With more bicyclists downtown and in the area due to the return of Oberlin College students, bicycle safety and parking have taken on greater significance.
The issues were discussed by Oberlin Business Partnership members at their monthly meeting Sept. 8. They said motorists need to be more alert to avoid tragedies like the the hit-and-run death of well-known cyclist Charles Startup last October.
The 70-year-old Oberlin man was struck from behind on Butternut Ridge Road. Driver and Oberlin resident Ronald Dicenzo was charged with vehicular manslaughter and is due back in Lorain County Common Pleas Court after press time Wednesday.
Startup was an experienced cyclist who was wearing a helmet when killed. However, speakers at the OBP meeting said some cyclists put themselves at risk due to inexperience or recklessness.
They said cyclists need to wear bright clothing with reflectors at night and bikes need to have front headlights, which are required in Ohio.
“When I’m driving at night in Oberlin, I’m absolutely afraid of all the bikers who have absolutely no lights and feel they are totally invulnerable,” Dominique Michal said. “Their safety starts with being seen by others.”
Besides being at risk of being hit by cars, cyclists who illegally ride on the sidewalk put pedestrians at risk. Police Capt. Henry Wallace, who wasn’t at the meeting, said a few pedestrians, including elderly people exiting stores, have been struck by bicyclists on the sidewalk in the last few years.
An officer since 1984, Wallace said bike riding on the sidewalk is a common problem. Many offenders are college students but some are children or adults from out of town.
A first offense for riding on the sidewalk is a minor misdemeanor and the fine increases from $10 to $20 in October. Wallace said many of the cyclists he’s stopped didn’t realize it’s illegal to ride on the sidewalk or said they didn’t want to ride in the street because it’s too dangerous.
Wallace said signs warning against riding on the sidewalk were removed about three years ago during sidewalk repairs and they need to be reinstalled.
“You hate to write up somebody that’s visiting and they didn’t know there was such a law and there’s no sign to tell them,” he said.
The business partnership meeting came two days after city council members passed an ordinance allowing police to confiscate bikes blocking the right-of-way on sidewalks and increasing the fine from $10 to $20.
Speakers also said more bicycle racks need to be provided to discourage illegal parking.
Liz Burgess, owner of Ginko Gallery & Studio, said some of her customers own expensive bikes and want to park nearby to prevent thefts.
“These are not the old clunkers that we used to ride and people want them where we can see them,” she said.
The city has 45 racks downtown to hold up to 427 bicycles, according to interim city manager Sal Talarico. He said Oberlin officials are looking to add more racks but business owners should check with the city before installing them.
Talarico said city officials have to balance the need for racks with the need to maintain the right-of-way.
“The sidewalks are very narrow,” he said. “We have limited space.”
Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter.
Evan Goodenow | Oberlin News-Tribune Bicycles are shown here parked illegally Sept. 7 on South Main Street. Oberlin officials want to add more bike racks while still maintaining the right-of-way on sidewalks.