Saturday, October 24, 2009

Missouri town passes ordinance stopping motorists from harassing pedestrians, wheelchair users

From the Columbia Missourian:

COLUMBIA — Pedestrians and wheelchair users under Columbia law will now command the same respect from motorists as bicyclists do.

On Oct. 19, the Columbia City Council voted unanimously to add pedestrians and wheelchair users to an ordinance that prohibits automobile drivers from harassing or intimidating bicyclists.

Ian Thomas, executive director of the PedNet Coalition, discusses the City Council's ordinance on the harassment of bicyclists on Aug. 17.

Council members passed the amendment after some discussion of tabling it for another two months as City Manager Bill Watkins suggested. A group has been formed to review the ordinance and has only met once, Watkins said.

"My preference would be to wait," Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade said. He said that passing the ordinance would not make sense when a task force might draft another ordinance.

Mayor Darwin Hindman disagreed.

"I don't think (pedestrians and wheelchair users) should have to wait as a vulnerable group," he said.

A proposal to table the amendment was rejected, with only Wade and Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser in support.

At a meeting in June, the council passed the original bicycle harassment ordinance, which makes it a Class A misdemeanor — punishable by a $1,000 fine and/or a year in jail — to intentionally intimidate or harass bicyclists by yelling, honking or throwing objects at them, among other things.

The ordinance immediately created tension, however. Some members of the public complained that bicyclists were being singled out for special treatment. That encouraged Wade, who felt the council had acted too hastily, to propose suspending the ordinance for six months. His council colleagues rejected that idea by a 4-2 vote in August.

Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala then suggested including pedestrians and wheelchair users in the ordinance, which led to Monday night's hearing and vote.

Robert Johnson, a representative of the PedNet Coalition, made a public comment Monday stating, "We (PedNet) certainly, just for the record, support the expansion to other, beyond-road users."