“I can’t imagine the city is going to allocate time for someone to literally walk around everyday and determine if a bike was there or not.”
By Brandi Makuski
The city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) on Monday proposed an ordinance governing abandoned bicycles- something the city currently lacks.
According to the City Plan Commission meeting agenda, the five-member BPAC, comprised entirely of mayoral citizen-appointees, was scheduled to present its findings on improving safe travel routes for bicyclists and pedestrians throughout the city. Instead, the committee recommended the new ordinance to the commission.
BPAC was first created by Mayor Mike Wiza over the summer and is comprised of city residents Tori Jennings, Trevor Roark, Liz McDonald, Jim Menzel and Marlene Pohl. The group’s mission involves betterment of an “integrated multi-modal transportation network”, according to a news release from the city. The committee will also assist in implementing a county-wide bicycle and pedestrian plan.
Jennings, the committee chairwoman, said the proposed ordinance was aimed at bicycles left in public bike racks for an extended period of time. Under the proposal, which was modeled after a similar law in Madison, bicycles considered abandoned would be tagged with a warning notice, then removed by police 72 hours later if unclaimed.
“The rational is, the ordinance will provide a mechanism to deal with abandoned bicycles,” said Jennings. “This is especially important as more public bike racks are installed and more people are cycling.”
Jennings told the commission she’s emailed the police department several times- and provided them with photos- proving some bicycles had remained in various public racks, unused and covered in snow, during all of last winter. The bikes would then fall into disrepair and left abandoned, she said.
But the practicality of such an ordinance wasn’t clear to some, and Commissioner Anna Haines asked whether the city had the manpower or time to actually enforce such a law.
“It sounds good…three days to determine if something has been abandoned,” Haines said, “but who’s actually doing that? I can’t imagine the city is going to allocate time for someone to literally walk around everyday and determine if a bike was there or not.”
Interim Police Chief Marty Skibba said abandoned bicycles aren’t a major problem in the city, but did say officers do pick them up as soon as possible when complaints come in, as do the city’s community service officers, who typically perform parking enforcement duties.
The task could also fall, in part, to the city’s new code enforcement officer, or to auxiliary police officers, Wiza said.
Currently, bicycles not claimed by their owners are sent to Shifting Gears, a local organization which repairs the bicycles for purchase by the public. The proposed ordinance supposes bikes could also be donated to the Wisconsin Nicaragua Partners, which is based in Stevens Point, or used for a bike-sharing program at UW-Stevens Point, as additional options.
With the creation of the new committee comes a slight change in how the ordinance was proposed. In a follow-up interview on Tuesday, Wiza emphasized the committee was “advisory” to the Plan Commission, and subsequently the City Council, but he did ask BPAC for a ideas to better address bicycle and pedestrian issues in the city.
“I asked them to come up with some ideas on how we can improve multi-modal transportation,” said Wiza, who added he was expecting the ordinance proposal. “[Monday] night was just a presentation on a proposed ordinance that would allow us to dispose of abandoned bikes quicker.”
“People don’t think about it, but someone could put a bike in a rack somewhere and then leave town, effectively abandoning it, and just leave the bike there to rot,” Wiza said, also noting he’s seen bicycle locks already being left on new bike hitches in the downtown area- locks he also referred to as “abandoned”.
When asked if it was appropriate for an appointed committee to propose a new city ordinance, Wiza said, “Absolutely; anybody can propose a new ordinance…some of our best ideas come from outside of city government.”
When asked why the proposed ordinance did not come through the Public Protection Committee, Wiza said bicycle and pedestrian issues were more closely-tied with planning, which is why it was first presented to the City Plan Commission.
Once the city’s ordinance has been drafted by City Attorney Andrew Beveridge, Wiza said, it would then be considered by elected officials.
The ordinance proposal is expected to come before the Public Protection Committee in December.