How a City Council Can Start a War

March 10, 2015

Citizen Scoops

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By DEBBIE NIX

city council

IT STARTS WITH ONE ‘GREAT IDEA’

Nothing can create an absolute knock-down drag-out war faster than a city council. All it takes is one “great idea” to get things going, and pretty soon everybody’s at each other’s throat. Take my town, for instance.

A guy who lives in a very upscale, expensive subdivision of my town recently decided the town needs a bike lane. He’s on a regional transportation commission – and this commission, at his request, doled out a $100,000 for a study on bike lanes and their locations.

To the amazement of many, one of the busiest streets in town was specifically chosen to be first on the list.

On the surface it looked harmless to city council; the vote was taken, the approval given, and in short order the lines and bike symbols were painted in bright white paint on one of the town’s main thoroughfares. Everyone seemed happy. That is, until the residents that live on that thoroughfare drove home one day to find that a freshly painted bike lane was painted over their streetside parking area.

After a little research, the homeowners discovered that according to South Carolina law, bike paths can’t run adjacent to parking spaces or designated areas for garbage bins. So they marched to city council asking how this happened without any notice being given by city officials.

So what was the city’s solution? Residents and their guests who had lost their roadside parking would be required to park on side streets – and in some cases those side streets were blocks away. They would have to take their garbage bins to the side streets, too. And when they had guests, they could have the police department place orange cones on the parking area. (Just what you want to do when you have guests coming over, right? Call the police.)

Well, the war was on. There were acrimonious city council meetings. There was a downtown bike demonstration organized by biking groups. There were fights on Facebook that could make a bar fight look civil. There was even an online petition demanding that the bike lane stay – a petition signed by people all over the United States; indeed, all over the world.

Nobody is against making the city more bike-friendly. I’m a casual biker myself – I have several thousand dollars invested in bikes and miscellaneous biking gear. But the road in question is simply too narrow and too busy for a bike lane, and it was simply outrageous to take people’s parking places to put it there.

In the end, the city compromised. The painted bike symbols in the lane would be removed, but the painted lines would remain, and the “Share the Road” signs would be installed. So, the bikers are as free to “Share the Road” as they were before all this occurred, and the on street parking privileges were returned to the residents.

This story isn’t about the value of bike lanes, or the need for alternative modes of transportation, or any of that. This is about the propensity of government officials to listen to narrowly focused interest groups without undertaking anything close to due diligence and considering how their citizens will be affected.

Debbie Nix has been an Aiken resident for most of her life. She and her husband, Harry, have owned a plumbing, electrical, and heating and air-conditioning company for 27 years.