtown.”

After much debate, the commission unanimously adopted, on first reading, a new ordinance to replace the 1927 edition. Use of bicycles and motorized scooters will still be banned on downtown sidewalks, but will be allowed on neighborhood sidewalks.

As far as the ordinance pertains, “downtown sidewalks” includes everything within the confines of 11 Mile to Seventh, and Main to Lafayette. Additionally, it includes Main north to Pingree and also the square block between Seventh, Lincoln, Washington and Lafayette.

Under the new ordinance, motorized wheelchairs, baby carriages and strollers will be allowed on all sidewalks. Use of mopeds, motorcycles and seated motorized scooters are already banned on sidewalks, per state law.

“Ordinances don’t change behavior by themselves,” Commissioner Mike Fournier said. “I think this needs to be accompanied by some sort of educational component.”

Commissioner Jim Rasor suggested signage as an educational measure to make sure downtown patrons know cyclists are welcome to ride in the streets downtown, but not on the sidewalk, and they must walk their bicycles within the downtown area if sticking to the sidewalk. City management intern Dennis van de Laar noted that cities like Chicago and San Francisco have educational pamphlets that are handed out to spread the word of similar ordinances.

Another suggestion from Rasor, to stop the possible impounding of bicycles, was adopted as part of the ordinance. A provision originally included to continue to allow police to impound bicycles worried many in attendance, although Police Chief Corrigan O’Donohue said it only would be used in extreme cases and at the officer’s discretion.

“That language was adopted from the ordinance for skateboarders,” O’Donohue said. “In some cases, we just like the ability to permanently solve the problem, if we have to.”

The primary reasons to impound bicycles would be cases of cyclists propelling their bikes off city-owned planters to do tricks, or if a bicycle is left at a scene during an emergency.

“If you take away the ability to impound, you can give some yahoo tickets all day and he’ll still be down there causing trouble,” Mayor Jim Ellison said. “I’d prefer to take away the weapon of choice — the bike — and they can work to get it back.”

Mayor Pro Tem Patricia Capello said she wanted to help promote healthy hobbies like cycling, and several in attendance and at the commission table echoed concerns that the impound ability would do the opposite by scaring cyclists away.

“I want to be as encouraging as I can be,” Capello said. “We don’t impound motor vehicles in all cases, so I don’t think we should impound bicycles in all cases.”

The impound aspect is currently out of the equation, but the potential of a civil offense and fine of up to $50 applies for those riding on sidewalks downtown. Repeat offenders could receive fines of up to $100. The existing 85-year-old ordinance currently charges violators with a misdemeanor.

Because the new ordinance was adopted on first reading Dec. 3, it will have to pass on second reading at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 17 at City Hall in order to become effective 10 days later on Dec. 27.

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