On April 1, 2013 Ohio’s not-so-Bike-Friendly Gov., John Kasich, signed HB51 into law. This is the big “Transportation Bill” that has been in the news featuring New Improved FASTER Speed Limits. Buried in the bill, at line 2500 or so is a few lines added at the request of the Ohio Bicycle Federation – a new definition of “Bicycle.”
Why is this important? Where did it come from?
It all started a traffic ticket given by police in Lakewood, Ohio to Vinnie Latessa, who was giving his 10-year old autistic son a ride in his “Rhodes Car…”
A Rhodes Car is a unique vehicle – you can read about them here. The company offers all kinds of unique vehicles – 4-wheeled pedal cycles – some with optional motors. Vinnie found that as his autistic son got older, and bigger, he still enjoyed riding around but he was too big for a typical bicycle “seat” or “trailer.” The Rhodes car, shown above, turned out to be perfect for Vinnie and his son.
Until September 26 2012, that is…
On that date Vinnie was driving his Rhodes vehicle down Madison in Lakewood, Ohio when he was stopped by police and given a ticket. For what? Speeding? AFRAP? Impeding Traffic? Well, no… Vinnie was ticketed for driving a “toy vehicle” on the roadway!
Annie Latessa, Vinnie’s mom, forwarded me an email –
“I have a 35 year old son who has an 11 year old boy with autism. My son weights 135 lbs, and his son weights 85 lbs. They live in Lakewood, Ohio. During the summer my son likes to take his son for bike rides. His son is getting too old for riding on the back of a regular bike, he has a 3 wheel bike, but there is no room for the son, and he can’t put him on the tantum bike because he is afraid he will fall off. So he purchased a used rhoades bike. The rhoades bike is a 4 wheel bike that seats 2 in the front (2 bucket seats) with 2 sets of peddles. The child likes it because he can peddle so he thinks he is doing the driving and he is comfortable and safe in it. Any way, Lakewood gave him a ticket and called it a toy, and said it was not allowed on the street. The ordinance in Lakewood says only 2 and 3 wheels are allowed on the street. They do not allow skateboards (which has 4 wheels). Any help or suggestions from you would be greatly appreciated.”
I corresponded with Bill Pomakoy, the President of Rhodes Car and got some background on these unique vehicles. As the website cited above notes, they have sold some 10,000 of their vehicles. The Rhodes vehicles are accepted as “road worthy” everywhere… except Lakewood, Ohio apparently.
So what’s this “toy vehicle” thing about?
Well, in September 2012 Ohio’s definition of “bicycle” in 4511.01(G) limited a “bicycle” to human powered devices with two or three wheels. As the article noted, four-wheeled vehicles were not included in that definition. But does that make them “toys?”
The Lakewood, Ohio city ordinances do not allow “toy vehicles” on the road – and since the Rhodes didn’t fit into the “bicycle” cubbyhole, city officials felt it could be banned and Vinnie could be ticketed for driving one on the road.
The Lakewood case developed a life of its own once Cleveland Plain Dealer “Road Rant” author John Horton started following the case and writing about Vinnie’s struggle to use his vehicle on city streets. While I started passing the story around to several bike advocates around the state, John’s articles generated a avery positive response at the grass roots level.
Vinnie decided to fight the ticket in the Lakewood Municipal Court. The issue was whether this Rhodes Car was a “toy vehicle.” To me, the answer was clearly, unequivocally NO. The prohibition against using “toys” on the road is designed to keep younger kids from riding Big Wheels or other obvious “kid” mobiles on the road. The Rhodes Car is a big, serious piece of adult equipment. It’s good-sized, seats several, very heavy and can carry multiple folks around town. Vinnie used his Rhodes car to transport his kids around and for his general enjoyment as a fun way to get around town.
After listening to arguments, Judge Carroll, the Lakewood Municipal Court judge hearing the case, decided to toss the ticket. He concluded that while the device didn’t fit the “bicycle” definition it was NOT a toy. The judge suggested that it be handled legislatively.
The “buzz” coming out of Lakewood was decidedly NOT favorable to Mr. Latessa or the Rhodes Car. The Mayor called the Rhodes Car a “potential safety hazard.” From the article:
“We’re talking about a five-foot wide vehicle,” Summers said. “A car may not see it on the road, or a driver may get impatient and try to go around it. The backseat of the quadricycle is basically the backseat of a mini-van attached to it.”
The good citizens of Lakewood are apparently very ornery, impatient souls, and also quite BLIND seeing as the Mayor feels they can’t be trusted to SEE A FIVE FOOT WIDE VEHICLE in front of them or may “get impatient”…
Calling this a “safety” issue is complete BS. The thing is big – it’s as wide as a small car. People are going to “see” it and, if they can’t, they shouldn’t be driving. The only way it is not “safe” is if impatient people ignore the traffic law and aggressively behave in ways to endanger Vinnie or his kids. Further, Ohio law already permits riding two abreast so how is driving a car behind the Rhodes vehicle any different than driving behind two riders riding two abreast??
No, this is quite clearly an assault on slower moving vehicles in a fast paced life. It’s about those precious seconds that motorists “lose” while waiting to get around the Rhodes Car… just as folks have to wait to pass bicyclists, Amish buggies and farm equipment in many parts of Ohio.
So, with this background, the Board of Trustees of the Ohio Bicycle Federation began discussing the Lakewood/Rhodes Car issue and decided to present a new definition of “bicycle” as part of its 3-part 2013 legislative package. The definition would simplify and broaden the “bicycle” definition and would clearly include devices like the Rhodes Car. In that same package of legal reforms we also proposed a “Three Foot Law” along with changes to the “malfunctioning traffic signal” law that would allow cyclists and motorcyclists to move through a red light when the vehicle detector failed to detect our vehicle and kept the light stuck on red.
Getting this stuff turned into law is a “whole ‘nother thang” as my dad used to say. You are probably familiar with Otto Von Bismarck’s quote – “Laws are like sausages – it is better NOT to see them being made…” In this case, though, the process was swift and painless…
We realized shortly after our Board meeting approving the legislative package that there was a big transportation bill already pending before the Ohio House. We tried to have our 3 part “bike law” package added as an amendment to this bill however, because of the timing of our vote and the “fast track” movement of the bill through the Ohio House, the powers that be in Columbus decided there wasn’t time to fully evaluate all three proposals. The bill then went to the Senate where we renewed our efforts to get the our “package” added. The Senate agreed to add the “bicycle” definition and it passed. The Senate bill differed from the House bill, to they then went to committee to try to shape the 2 bills into one. Fortunately, when HB51 came up for the final vote, our new definition was left in. HB 51 was passed and, on April 1, Gov. Kasich signed it into law.
So… now whatchoo got to say Lakewood?
[Sorry… couldn’t resist a little In Yo’ Face]
The bottom line is that the Rhodes Car will be a “legal” bicycle on July 1 – once it is a bicycle it cannot be “banned” from the road per Ohio Revised Code Section 4511.07. This section allows cities to regulate “the operation of bicycles” with a couple of provisos – 1. No local rule can be “fundamentally inconsistent” with state traffic law and 2. no local regulation may prohibit bikes from the roads…
We’ll we where it goes from here …
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