Iowa County Ordinance Passes, Improved But Still Problematic

“Be patient, be reasonable, be inviting. Biking is a growing sport that will be good for Iowa County,” said Duane Swensen, a long-time Iowa County farmer.

Swensen was speaking in opposition to an Iowa County ordinance that would regulate special events, including bike rides and runs, using Iowa County roads. Of about a dozen people who spoke regarding the ordinance, only three were in favor.

Will organized rides like the Dairyland Dare stay in Iowa County now that this ordinance passed/

Stewart Schilling and Michelle Godez-Schilling, who organize the Dairyland Dare and Mark Maffitt the president of the Bombay Bicycle Club, which sponsors the Horribly Hilly Hundred, spoke to the negative impact parts of the ordinance would have on their events and others. A representative of the Dodgeville Humane Society raised concerns about the impact on their fundraising walk. A Dodgeville doctor talked about the health benefits of biking for her patients and noted that she herself was an avid cyclist. A Dodgeville family of three testified about how much they enjoyed the biking and walking events that take place in the county.

The ordinance was proposed last fall and referred to a committee for further work. Some improvements were made, but two major issues remained. The committee removed a requirement for $4 million in liability insurance but replaced that with vague language requiring an amount of insurance that the county deemed appropriate. The ordinance also called for a permit fee, but didn’t specify the amount. Two hundred and fifty dollars has been suggested by some county officials.

I represented the Bike Fed at the hearing. I made the case for the economic benefits of cycling in the county and the state as a whole. I pointed out that we’re proud to have some of the very best cycling in the world right here in Wisconsin. And I said that we deplore bad behavior by cyclists, just as we should deplore bad behavior by motorists. So, while we don’t oppose the entire ordinance, I suggested that the board refer it back to committee to address the remaining concerns or at the very least sunset the ordinance after a year so that it would only be renewed if our concerns did not materialize.

So we were pleased when Supervisor Jeremy Meek started formal action on the ordinance by moving that the ordinance be sunsetted on March 1, 2015. That amendment passed 15-6.

Next, Supervisor Curt Peterson moved to simply require insurance without specifying how much or allowing the county to determine the amount. That amendment passed 20-1.

So, we had two improvements under our belt when Supervisor Ed Weaver moved that the entire ordinance be referred back to committee. That vote failed on a vote of 6-15.

Will the rolling hills and low-traffic town roads still attract larger organized rides like the Horribly Hilly Hundreds? Some counties like Bayfield, La Crosse, Portage, etc. are actively trying to attract people who ride bikes to bring more tourism dollars into local economies.

Supervisor Weaver then gave an articulate, passionate and wry argument against the ordinance as a whole. “Seems to me that some folks just don’t like bicyclists,” he said. “There’s a lot of talk these days about too much government. But now we’re going to regulate biking, then tax it, then run it out of the county and then spend more money trying to figure out how to get bicyclists back.”

His motion to table the ordinance failed and a short time later it was passed on a 16-5 vote. Our thanks to out to supervisors Marjorie Bonkamp, Ed Weaver, Tom DeLain, Phillip Mrozinski, and Ryan Walmer for their votes against the proposal and also to Supervisor Carol Anderson for joining the others in voting to table it.

So, all in all it was a fair night’s work. Even though the ordinance did pass the major remaining concern, the amount of insurance required of the ride organizers, was left up to the organizers themselves. And since all organizers do have insurance it really makes no change in current practice at all.

In addition, the entire ordinance will be eliminated automatically on March 1, 2015 unless it is passed again. We’ll see how well this works during the 2014 ride season and if problems materialize we believe we’ll have a good chance to defeat it when it comes up for renewal.

It’s important to keep in mind that the ordinance only impacts rides with more than 100 riders and it does not effect individuals or informal groups of riders at all. Still, Stewart felt that even in its watered down version the ordinance might end up eliminating as many as five organized events in Iowa County while others might opt to avoid the county if they can.

Now the Bike Fed needs to see what we can do to get out ahead of these kinds of proposals and perhaps work on a model local ordinance.

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About Dave Cieslewicz, Executive Director

Dave Cieslewicz served two terms as mayor of Madison where he set the city on a path for Platinum status as one of the best biking cities in North America. Before that he started his own nonprofit, 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, which focuses on land use and transportation policy. He has been an adjunct professor at the UW Madison's Department of Urban and Regional Planning where he teaches a class called Bikes, Pedestrians and Cities. He pronounces his name chess LEV ich, but nobody else does.

2 thoughts on “Iowa County Ordinance Passes, Improved But Still Problematic

  1. It’s off to the Birkebeiner tonight to avoid the storm, but when back home I’d really like to see the ordinance that passed as written. In my letter prior to the public hearing I pointed out the county was liable to open itself to lawsuits based on restricting the right to use public roads. As the proposed ordinance was written then, any “planned” event was subject to insurance, permit, notification, signage and other requirements. While some requirements and standardization seem reasonable with “for fee” events, a great many more are technically “planned” by groups of friends. The Wednesday Night Bike Rides (WNBR) often visit Iowa County. There is no fee, but someone plans, posts a route, selects a start/finish. If this language remained in the passed ordinance I would envision a complaint about bicyclists on the roads, pursuit by enforcement vehicles, and fines issued. Hopefully there will be a lawyer among the riders.

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