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Missouri county considers biking ban (and why you should care) – UPDATED

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

Joe Brazil wants bikes banned
from country roads due to safety concerns.
(Photo: FoxTV/St. Louis)
-Watch video below-

When a ban on people riding bicycles went into effect in the small casino town of Black Hawk Colorado last month, it seemed like an anomaly. Many people were outraged by it and advocates are still working to overturn it, but it seemed like just a case of small town politics gone awry. Now, Black Hawk’s city leaders must be feeling a bit of validation after a much larger and more formal ban is being seriously considered by the Council of St. Charles County, Missouri.

A County councilman, Joe Brazil, introduced the idea on the grounds that the roads are simply too narrow to accomodate anything other than people in cars. He says it’s a safety issue (and not just for people on bikes). In the video below from local TV coverage, Brazil says:

“There’s no shoulders, there’s limited sight distance, and the speed limit is 55mph. It’s very dangerous to be riding bicycles on these roads and you’re putting the motorists in danger.”

Brazil and other supporters of the ban are using the story of a young girl who crashed her car into a tree in 2003 and sustained serious injuries after swerving to avoid someone on a bike (her badly swollen and stitched up face and her mangled car make an appearance in the TV coverage).

Interestingly, Councilman Brazil opposed a county smoking ban back in April on the grounds that smoking is “a matter of a personal choice”.

There was a St. Charles County council meeting on the issue last night and judging from news reports, the room was packed. The issue has been tabled until next month and the council is considering adding more roads and highways to the bike ban list. Here’s a video with comments from Councilman Brazil and others both for and against the ban:
 Everyone who cares about biking in America should watch this video. I found it to be scary and surreal. Have we really come to a point when we will simply give our roads over to the fastest vehicles? This same line of reasoning could be used to close all types of roads where there are fast-moving cars and no room for anything else.

I feel for the young woman who was hurt trying to avoid someone on a bike, but using that example as a reason to ban people riding bikes is absurd. How many deaths and injuries have occurred on those same roads between two people in cars? Rural roads are the main cause of traffic fatalities in America. We should do more to ban speeding than to ban people using a vehicle that is incapable of it.

For Portland-area readers, did you notice how similar these roads look to the Willamette Valley and rural roads throughout our region? If you think this is something other countys across America won’t consider, you’re fooling yourself.

Everyone frames this as “motorists” and “bicyclists” — but this is not about mode labels, this is about people and mobility. Our shared roads (being different from interstate highways and biking trails) are built to move people from one place to another. It’s an extremely slippery slope to even consider policy that would ban one type of user simply because they travel more slowly than another and are seen as an inconvenience to maintaining a certain speed.

If Mr. Brazil is concerned about safety, perhaps he should focus on educating people to slow down and operate vehicles with caution and consideration for others.

I hope the Great Defender of Non-motorized Transportation, US DOT Secretary Ray LaHood, is paying attention to St. Charles County. If he truly believes his headline-making proclamation about the “end of favoring motorized transportation” he should hop on a train to Defiance, Missouri and find an empty tabletop for next month’s council meeting.

Nothing smacks more of favoring motorized transportation than trying to outlaw other modes simply because they are perceived as a nuisance to going fast.

— Learn more about the proposed St. Charles County ban via the action alert from the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation. Learn how people that ride bikes in the St. Louis area are reacting to the proposal by reading this thread in the St. Louis Biking forums.

UPDATE: St. Louis Today reports that the Missouri DOT says St. Charles County has no authority to enforce a ban like this. But Mr. Brazil is undeterred.