Do you know laws for bicycles in your own town?  You should check them out - you may be very surprised!

I know I got very surprised when I checked the ordinances for Poland Village.  I knew that the Ohio Bicycle Federation worked with the state legislature back in 2006, to ensure that local bike ordinances could not fundamentally conflict with Ohio traffic laws. Cities could not, for example, prohibit riding on any non-freeway road.  They could not require use of a sidepath.  They certainly couldn’t require riding facing traffic.

The OBF got all that written into law because many municipalities were found to have truly crazy bike laws! The web page at http://bikelaws.org/neo-bikelaws.htm allows one to examine ordinances in many Cleveland suburbs, and shows some amazing weirdnesses.  

Way back in 2007, I tried to check Poland Village’s ordinances, but found nothing bike-related. But I must have goofed; because last summer, looking for something else, I stumbled on a thick binder of Village ordinances in the library. I was shocked by what I found!

Turned out it was illegal to ride a bike across an intersection with “a through street” in the Village, because an ordinance said you had to dismount and walk your bike.  Anywhere a sidewalk was present, a bicyclist had to ride on the sidewalk (despite the inevitable drop-offs, telephone poles, collision hazards at driveways and all the rest). Kids under 11 were not allowed to ride on any street. 

And perhaps weirdest of all, it was illegal for a bicyclist to say “Excuse me” to a pedestrian!  See, the law said that a bicyclist encountering a pedestrian must give an audible warning; but that the warning must be given ONLY by a bell or horn!  Saying anything was not allowed!

There was more weirdness - a bicyclist couldn’t stand up to pedal or take a hand off the handlebars - but it was all illegal, based on ORC § 4511.07(A)(8) "... no such regulation shall be fundamentally inconsistent with the uniform rules of the road prescribed by this chapter."  ( See http://bikelaws.org/Model-Muni-Code.htm ).  And I’m sure the police had never issued any tickets.  In fact, I was sure that nobody in the Village even knew these ordinances existed!

But they could still cause problems.  I’m friends with the president of Village Council, so I approached him last fall.  He asked me to write something up, so I did - quoting every crazy ordinance (there were many) and explaining the problems.  I emphasized that several could result in lawsuits against the Village.  For example, if someone was injured by riding on a sidewalk, they could point out that no Village sidewalk meets AASHTO design guides for bike facilities, so the Village could be liable.  I also said that if a motorist ran a red light and injured a cyclist, he might convince a lawyer to fight against paying damages because the cyclist did not walk through the intersection.  

All this took a while. There was a meeting of the Streets Committee, a meeting of the Legislative Committee including the Village Solicitor, and two meeting with Village Council. But right from the start, the Council members took it seriously. In particular, the Village’s Solicitor (or lawyer) said “We have to change this right away. We’re on notice now, and we could be liable.”  

Although the OBF has a collection of model ordinances for municipalities, I recommended that Village Council take the easier path. I suggested that they just repeal all bike ordinances and instead, just enforce Ohio laws.  The Solicitor agreed with me.  And I’m pleased to say, that repeal happened as an emergency action just a few weeks ago.  Council even thanked me for preventing possible lawsuits, and keeping the Village out of legal trouble with the State of Ohio!

That was the story in Poland Village.  But what about other cities and villages?  Do you know what your town has on the books? Why not ride your bike to your library, talk to the librarian, and see?  If you find any craziness, we may be able to fix it.  It will be good for your town, and it will be good for bicycling in our area.

- Frank Krygowski, OSW Safety Chairman