North Liberty to review ordinance saying bicycles not allowed on some streets

Council will discuss the issue at its Dec. 11 meeting

NORTH LIBERTY – Bicyclists may soon have more freedom to ride on North Liberty streets.

The City Council is being asked to remove a section of the city code that says bicyclists cannot ride on the road when there is a “usable path” along the roadway. The code does not make clear what constitutes a “usable path," but the city administrator in a memo to council members references trails.

The code language runs counter to state law, which gives bicyclists the same rights as a motorist.

The council will discuss the issue, but not vote, at its Dec. 11 meeting. City staff is recommending the change.

Tracey Mulcahey, the assistant city administrator and city clerk, said the goal is to have city code be consistent with state law and allow bicyclists to choose where they are most comfortable. She added that the city is not enforcing the current law and making bicyclists move off the street.

“We haven’t had that kind of push,” she said.

Mark Wyatt, executive director of the Coralville-based Iowa Bicycle Coalition, said he’s all for the change.

“One of our priorities is access for bicyclists and making sure bicyclists can make their own decisions on safety,” he said.

It was an Iowa Bicycle Coalition member who raised the issue with North Liberty officials. It came up after the coalition worked with Des Moines-area communities to develop a model bicycle ordinance and one town added a shared-path provision similar to what North Liberty has, Wyatt said.

There are cities and counties statewide with laws that bicycle advocates consider unnecessary or outdated, Wyatt said. For example, he said, one community requires bikes to have a bell. Another says the chief of police must inspect bicycles.

Ryan Heiar, North Liberty’s city administrator, said in the memorandum that some City Council members are worried about bikes being on busy, congested city streets when there is a trail available. He said the council could pass a resolution that encourages bicyclists to use trails, although it would not require usage.

Wyatt said such a resolution is unnecessary. If a trail is well built, bicyclists will want to use it, he said. Also, if bicyclists are following the rules of the road, there should be no problems, he said.

Trails also are not always safer, he said, citing winter weather when those paths are not always cleared of snow or ice.

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