Local bicycle advocates praise Light the Night program

BY AMY SKARNULIS | JUNE 04, 2012 6:30 AM

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Instead of having to cough up nearly $100 if cited for not having front and back lights on their bikes at night, Iowa City bicyclists can now opt for a cheaper — and safer — alternative.

A local coalition has made it possible for cited bicyclists to pay only approximately $35 to have lights installed on their bike and have their citation stamped at a participating location.

"Cops are doing their job by pulling people over and keeping our roads safe," said Pete Hartley, the manager of the Broken Spoke, 602 S. Dubuque St. "With this new program, everyone gets a second chance. There is no animosity happening."

Think Bicycles, a coalition of bicycle-friendly businesses and organizations in Johnson County that promotes healthy living and safe bicycling, started the Light the Night program on May 14. Participating businesses recently received their stamps.

The program benefits bicyclists who received citations from police whose bicycles did not have white front lights and either red back lights or reflectors while riding between sundown and sunup.

Audrey Wiedemeier, a contributor to Think Bicycles in Johnson County, said bicyclists who have received citations need to have purchased at least one required light and have both lights working on the bike to participate in the program.

"It's a volunteer-run organization," she said. "It's basically just whoever wants to help promote bicycling."

The person who installs the light will stamp the citation for the biker. The biker then brings the stamped citation to the police station and the fine will be waived, Wiedemeier said.

Lights or reflectors can be purchased and installed at any of the local bike shops in Iowa City, including 30th Century Bicycle, 310 E. Prentiss St., Broken Spoke, Geoff's Bike & Ski, 816 S. Gilbert St., Iowa City Bike Library, 408 E. College St., and World of Bikes, 723 S. Gilbert St. There are several shops in North Liberty and Coralville participating in the program as well.

The program is cosponsored by the Iowa City police. Think Bicycles officials initially approached the police about the program, Sgt. Denise Brotherton said.

"We're always looking to improve people's safety, which is why we got on board," she said. "… We're going to stop to inform them and educate them first about getting a bike light instead of writing them a citation the first time around."

Brotherton said Iowa City police gave out seven citations in 2011 to people without adequate lights on their bicycles at night. She said bicyclists will benefit more from learning about the law rather than being slapped with a $93.75 fine.

Kathy Ridnour, a bike-safety specialist with the Iowa Department of Transportation, praised Light the Night. The agency is focused on educating people from an early age about different elements of bike safety.

"We have a bike-safety program that we provide to drivers' education classes," Ridnour said. "We focus on the children, teaching them at a young age so that they can carry that on throughout their life."

Mike Harrington, an employee at Geoff's Bike and Ski, said if people purchase the front lights and back reflectors package at the store for roughly $35, the shop will install the lights for free.

Hartley said the Broken Spoke stamped its first bike citation on May 29.

"The biggest obstacle that we need to overcome is integrating car and bike traffic," Hartley said. "The most dangerous time to do this is at night."

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