Aspen police chief scuttles bicycle-fine changes
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
ASPEN – Aspen Police Chief Richard Pryor on Monday withdrew a request for changes to municipal bike-riding rules that included lower fines for people who ride illegally on city sidewalks, a proposal partly designed to encourage police to issue more citations.
Officially, the council tabled the proposed code amendment, which would have set up a new fee structure of $5 for the first offense, $25 for a second offense and $100 for a third offense. Currently, the fine is $100 for any sidewalk-riding infraction, but city officials have said that police don’t feel comfortable writing tickets that lead to such a stiff fine.
Thus, the ineffectual $100 fine will remain in place.
“We would like to respectfully withdraw the proposed changes from your deliberations,” Pryor said. “I feel like the issues of enforcement have kind of clouded our fundamental intent behind the changes that we had proposed.”
Pryor said the department will continue along its track of educating the public about bicycle safety and the hazards of riding on city sidewalks and the downtown Hyman and Cooper pedestrian malls.
Police will step up an outreach effort, passing along information to bike-shop and hotel employees about the city’s bike-riding rules, he said.
“That’s really the nuts and bolts of where I think we could be most productive,” Pryor said. “In essence, this is a minor code amendment, so it would not have impacted us one way or another. Changing the fine structure would have just enabled us to be a little more flexible.”
When introduced at the council’s April 9 regular meeting, council members did not heartily endorse the proposal. Councilman Derek Johnson said he would go “ballistic” if one of his young sons came home with a $5 ticket for riding a bike on a city sidewalk. The new code amendment would have allowed children younger than 8 to ride sidewalks as long as a parent follows them on foot. Existing law makes it illegal for anyone, regardless of age, to ride the sidewalks or pedestrian malls.
Mayor Mick Ireland said Monday that he appreciated the fact that the police department, working with the city’s parks and transportation departments, was being proactive in responding to a survey last fall that indicated community support for tougher enforcement of the city’s bike laws. Many respondents commented on the large number of “close calls” they had witnessed – accidents that could have occurred because of careless bikers rolling down sidewalks crowded with pedestrians.
“Yes, Derek, things have changed,” Ireland joked in response to Johnson’s “ballistic” comment. “If (as a kid) I had come home with a $5 ticket for doing anything, I might have been a victim of domestic violence and additional punishments to be named later, plus a lecture about following the law.”
Ireland – an avid cyclist who was injured on Independence Pass in June 2010 when his bike lock got stuck in his front wheel – said since the proposal was introduced two weeks ago, he’s noticed a large number of helmetless riders going against traffic on downtown streets.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “All I can say is we can do educational programs, we can give you a card reminding you of why we’re doing this and ask you not to do it … we can even ticket people. But if you’re going to insist on going against traffic I ask you to think about what message you’re sending to kids.”
Johnson said educational outreach is a good idea and suggested a change to the “Walk Only” signs in the pedestrian malls. “I think there could be some reference to ‘please dismount your bike and walk your bike’ or something like that,” he said.
Johnson said the city can cut down on sidewalk riders by educating local schoolchildren and their parents.
“A large part of this is parenting,” he said. “I don’t think the (police, parks and transportation departments) should be asked to replace the role of a parent. So getting the information to parents so that they can educate their children, or discipline their children appropriately if they’re disobeying the rules, is a critical step as well.”
But Councilman Torre expressed regret that Pryor asked to withdraw the code amendment.
“I regret that you withdrew this tonight,” Torre said. “I think that what you were doing was asking for the appropriate tool to get the job done, which is ultimately to not have the conflicts going on, on our pedestrian malls and stuff.”
Torre said he would be comfortable with the police department coming back in the future to ask for changes to the municipal code on bike laws.
“We would hate to give someone who was visiting our community a $100 ticket,” he said. “So I find it unfortunate that you have something on the books right now that you don’t really want to use as a tool and we’re letting it sit there.”
Torre, who lives downtown, said he sees people riding bikes through the malls and along sidewalks nearly every day, and that it’s a bother to pedestrians.
“I don’t know that we need to write a ticket, but I want to give you guys whatever tools you think is best for the enforcement that you’re trying to go for,” he said.
In other business:
• The council approved a contract with Classic Bicycle Racing LLC, which owns the USA Pro Cycling Challenge event. The contract outlines the city’s responsibilities for hosting an Aug. 23 stage finish and an Aug. 24 stage start within the seven-day Colorado pro-racing event. The city’s operating budget for the two days of festivities surrounding the event amount to $387,000, of which $100,000 will be paid from the general fund and the rest will be covered by Aspen Chamber Resort Association funds and sponsorship-VIP-vendor-merchandise sales.
• Council members approved a Utilities Department request that would enable the city to temporarily raise water rates in the event of an officially declared drought. Officials are preparing for water shortages and drought conditions this summer because of low winter and spring snowfall totals and recent dry conditions.
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