Saturday, July 15, 2006

Lock your trike here

Editor's note: Choking heat, a chilled shot of bourbon and a smattering of sinus congestion lead to an inaccuracy in this post, which was pointed out by a sharp-eyed reader today, then later corrected. Indeed, there's bicycle riding allowed in the city’s business district, just not in many places where it could be construed as safe.

Grab your bikes and head for downtown Saratoga Springs, because the Public Works department has a treat for you. And so do the strapping uniformed officers of the Saratoga Springs Police Department.

In a move to generate more bike traffic and less vehicle traffic, public works has decided to bring in 16 nifty-looking bike racks, designed in part to mimic the hitching posts of yesteryear that once adorned every storefront in the city.

Unlike the more traditional racks, the new designs are shaped with a single pedestal of steel and two semi-circles on either side for bike riders to lean or lock their hogs. Topping these innovative racks are metal horse heads holding small tie rings in their noses, just in case someone comes riding into downtown atop a burro.

Public works guru Tom McTygue says the smaller racks are designed to go in front of stores in spaces where the traditional racks wouldn’t fit. Thus, the city’s biking community –previously relegated to chaining their rides to street signs, trees or other stationary objects –will have more adequate spaces throughout the city’s business district to stow their rides.

This would make perfect sense, were bike riding in downtown Saratoga Springs legal, which it’s not. The city’s code specifically prohibits riding a bicycle, skateboard, or in-line skates on any sidewalk within what’s referred to as the “C-1 business district,” an area which the beat cops will insist is every street located within two blocks east or west of Broadway –even though this prohibition extends much further than this.

On a side note, it should be mentioned that tricycles are a perfectly legitimate forms of transportation that can be operated freely on all sidewalks and streets within the city limits, according to the “play vehicle” section of the code. It should also be noted that bicycles are legal to ride on city streets, provided the rider is intrepid enough to brave the barreling semis, non-exsistent shoulders and choked traffic of the outlined business district.

Bicycles, in fact, have an entire section aimed at regulating them. Among the provisions is a law stipulating that all city residents are to license their bikes with city police and keep a “license plate” affixed to their ride where the cops can readily identified it.

Any violation of these rules is punishable by a fine $50o or a 15-day jail sentence, according to the law. Persistent violators are subject to a $100 fine or imprisonment for up to 45 days –or both. Three convictions within 18 months can bring a fine of $250 or a jail term of 90 days, which, incidentally, is more time than one city man got for killing another with his car in February 2005.

City cops aren’t afraid of chasing down bikers either, although most residents know their general preference is to simply to warn cyclists. It’s the skateboarders who usually have to contend with tickets or having their boards confiscated by police.

Still, it’s ironic that city leaders are now tacitly advocating for people to break the ordinance they passed during the 70s and reaffirmed in the late 80s. And if anyone among the illustrious city council argues that bike riders will walk their bikes from the edge of the so-called business district to where the prominently located racks will be placed, then they’re quite out of touch with reality.

Perhaps the reason they’re not too worried about this legal conundrum is that the police department’s lead bike cop has reportedly has been suspended without pay. Dan Noeker, an oft-ornery police sergeant who once shacked up with former deputy Public Safety Commissioner Erin Dreyer, is apparently no longer on active duty, according to The Saratogian.

Perhaps this has something to do with his leadership over the generally useless bike patrol which more or less exists solely to enforce the bike and “play vehicle” ordinance. In grand jury testimony, Noeker said he ostensibly nicknamed the bike patrol “Satan’s helpers” even after his superiors told him that this would reinforce divisions forming within the department.

“At the time, it was a esprit-de-corps thing, getting everybody together, but I noticed at that time the administration seemed to think it was too much of a [clique] I was creating among the bike patrol members,” testified the officer in 2004. “I did it to further that [clique], mostly because the administration didn't like it.”

Despite Noeker’s reprimand –more than likely for violating the department’s chain of command or perhaps just being an ornery fascist –the bike patrol continues to ride the city. But many frequent downtown patrons say these patrols are in a much diminished capacity.

Still, don’t be surprised if one of these riding cops skulks out of the shadows to issue a nice fat ticket to anyone dismounting their bike by downtown’s spiffy new racks. Given this risk, the best bet is to stay off the traditional bicycle and instead find a good tricycle or burro to park at the racks while on a downtown shopping excursion.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Xtraspatial said...

Horatio,

Could you please reference the date of the copy of the City Code you are citing? I'm looking at the Dec 31st, 2005 e-Code for Saratoga Springs and I find your assertion that it is illegal to ride a bicycle in the C-1 district to be misconstrued. It is legal to ride a bicycle on the roadway abiding by the same laws and codes that apply to motor vehicles (riding on the right side of the road, signalling turns, obeying traffic signs/signals). The only exception within the city limits that I'm aware of is the C.V. Whitney Arterial (Highway 50 from North Broadway to the Northway overpasses) where it is clearly posted. Play vehicles, such as a Big Wheel, on the otherhand, are expressly forbidden from "any street, highway, sidewalk or public path within the area designated as the C-1 Downtown Business District as shown on the Zoning Map of the City of Saratoga Springs."

Now I don't recommend casual cyclists ride down Broadway or along the shoulder of Lake Avenue, but there are many alternatives, and, yes, walking a bicycle down Broadway is safer than riding on the sidewalk (which is illegal within any business district) and safer for many than riding down Broadway. Riding down Putnam or Woodlawn/Long Alley can put you within one short block of Broadway. These streets have lower average speeds and more room for both cyclists and cars than Broadway.

