by Paul Bowers
Starting Dec. 1, police will begin confiscating bicycles that have been locked to trees, lamp posts, sign posts, and parking meters on the section of King Street between Calhoun Street and Market Street. Under a new ordinance passed by City Council Tuesday night, the city is expanding southward from an initial one-year pilot program that prohibited locking bikes to anything other than bike racks on a section of King Street between Spring and Calhoun.
The stated purpose of the ordinance is to keep narrow downtown sidewalks clear for pedestrians. Owners can retrieve their confiscated bicycles by going to police headquarters (180 Lockwood Blvd.) and paying a $45 fine. Since the city does not reimburse owners for the cost of their broken locks, bicyclists will also have to pay for new locks, which can cost anywhere from $15 to $100.
Council passed the new rule unanimously Tuesday night over protests from the Coastal Conservation League and the bicyclist advocacy group Charleston Moves, who argued that the ordinance was an unnecessary punitive measure against bike riders. Charleston Moves Executive Director Kurt Cavanaugh asked that the city install more bicycle parking in the original enforcement area before expanding the rule south of Calhoun. He also asked council to write warnings before confiscating bicycles.
"What you're doing by extending the ordinance south of Calhoun is creating a second problem," Cavanaugh said. "Are there constituents in your district that, if their bike is stolen or confiscated, would have a hard time replacing it, would have a hard time paying $45 at the Lockwood Boulevard police department — or would they not want to go there and feel welcome there? If that's the case, what would you tell those folks whose bikes, whose only mode of transportation is gone?"
Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. said at the meeting that the city is looking into installing more bike corrals around King Street and in downtown parking garages. He said police would start by attaching written warnings to illegally parked bicycles in the new enforcement area during the month of November.
Katie Zimmerman, director of the Coastal Conservation League's Air, Water, and Public Health Program, pointed out that the $45 retrieval fee for confiscated bicycles is higher than the state's $25 fine for texting while driving, which is one of the lowest such fines in the nation. (Zimmerman has a column in this week's paper about treating bicyclists as second-class citizens. Click here to read it.)
"We're talking bike and pedestrian safety, and you're punishing bicyclists more than you are texters-and-drivers," Zimmerman said.
The city initially charged a $100 fine for distracted driving, but the city ordinance was later superseded by the less stringent statewide texting ban. Police enforcement of the ordinances against texting while driving and illegal bike parking has been lopsided. In first 10 months enforcing the bicycle parking ban on Upper King, police confiscated 207 bicycles. During the first seven-and-a-half months enforcing a citywide distracted driving ban, police wrote six tickets for violations.
If you're looking for a place to lock your bike in Charleston, click here to see an interactive bike map created by the city.