• Tue December 18 2007
  • Posted Dec 18, 2007
From the Iowa City Press-Citizen; "The Iowa State Association of Counties has gone overboard in its suggested response to one county's banning of the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. And the Johnson County Board of Supervisors was right Thursday in deciding against signing on to the association's resolution. In 2004, RAGBRAI rider Kirk Ullrich, 49, was thrown from his bicycle after hitting a centerline crack on a county road in Crawford County. His wife sued the county, and upon the advice of its insurance company, the county agreed to a $350,000 settlement, while not admitting any negligence. As a result of this unfortunate accident, the Crawford County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution banning RAGRBAI and any similar bicycle events because its roads are not designed for bicycle travel. "We build roads for cars, OK? And trucks," Royce Fichtner, the county engineer in Marshall County and the lobbyist for Iowa County Engineers Association, said to the Des Moines Register at the time. "My concern is all counties are going to have to take the same steps as Crawford County -- or the law should be changed, because we sure don't want to see RAGBRAI come to an end." The Iowa State Association of Counties has understandably reacted to this situation by urging state legislators to limit the liability of counties when it comes to bicycle related accidents. But the problem is the method by which the association seeks to limit counties' liability. The resolution calls on state legislators to declare that counties cannot be held liable for bicycle accidents that take place on roads "designed, constructed and maintained as required for motor vehicles." Unfortunately, such wording essentially opens the door to stripping bicyclists' rights to the road and removing pressure from counties to keep up maintenance on county roads. Not only could that complicate planning for large events like RAGBRAI, but it also could directly affect anyone who cycles on any road for commuting and recreational purposes. Bicycles are not merely toys that children eventually outgrow when they get their drivers' licenses. Iowa City has a growing number of residents and students who use the city's trails, sidewalks and streets to travel to work and school. Earlier this year, in fact, the League of American Bicyclists recognized Iowa City with an honorable mention in its listing of bicycle-friends cities. We've urged local drivers to remember that they need to share the road with cyclists, and we've urged local governments to make the safety of bicycle and pedestrian traffic a priority for any new construction or upgrading projects. The Iowa State Association of Counties is right that the state legislature is the right forum in which this discussion should be held -- as opposed to developing 99 different codes for roads throughout the state. But any change to the law needs to continue to recognize that bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as anyone driving a motor vehicle on Iowa roads."

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