Make Wichita better for bicycles

Wichita's even topography and easy distances should make it perfect for bicycling, both for leisure and transportation.

But bike lanes remain scarce. Bike paths are short and spotty. And the rift between cyclists and drivers runs deep.

The last fact recently was confirmed on the Opinion pages, after a letter writer noted the one-year anniversary of his father's serious bicycle accident by observing that "it's legal to ride in the street" and urging motorists and bicyclists to "work together to ensure that another accident does not happen."

Among readers' responses in Opinion Line: "When bicyclists start paying a gas tax that pays for road upkeep, then they can have the same rights motorists do." And "the laws of Wichita may make a bicycle equal to a car, but the laws of physics still apply."

Clearly, no mere tweaking of the bicycle ordinances is going to make Wichita streets suddenly hospitable to bikes.

But as Mayor Carl Brewer declares May to be Bike Month in Wichita, the City Council will have an opportunity today to make some commonsense changes to the city's bicycle ordinance, giving cyclists a bit more freedom and shoring up their road rights.

Bicycle licensing, now largely unenforced, would be a thing of the past. So would requiring use of bike racks and impounding unsafe-looking bikes.

Most important, the new ordinance would clear up confusion by ending the local requirement that bikes stay within 5 feet of the right hand of the curb or edge of the street. Instead, the ordinance would mirror state law by requiring that cyclists "ride as near to the right side of the street ... as practicable."

Some key words in the city's ordinance, as proposed for amendment today, will bear repeating going forward:

"Every person riding a bicycle upon a street, highway or roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall obey all traffic ordinances and be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of any other vehicle except as to special ordinances so designated...."

Meanwhile, more bike lanes in core-area streets are in the works. Consultants and committees continue to argue cyclists' cause, citing the benefits of a bike-friendly community to attracting young adults and promoting wellness.

Bicyclists will celebrate Bike to Work Week (May 17-21) and Bike to Work Day on May 21, trying to draw more locals into their ranks. And the area now boasts an 8-mile nature trail from Goddard to Garden Plain, where cyclists can ride in safety.

Rather than honks and yells, bicyclists within Wichita are due some credit and space. At least they are trying to do something about the community's air pollution and the nation's oil addiction, as they tend to their health and fitness.

For the foreseeable future, though, riding bicycles in Wichita will require tenacity and a tolerance for risk.