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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Student cyclists face legal pitfalls

For many students at Grinnell, riding a bicycle is a daily activity. Whether coming or going from class, riding downtown, or enjoying the autumn weather, bikes share the roads with cars and the sidewalks with pedestrians. However, riding one’s bike may have unexpected legal repercussions.

For Kate Baumgartner ’11, such repercussions became quickly apparent late one evening last November. “I was walking my bike next to my friend and I got lazy and decided to ride next to her,” Baumgartner said. The two were on the side of the street, because the road had no sidewalk. “I didn’t have my headlamp with me and not more than fifteen seconds after I got on my bike a cop pulled up behind us and turned on his lights,” Baumgartner said. She was pulled over and let off with only a warning, but the ticket for biking without appropriate illumination could cost up to $70.

With a seemingly heightened number of students stopped while riding their bikes, many were curious as to whether this was simply coincidence or if the police were truly enforcing bicycle policies for the college.

“Recently, we’ve been getting increased complaints about bicycles on the sidewalks in the downtown area,” Grinnell police chief Jody Matherly said. The downtown area of Grinnell is defined from 6th Avenue to 3rd Avenue and from West Street to State Street. “You can ride on sidewalks anywhere in Grinnell except in the downtown area,” Matherly said.

Although Iowa state law does not require cyclists to wear helmets, it does mandate headlight use at night as well as prohibiting cycling on sidewalks. These laws are intended to protect pedestrians, drivers, and the cyclists themselves. Perhaps one of the larger concerns for both students and police involves biking while intoxicated. Many students ride their bikes off campus for house parties, then ride home late at night after drinking. If the student is stopped, they will not receive a DUI, but will be charged with public intoxication and a misdemeanor, just as one would if walking while drunk.

Conversely, some students have been stopped for unclear reasons. Max Fulgoni ’12, is one such person “I was coming out of WalMart and crossed the street when it was clear. I looked behind me and there was a policeman with his lights flashing. When he finally pulled me over I felt kind of silly because I was on a bike and he was in an SUV.” After the initial confusion, the officer simply cautioned Fulgoni to be careful because, “he’d seen a lot of accidents,” Fulgoni said.

Chief Matherly addresses the fact that police across the state are cracking down on bikes and bikers in general, and that Grinnell College students are not specifically targeted. “Students are part of the community and it’s consistent and fair enforcement for everybody,” Matherly said. He encourages students who feel that they have been unjustly stopped while biking to contact the Grinnell police with a complaint. Therefore, the recent issue with bikes is not one particular to Grinnell students, but in the community as a whole. For those who bike frequently, it is important to both be aware of and abide by the laws in order to maintain a safe college and community environment.

For those who often ride their bikes at night, the local bicycle store, Bikes to You, sells headlights. “You can buy a good, basic headlight for $24.95 and it has LED lights and batteries that last a very long time,” Craig Cooper, the storeowner, said. Additionally, Cooper recommended a flashing taillight for night bikers. “70 percent of all bike accidents happen from behind. If you’re going out at night, it’s a really good way to make sure no one’s going to run over you,” Cooper said.

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