Attempt to ban bikers is misguided, lacks foresight


While Iowa City leaders have been attempting to make Iowa City more biker friendly — and rightly so — one Iowa group is looking to do exactly the opposite. Citing safety concerns, the Citizens for Safety Coalition has created a petition directed at the Iowa Legislature to ban bicycles on state and county farm-to-market roads.

If the organization leading this endeavor wants change, then the first step is to educate the public.

Banning bikers on such roads — defined as roads that connect rural or agricultural areas to market towns, according to the group’s website — will only increase the fervor and anger among opponents of this petition.

The relationship between cyclists and drivers has always been a tenuous one. But to ban bikes on any road decreases recreation opportunities, discourages healthy living, and reflects poorly on the state as a whole. At a time when curbing carbon emissions is paramount, restrictions on biking are myopic and misguided.

Unsurprisingly, this petition — which had just under 800 signatures as of Thursday night — has been met with swift opposition from numerous business owners and bike associations.

“We are in the same boat with the Iowa Bicycle Coalition,” Ryan Baker, the owner of Iowa City’s World of Bikes, told the DI. “We don’t agree with the petition to ban bikes anywhere, county roads or otherwise.”

To combat its opponents, the bicycle coalition has drawn up its own petition, which has received more than 2,000 signatures. But perhaps even more important than the petition is educating those involved.

“Everyone in the bike community needs to be educated on bike courtesy and use of the road,” Baker said. “But motorists need to know that bicyclists have a right to the road. … It’s up to everyone to make it safer.”

Any ban on biking will undoubtedly prevent county and Iowa City residents from using the road system for recreation and fuel savings. The economic and cultural elements of biking will also be affected. RAGBRAI alone brings in millions of dollars in just one week, and bikers pump additional money into the state’s economy throughout the year. Finally, such organizations as the Bicyclists of Iowa City and the Johnson County Bicycle Club are beneficial to communities, and they could be seen as under attack if restrictions on cyclists are enacted.

There are a number of measures Iowa City and the state can take to prevent accidents. Bike lanes provide a significant element of protection for bikers and create a distinction between areas for motorists and cyclists. Furthermore, bike-education classes occur in Iowa City and across this state throughout each year. The resources are out there, but it’s up to those who are concerned about bike safety to make it a priority to attend and educate themselves. Finally, bikers need to be regarded as equal, rather than adversaries.

The strides Iowa leaders have made to make our state a bike-friendly place have caught the eye of one national organization. The League of American Bicyclists in its 2009 Bike Friendly States rankings listed Iowa as the sixth-most bike-friendly state. That level will almost certainly drop if this plan is approved by our Legislature.

The lives of the men and women who use our roads in Iowa City and across Iowa have always been, and will continue to be, of the utmost importance. But in banning bikes on certain roads, we ignore the steps we can take to increase awareness and safety and prevent a relatively low-risk activity from continuing to prosper in our state. The Legislature should disregard this facile proposal to ban bikes on state and county farm-to-market roads.

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