City dismisses ordinance regulating pelotons on East, West Mercer Way
By ELIZABETH CELMS
Mercer Island Reporter City Reporter
Apr 20 2010, 3:05 PM
The City Council's recent proposal to develop a Pedestrian and Bicycle Facilities (PBF) Plan ordinance restricting group cycling around the Island was mowed down under a peloton of complaints last Monday night.
Dozens of cyclists showed up at the April 19 City Council meeting to speak out against the draft ordinance, which would have required cyclists "in a group of two or more" moving at a rate of speed "less than the normal flow of traffic" to ride "single file" and "as far to the right of the road as possible" when riding on Mercer Island; in particular along East and West Mercer Way. The ordinance also would have required cyclists "among a slow moving group" in a location "where passing is unsafe" and there is "at least one motor vehicle formed in aline of five or more vehicles behind the bicycle leading the group" to turn off the roadway "wherever sufficient area for a safe turn-out exists."
"[The current draft] does very little to encourage or support the use of bikes to commute to work. It will tell cyclists that they're the problem and motorists that they have the right to the road. It will incite more road rage," said cyclist and Islander Walter Boos. "Please consider who the draft can better represent a community that supports alternative means of transportation."
Other cyclists echoed Boos' statement, arguing that the ordinance "sends the message that we're second-class citizens" and gives drivers the misconception that "they have a greater right to the road." Some speakers went so far as to say the draft was "anti-cycling."
A number of Mercer Island Boy Scouts attending the Council meeting also chimed in. The boys reminded Councilmembers that they, too, ride along East and West Mercer Way and support a cycle-friendly community.
City Council members were receptive to the complaints. As Councilmember Mike Grady pointed out, "I think we on the Council weren't clear on our direction of the ordinance. So I'd like to appologize to city staff. The product that came out is less than what we had hoped for."
Grady was referring to previous discussions among Councilmembers on how to reduce conflict between cyclists and drivers along East and West Mercer Way.
For years, both parties have complained about the other: Cyclists argue that drivers cut them off and pass dangerously, while drivers voice frustration at getting stuck behind groups of cyclists while navigating the Island's winding perimeter. In an effort to alleviate this problem, Councilmembers asked City Staff to write up an ordinance that would address this problem. When the ordinance was publicized for community input earlier this spring, the backlash was immediate.
Councilmember Bruce Basset said that he received 120 e-mails against the proposed ordinance versus one for the changes. Those who responded, he said were both Islanders and non-residents.
Grady brought up the fact that, "we don't need an ordinance, we already have state law that governs [cycling and driving regulations]."
Indeed, state law extensively regulates travel on public roads. RCW 46.61, Rules of the Road, requires slow moving vehicles, including bicycles, to safely pull off the roadway when a line of five or more vehicles forms from behind. It also requires slow moving bicycles to stay as far to the right of the roadway as is safe, and that cyclists on a roadway should not ride more than two abreast except on designated bike paths.
The city's draft ordinance, some Councilmembers pointed out, only "reiterates" state law, and therefore is superfluous. Instead, Grady proposed that the City focus on educating drivers and cyclists on the law, road-sharing safety and courteous behavior.
"We should work with staff to reach out to members of the Mercer Island public and the bike community at large to come up with rules of engagement," Grady said."Let's focus on an education campaign."
Rather than moving forward with the controversial ordinance, the Council voted to "direct staff to draft a bicycle safety ordinance based on input provided by the Council tonight." The motion passed.
The input provided was that the ordinance include "no redundancy or restating of state law, that it require cyclists "to ride single file when a vehicle or bicycle wants to pass" and that the proposed ordinance "should not resemble the language that was previously proposed as section 10.60.050" (the stipulation that requires slow moving cyclists to pull off the roadway when a line of five or more cars develops).
Meanwhile, discussion on the overall Pedestrian and Bicycle Facilities plan -- of which the proposed ordinance is a small part -- is still ongoing. Councilmembers made numerous changes to the draft on Monday night for city staff to work on. Staff will bring the plan back for Council adoption on May 17.
For more information or to view the PBF plan, visit: www.mercergov.org