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St. Charles County Council debates bill to ban bicycles from rural highways

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 13, 2010 - Although the Tour de France has its wheels turning at full speed now, some St. Charles residents are not in the cycling mood.

A proposed ordinance to prohibit bicycles on certain roads in St. Charles County sparked a heated debate between motorists and cyclists at the County Council meeting Monday night. The bill was tabled until August.

Councilman Joe Brazil is sponsoring a bill to ban bicycles on Highways DD, D, F, Z and 94 from Interstate 64 (U.S. Highway 40) to the county line until shoulders or bicycle lanes are in place. Councilman Jerry Daugherty would like the bill to include Highways A, B, D and C.

Both Brazil and Daugherty advocate the bill because of public safety.

"These roads are windy and hilly, the speed limit is 55 miles an hour, and there are no shoulders," Brazil said. "It's very dangerous."

While Brazil emphasized the public safety angle, bicyclists turned out in force to protest the bill. Almost 100 people who oppose the bill attended the meeting, causing many audience members to have to stand outside the chambers' doors. Six advocates of the bill spoke in support of it, while six cyclists expressed their disdain and offered alternatives to the ban.

"You're infringing on our freedom to use the road," Doug Davis, a 15-year resident of St. Charles, told the council. "For the last 10 years I've been riding in that area and I've never had what I consider a close call on any of those highways."

Although Davis has ridden hassle-free during his time in the county, Stephen East said that he and his family have not been so lucky. In July 2003, East's two daughters, then aged 16 and 13, were travelling on Highway DD when they swerved to miss a cyclist riding in the middle of the road. Because the highway did not have shoulders, the car veered off the road and collided with a tree. East's 13-year-old daughter sustained a broken leg, while his 16-year-old daughter suffered facial lacerations. The 16-year-old's injuries required 12 surgeries, said East.

"Hilly, curvy shoulderless roads with a 55 mile-an-hour speed limit is not where cyclists should be," said East, who used to cycle on the roads in question. "Speed differentials between the (motorized) vehicles and the bicycles under those conditions are just a recipe for disaster."

Momentum Cycles owner Steve Maas feels sorry for the East family, but thinks that the accident was an isolated incident. He believes the ban was proposed as a result of the minor inconvenience cyclists may cause -- not because of safety concerns.

"Most people are just totally ecstatic that people are enjoying the area and that we can coexist," he said. "But a certain group of people sees cycling as an irritation."

Dennis Brown is in the group that sees it as an irritation, but not necessarily on the road. He said cyclists have repeatedly set up parties in his front yard in the early morning and refused to leave.

"They're urinating behind your bushes, they're sitting on your porch and they're playing music at 3 and 4 in the morning and," he said. "When you go to talk to them, they're not a friendly bunch."

Although many of Brown's problems with cyclists involve his front yard and not the road, he shares many of the same sentiments as Brazil. The two discussed the danger of cycling on certain highways at a local Veterans of Foreign Wars hall two months ago.

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"If you ride on these roads with cyclists, it's like playing Russian Roulette," Brown said.

In discussing the ban, Brazil said that it's not an effort to keep cyclists off the highways permanently. He stressed that it's a temporary measure that will end once shoulders or bike lanes are in place. The county has received money for shoulders that will be in place soon, Brazil said.

Patty Vinyard, executive director of the St. Louis Regional Bike Federation, was skeptical.

"Their funding sources are limited," said Vinyard. "They have to ration their funding, and there is no guarantee that shoulders will be added in a timely way. This ban could go on for years or even decades."

Vinyard also said that the county does not have the right to ban bicycles on roads. Only MoDOT can restrict what vehicles can be on the roads, she said. Many cyclists who opposed the ban at the meeting said that cyclists can use all roads that lack a minimum speed limit.

State Rep. Scott Dieckhaus, R-St. Charles, acknowledged MoDOT's jurisdiction over the roads, but vowed to do anything he could to make this ban legal.

"I've received close to 100 emails from people concerned about cyclists on the road," he said. "As a charter county, we may be able to do this. If there is anything I can to do to help, I will do it."

Although the bill is backed by a state representative, Maas is confident the cyclists will remain free to ride on the highways.

"They don't understand the fight they started," he said.

Brazil expected the opposition, having received more emails and phone calls on the bill than on any other issue during his 10 years on the council. While Brazil says he is open to any ideas, he also says he will not tolerate cyclists who will not make concessions.

"If it's, 'There's nothing we're going to do, we have that right,' we're going to butt heads and butt heads for a long time," Brazil said.

Even if his bill doesn't pass, Brazil said he will be content with just a dialogue between cyclists and motorists.

"If anything comes of this at all, it's the conversation," he said. "At least we talked about it."

Patrick Sullivan, a student at the University of Kentucky, is an intern at the Beacon.

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