Riding a bicycle on a sidewalk, while offering the cyclist the illusion of saftey, is actually more dangerous than riding in the street with traffic. According to William E. Moritz, Ph.D., an adult cyclist is 30 times more likely to have a crash when riding on the sidewalk than when riding on the road (mile for mile). And I've heard from passersby and Saratogians attending the Downtown Public Transportation Workshops that cyclists on the sidewalks contributes negatively to their experience as a Downtown pedestrian.

There are many establishments that are located in areas that are perceived as safer than downtown. Some of these are planning to get bike racks as well. SHTN has been advocating for bike racks at High Rock Park, which would be a boon for those who cycle to the Wednesday and Saturday Farmers' Markets. The Beekman Street Arts District is a great bicycle destination.

I am affiliated with Saratoga Healthy Transportation Network, and our non-profit group has been instrumental in garnering the support of the Department of Public Works to fabricate and deploy the equine bike racks. We are also promoting bicycle visits to local merchants thru our Bicycle Benefits program, and submitting our 2006 Bicycle General Plan which will go before city government officials this week. We are also working on a "Safe Routes to Schools" program for implementation in September.

I admit that there is much confusion around the non-motorized transportation ordinances in this town. Despite the many attempts to make it more pedestrian and bike friendly, it is apparent to me that the car is still king. Why else would we kick the horse carriages loading zones off Broadway?

11:37 AM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

Indeed, you’re correct about the bicycle ordinance. However, your assertions about the Big Wheel are a bit sketchier. Were E. Stewart Jones litigating a defense, chances are pretty good this mode of transportation would fall under the tricycle loophole outlined in the post; perhaps this theory is worthy of an experiment.

On a more serious note, the city really should have pathways devoted to those interested in fitness and self-propulsion. It's a crying shame there isn't a bike path leading through the busiest sections of the downtown; for that reason, I applaud your efforts and please keep up the good work.

It should also be pointed out(for any skateboarders or in-line skaters in the area), the C-1 business district no longer exists on any city map. Like many areas of the code, city officials never bothered to update the districts when they drew new ones up several years ago. In typical city-government-makes-no-sense fashion, the architects of the new business district also decided to rename it, throwing off a whole host of codes. It's interesting information to bring up in court if ever issued one of the $50 citations.

Regards,
Horatio

6:59 PM  
Anonymous Xtraspatial said...

Horatio,

Your interpretation of a Big Wheel as a tricycle and not a "play vehicle" seems to be inconsistent with the NYS DOT Traffic Rules Section 4-01 Paragraph (b):

Bicycle. Every two- or three-wheeled device upon which a person or persons
may ride, propelled by human power through a belt, a chain or gears, with such
wheels in a tandem or tricycle, except that it shall not include such a device
having solid tires and intended for use only on a sidewalk by pre-teenage
children.

By that definition, both a pedicab and trike with pneumatic tires would fall under the same classification as a bicycle, and afforded the rights and limitations as such, except where superseded by more stringent local legislation and ordinances (as is the case for pedicabs).

You wrote: "On a more serious note, the city really should have pathways devoted to those interested in fitness and self-propulsion. It's a crying shame there isn't a bike path leading through the busiest sections of the downtown." To this, I want to remind everyone that fitness and self-propulsion may be viewed as ends in and of themselves and that they can be achieved in many ways in many existing venues (the Battlefield, Spa State Park, Skidmore Woods, SMBA-maintained Mountainbike trails, the YMCA, walking around your own neighborhood, riding/blading the wide shoulders of Route 9 north, etc). The main emphasis of our group's efforts are to promote non-motorized transportation as a healthy alternative--both for the individual and for the environment--to an over-reliance on the personal automobile. While our proposed Palmerton Trail, connecting Moreau and Spa State Parks, would most likely be used as a recreational/fitness trail, most of our other projects are aimed at cycle and pedestrian transit-oriented solutions for our City. This vision seems to be congruent with the General Plan on the City's website which states as one of its goals: "4. Promote pedestrian and bicycle access, transit services, and traditional neighborhood design in order to reduce dependence on the automobile." However, the General Plan also proposes: "Upgrade northern Route 50 (arterial) to a boulevard-style roadway, including a planted median, turning lanes and pedestrian/bicycle paths. NYS DOT activity finish is projected for 2003." No pedestrian/bicycle path has been provided, and in fact, the arterial has been the scene of two serious pedestrian/auto accidents, including a fatality, since the "completion" of NYS DOT activity. The General Plan also suggests "Develop[ment of] a comprehensive citywide multi-use (to include bicycles) trail plan that integrates existing pedestrian, bicycle, road, and open space systems, and provides critical linkages." Hmmmm....

By the way, there were two downtown transportation-related articles in the Saratogian today. One dealt with an informal interview with Public Safety Commissioner Ron Kim, and the other with the efforts of Saratoga Healthy Transportation Network to enhance safe cycling in Saratoga Springs.

With regard to your comment on C-1 business district, I wholeheartedly concur that the city code is in dire need of modernization/correction to keep it current with changed legal, zoning, and cadastral definitions. I believe the C-1 business district has transmogrified into the T-5, T-6 transect zones. Perhaps a quick check with City Planner Geoff Bornemann would clarify this. The part of the City Code that deals with bicycles is antiquated as new rules call for electro-etched registration numbers, and not license plates, for all bikes owned by Springs residents and Skidmore students who ride within the city limits. This, I've been told, is mostly for purposes of recovery of stolen bicycles which may otherwised be auctioned by the Police Department if the owner cannot be determined.

Thank you for bringing these subjects to the public's eye, Horatio!

10:42 AM  

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