Flashing Lights, Rather Than Fines, Given to Wichita Cyclists

Weeks after an irate bicycle commuter referred to City Council members as “idiots” due to getting an $87 ticket for not having a headlight while riding a bike, Wichita leaders are considering moving towards getting rid of the fines and giving free lights away to bikers who are in need of them.

Last week the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board passed a recommendation unanimously that riding at night without a light should be treated as an equipment violation, instead of a moving violation where a $20 fine is automatically triggered in addition to $67 in court fees and costs.

This week most council members expressed being willing to consider this change.

Janet Miller, a City Council member, said it was a great idea for them to consider. She added that was what was so great about having an advisory board, because they could look into these kinds of issues and then make recommendations based on their findings.

If approved by the City Council, those riding unlit bikes would receive a “fix-it” ticket and then could take care of the matter without having to pay a fine, but just getting a light put onto their bicycle and then having a police offer sign off that the problem had been corrected.

The process is used routinely to correct automobile violations like burned out tail lamps and headlights.

Jennifer Magana, the City Attorney, believes that the ordinance won’t even need to be changed by the policy, but could be handled instead by the city administration via a policy directive.

According to senior planner Scott Wadle,who oversees the city’s pedestrian and bike matters, in 2014, around 140 bicyclists received a headlight violation citation.

Last week Russell Fox, Friends University professor,  and bicycle enthusiast, voted for the fix-it ticket solution at his first meeting of being a bike-ped board member.

According to Fox, it helps with accomplishing two goals, helping motorists see cyclists and accepting that they are part of regular part of traffic, and getting bikers to ride in a more safe manner.

Fox said that the fix-it ticket makes you spend money to help you stay safe, and it also contributes to the road’s overall safety.

On August 4 the seeds for change got planted with Chris Brault made his way into a City Council meeting and launched a tirade against the bicycle light law, while calling City Council members idiots.

Brault, who works at Subway and how is also a filmmaker, said he received an $87 fine for biking home one night without a light after he had to stay at work late on night and his babysitter threatened to leave if he didn’t return home right away.

Although the council members they didn’t like being called idiots, they didn’t have any hard feelings either.

Bryan Frye, one of the council members said, that every once in a while in this business you need to get used to that.

Frye also though that Brault made a valid point on how much the ticket cost and he supports changing bicycle light violations into fix-it tickets.

He said, he was all for it and was surprised there was even a penalty for it.

The city code has riding at night without a light listed as a $20 fine. However, there is also add-on costs of $67 along with the fine, which are not related to the violation.

The costs include a $2 court technology fund charge, $6 to the public defender’s office, $ to domestic violence programs, $20.50 to the state, and $31.50 for standard traffic court costs.

Lavonta Williams, one of the council members, says it is too high, especially at a time when the city is attempting to encourage more individuals to ride bicycles as a mode of transportation.

She said they didn’t want to penalize people like that when they were attempting to gain more riders.

Council members on Thursday cut the ribbon for the second phase of bike lanes project on First and Second street, which opens up a 3.7 mile crosstown bike way which links Crown Heights with Delano.

Mayor Jeff Longwell stated that not only wold he like to change the headlight penalty into a fix-it ticket, but he would also like to figure out a way to get these people matched up with free lights like they had in the past.

That was the same day that Brault came to City Hall to complain, and a $2,000 safety grant was approved by the council from the Kansas Department of Transportation for providing the bicycling community with free educational materials and safety equipment.

Wadle just received through this grants, 66 reflector sets, 1,200 bike headlights, and 685 bike safety guides and pamphlets, in both Spanish and English, for public distribution. An additional 250 red tail lights are on their way.

These small LED headlights are in compliance with the city requirement of being visible fro a distance of 500 feet. However, according to Wadle, they work best for occasional or casual use. For serious night riders he recommends they invest in better tail and head light sets.

According to Wadle, in a few weeks the advisory board will receive the plan for getting the safety equipment distributed.

He said that at Cit Hall there will be a limited number of these items available.

Other places where they might be distributed include having a “light up the night” event for distributing lights on the city’s bike paths to riders, having police officers hand them out to bikers while out on their patrols, and handing them out during bike safety clinics.

For people who would like more information on bike safety equipment distribution, they can call 316-352-4855 and speak to Wadle.