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Cyclist protesting bicycle headlight law calls City Council members ‘idiots’

A cyclist took to the podium during Tuesday’s Wichita City Council meeting to protest a city ordinance that requires headlights on bikes when they’re ridden at night. The council accepted a grant for a program to provide lights and reflectors to make cyclists more visible to motorists and bells to help cyclists warn pedestrians when they’re approaching them from behind.
A cyclist took to the podium during Tuesday’s Wichita City Council meeting to protest a city ordinance that requires headlights on bikes when they’re ridden at night. The council accepted a grant for a program to provide lights and reflectors to make cyclists more visible to motorists and bells to help cyclists warn pedestrians when they’re approaching them from behind. File photo

Wichita City Council members on Tuesday approved a $2,000 program to give away bicycle headlights, reflectors and bells, minutes after being called “idiots” by an angry cyclist who’d gotten an $87 ticket for riding without a headlight.

But the criticism at the council meeting from cyclist Chris Brault could lead to a change in the way the city prosecutes people who ride bikes without lights at night.

Officially, the council accepted a grant from the Kansas Department of Transportation for a program to provide lights and reflectors to make cyclists more visible to motorists, and bells to help cyclists warn pedestrians when they’re approaching them from behind.

The KDOT grant is $2,000 total – $750 for printing and distribution of night-time bike safety awareness literature and $1,250 to buy equipment to distribute to the public.

Great idea, said Michael Scott, a committed cyclist who rode from south Wichita to the City Hall/county courthouse area with his daughter Desi on Monday to try out her new bike.

Scott said he supports the city taking action to equip more bicycles with lights.

He spent $250 each for a headlight and a helmet light he wears commuting by bike to his third-shift job at Spirit AeroSystems – which he acknowledges is far more than the usual cost of bike lighting.

“That’s top of the line,” he said. “You don’t need to get me on board for lights and reflectors. It’s worth every penny.”

His headlight, which flashes to warn motorists of his presence on the road, is so bright that motorists sometimes confuse it with a police light bar and pull over to the side of the road, he said.

He said that’s fine with him. “I’d rather they pull over than run over.”

Scott Wadle, a senior planner who oversees bike and pedestrian matters in the city, said the distribution plan for lights, reflectors and bells is not yet finalized.

“One thought is to provide them to the police department to distribute them as needed,” Wadle said. He said the city will soon seek quotes from local bike shops to figure how much equipment the grant will provide.

The council green-lighted the project through its consent agenda, which is used to approve noncontroversial city actions.

However, controversy did flare when Brault took to the podium during public comments to protest a city ordinance that requires headlights on bikes when they’re ridden at night.

“The only reason I’m here today is you are all idiots; if you weren’t, I wouldn’t be here,” Brault said.

Brault, a filmmaker who also works at Subway, said he’s an avid bike rider and that the headlight requirement and the punishment for riding without is “an absolute atrocity.”

Brault said he was ticketed near the corner of Hillside and 21st Street in June. He said he was heading home on his bike, reacting to a call from a babysitter who was threatening to leave his 6-year-old daughter home alone.

He said the area is well-lighted by street lamps and streetside businesses and that police ought to have more important things to do than pull over bicyclists for failure to have a headlight.

“When you sit here and make an ordinance that is absolutely ridiculous like this, you not only insult someone like me, you insult an entire community,” he said. “You need to realize that things like this are trivial to the things that actually need to be taken care of. … This is the probably the dumbest thing I’ve ever had to come talk to anybody about.”

Council members said after the meeting that they were taken off guard by Brault’s complaint. Mayor Jeff Longwell said he supports the requirement for lights but would be willing to consider changing the $87 penalty for riding without.

“That’s certainly something we ought to have a discussion on,” Longwell said.

Wadle said he followed up on Brault’s citation and found that the fine for riding without a light was only $20 of the citation.

The other $67 was court costs, including a mandatory payment to the state of $20.50, a $6 charge to help fund the Public Defender’s Office, $7 for domestic violence protection and $2 for court technology.

Wadle said he spoke with the chairman of the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board about Brault’s complaint and also invited Brault to attend the committee’s next meeting on Monday.

He said the committee may consider making a recommendation that bike headlight violations be handled as “fix-it” tickets instead of a moving violation that triggers the mandatory court fees.

Fix-it tickets don’t carry a fine but do require individuals to correct the defect in their vehicle and have it signed off by the police department.

Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527 or dlefler@wichitaeagle.com.

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