College town: Harass our cyclists, go to jail
Associated Press Writer
COLUMBIA, Mo. – From its extensive trail system to a 76-year-old mayor who pedals to work, one Missouri college town that takes pride in its bike-friendly status is threatening jail time for motorists who aren’t so friendly.
The Columbia City Council heard from a steady succession of cyclists who’ve been victims of road rage – including a bike shop owner who was pistol-whipped – before unanimously approving a new ordinance Monday night. It makes harassing cyclists a misdemeanor, punishable by stiff fines or a year in jail.
Similar laws are on the books in Colorado, Nevada and South Carolina, and a Louisiana proposal is awaiting the governor’s signature. National cycling advocates suggest that Columbia, home to the University of Missouri and its 30,000 students, is one of the few local governments to follow suit.
“Cyclists have every legal right to be on the road,” said Jeff Peel of the League of American Bicyclists. “Motorists just need to realize we’re out there as operators of legal vehicles just like they are.”
Forbidden activities under the new ordinance include throwing objects toward cyclists, making “frightening or disturbing” threats and honking horns or shouting to rile riders.
Karl Kimbel, owner of Klunk Bicycles, has numerous road-rage stories, from an ash tray being dumped on him by a passing motorist to getting hit with a gun downtown. Although police quickly tracked down the pistol-wielding assailant, who was charged with assault, the recourse at the time for less serious forms of intimidation was minimal.
In his appeal to the council, Kimbel said some motorists have a “fundamental hatred or contempt” for the bicycle.
Like much of the country, Columbia has seen an increase in cyclists lured to two-wheel transportation by rising gas prices and a slumped economy.
In 2005, the city was one of four in the country to receive a $22 million federal grant to build more bike lanes, sidewalks, walking trails and other urban pathways. A local nonprofit working with the city teaches bike safety and maintenance classes and encourages students and families to ride for health and fitness.
The increased attention to bicycles – and the tax dollars spent – has created a culture clash of sorts in a town of 85,000 where city streets quickly turn into rural roads and suburban housing tracts give way to farmland.
The mere mention of bicycles is sure to draw heated responses on the Columbia Daily Tribune’s online forum, with regular complaints about lawbreaking cyclists and calls for a “bike tax” similar to vehicle taxes.
“It’s such a contentious subject,” said Robert Johnson, education coordinator for the nonprofit PedNet Coalition. “Motorists have been conditioned to have the road to themselves. They’re a little nervous about sharing the road.”
Unlike more hardened riders, the new cyclists who Johnson teaches are particularly vulnerable to intimidation, he said.
“Harassment by motorists is one of the reasons people stop cycling,” he said. “They don’t want to get cursed at or threatened. They’d rather just stop.”
Up until now, the county has been a referral agency relegated to commenting on the plan but that could change if developers plan water service extension to the site