Topekans have flouted this law for decades

IRRELEVANT: After almost 40 years, Topeka is finally getting around to re-tooling a law limiting cyclists to no more than 5 mph on a public sidewalk.

By Travis Perry │ Kansas Watchdog

OSAWATOMIE, Kan. — For nearly 40 years, cyclists in Kansas’ capital city have been breaking the law on a daily basis.

The riders don’t care. Neither do city officials. And local law enforcement has practically ignored the ordinance established in 1975.

Awash in an ocean of apathy, the Topeka City Council is finally getting around to repealing one of its more ridiculous guidelines, which limits bicyclists to traveling no more than 5 mph while on a public sidewalk.

That’s right: for roughly four decades, Topeka has maintained a speed limit law on its books targeting a means of conveyance used by toddlers, seniors and everyone in between. The ordinance is so old, in fact, that Suzie Gilbert, city marketing and communications director, and City Councilwoman Karen Hiller couldn’t dredge-up why it was ever deemed necessary in the first place, or who even introduced the matter.

The logic of the ordinance in and of itself is particularly puzzling. Considering how bicycles rarely come equipped with speedometers, outside of a well-trained eye, how exactly should cyclists ensure they don’t run afoul of the law? Topeka resident Andy Fry also made an excellent point earlier this month, when he told council members that all it would take is one good push for a rider to violate the ordinance.

In a stroke of common sense, officials are considering a recommendation by the city’s Public Health and Safety Committee to amend the legal language. Instead of a specific speed, cyclists could soon be instructed to travel at a “reasonable and prudent” rate. Such legalese is already in place to instruct drivers behind the wheel on Kansas roads.

Capt. Scott Conklin of the Topeka Police Department told Kansas Watchdog that in the past year only one ticket has been issued for a bicycle traveling on a sidewalk, and it wasn’t speed related. Hiller said the law as written is largely irrelevant to most individuals.

“We think people probably just weren’t paying much attention to cycling-related ordinances,” Hiller said.

“Right now, in Topeka, we have a steadily growing number of cyclists and we are moving into installing the first phase of a master plan that will grid the entire city with bikeways,” Hiller added. “Some cyclists and motorists know and follow the laws and some don’t, as we know. Topeka’s Bikeways Advisory Committee felt that as part of getting ready for this growth in cycling we should review and update all of our ordinances so that we had a good foundation for education and enforcement going forward.”

Contact Travis Perry at travis@kansaswatchdog.org, or follow him on Twitter at @muckraker62. Like Watchdog.org? Click HERE to get breaking news alerts in YOUR state!

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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