Wichita City Council to vote on bike laws

Pedaling a bicycle down the street isn't quite the free-wheeling adventure one might presume — at least not if you read the city's bicycle laws.

You have to ride within five feet of the right curb.

You must signal any turns or stops at intersections.

If you're parking your bike, you have to use a bike rack if one is available within a city block or face your bike being impounded if it's not on the rack.

But those regulations could soon be history.

Wichita City Council members will vote Tuesday on whether to zap those portions of city code in favor of more free-flowing rules.

For example, instead of the five-feet-from-the-curb rule, the city would require riders to stay as close to the curb as they can given the conditions.

That may sound like a pretty minor tweak. Not to Leon Darnell.

He spoke before the city council in early April and told them that he has been stopped by police for riding in the driving lane.

And he even pushed back against part of the proposed new rules, which would require bicyclists to use bike lanes when they're available.

"When I ride in the street, I don't like to ride near the curb because I know it's not safe," he said. "I like to ride in the lane so motorists can see me better."

That type of in-street riding is used by many experienced cyclists and couriers on inner-city streets across the country. But it can also raise the blood pressure of drivers who may want to go faster.

The tension between riders and drivers has always been there, and it could become more prevalent as the city considers bike paths on Douglas and other city streets.

Meanwhile, several new cycling groups have formed in addition to the long-standing groups already out there.

Alan Chapman is vice chairman of one of the most well-established groups, the Oz Bicycle Club. Chapman said he's among many cyclists who didn't even know about some of the city's laws.

He said he and many others ride in the driving lane when there are four lanes available. He doesn't know of anyone who has been ticketed for an infraction.

"If I hear a car coming, I will move over," he said.

But sometimes even that's not enough. He, like other cyclists, has been honked at and yelled at.

He said he's had friends who get upset about that. But he tries to calm them down.

"You're on a 25-pound bike; they're in a 4,000-pound car," he said. "You do the math."

Chapman said his approach is to just smile and wave when drivers honk or shout.

His main concern is getting more people to wear helmets, which can often mean the difference between life and death in a car-bicycle collision.

"The concrete is very unforgiving," he said.