In the face of public pressure, Flagstaff City Council pulled back on two policies that would have more strictly regulated cyclists.
In May, Council directed staff to draw up ordinance language that would have banned electric bicycles on gravel portions of the Flagstaff Urban Trail System and made it illegal to ride any kind of bicycle while intoxicated.
But the council moved in the opposite direction on both policies in their vote on Tuesday.
Vice-Mayor Adam Shimoni, who was facilitating the meeting, thanked the community for the outpouring of opposition Council had received toward the planned regulations. Shimoni had been the loudest dissenting voice when Council began looking to regulate bikes last month.
“This past week has been incredible. Your comments were heard loud and clear by all of us, and I don’t believe we would be having the discussion we're having tonight if it wasn’t for your engagement,” Shimoni told the nearly 50 members of the public in attendance, who mostly spoke against the regulation.
According to Councilmember Austin Aslan, over the last week Council had received over 100 emails primarily in opposition to the regulation.
Council voted to allow class one and two electric bikes (e-bikes) on all portions of the urban trail regardless of whether the section is paved.
Class three e-bikes remained banned from all portions of the urban trail, including paved sections. The electric motors of class three e-bikes allow the rider to reach speeds of 28 miles per hour before disengaging.
The motors on class one and two e-bikes disengage at 20 miles per hour, although they can go faster under the strength of the rider.
Council also voted to completely eliminate the proposal to make biking while intoxicated illegal.
That proposal would have made it a misdemeanor to ride either a traditional bike or e-bike while intoxicated with a punishment of a $250 fine and five days in jail, or one day in jail if the person agreed to take an educational program.
Should Council have moved forward with the law, the true cost of the fine for someone caught riding while intoxicated may have been far higher than $250.
Municipal Court Administrator Jessica Cortes said court fees associated with local and state law could mean the cost of such a fine would be closer to $600 to $700.
Regents Professor Raymond Michalowski, of the criminal justice department at Northern Arizona University, said the cost of such a fine could hit those who have lower incomes harder than other populations in Flagstaff.
Moreover, Michalowski said many people who ride bicycles are lower on the income scale; for example, students who may not be able to afford cars and for whom the penalty could have been devastating.
Michalowski added the main reason drunk driving is punished so stringently is that the impaired drivers pose a large risk of injury or death to others. And in punishing intoxicated cyclists in a similar way, people may be less incentivized to take the less deadly option in the form of the bike.
And many of those members of the public voiced a similar sentiment.
Councilmember Jim McCarthy disagreed, however.
“I find it kind of hilarious that people can get up here and say, ‘yeah, it’s fine to drive on a bicycle drunk,’” McCarthy said. “I think that’s humorous at best.”
McCarthy said he, like the rest of Council, agreed that the punishment was excessive, but disagreed that the city should not discourage the practice.