Taking Aim at Abandoned Bicycles - TribPapers

Taking Aim at Abandoned Bicycles

Jonathan Wainscott struggles to find the value in prioritizing the removal of abandoned bikes. Screenshot.

Asheville – Jonathan Wainscott, who frequently participates in public comment at Asheville City Council meetings, shared the frustration of concerned citizens. In the parlance of public information officers, one doesn’t have to look far these days to identify a wealth of opportunities for civic improvement. So, Wainscott thanked council for all the time they spent trying to close an “infinite loophole” in a “big nothing burger” and a “really tiny little problem.”

City staff put forward an amendment to the city’s Unified Development Ordinance that would prohibit people from leaving “bicycles, carts, strollers, or other means of personal transportation” on city property for more than one week. Wainscott pointed out that a person would actually have about two weeks to store their property because the system was to be complaint-driven. Complaints would be lodged after an item had been stored for seven days, and then it would take another seven days to “process” the complaint.

City Attorney Brad Branham explained that the city currently had a code generally prohibiting the abandoning of personal property, but it had a carveout for the aforementioned modes of transportation, provided they did not obstruct rights of way or impede the use of other city properties. The staff report speculated that the carveout would have been created because, for example, people don’t typically take their bicycles with them inside businesses. “However,” read the report, “it has led to situations where bikes have been abandoned and/or left affixed to bike racks for extended periods of time.” Abandoned bikes were described as a nuisance, restricting the use of bike racks by others.

Councilwoman Kim Roney said she had walked and rode her bike around town looking for all the full bike racks. Instead of finding any, she found that a greater problem was just trying to find a bike rack. She therefore suggested that staff might be trying to solve the wrong problem.

Roney had other concerns, which she mentioned only in passing, having discussed them at the committee level already. For example, she said the proposed ordinance was not clear about where signs would be required; it seemed to her that the language implied they would have to be on some bike racks but not others. She was also concerned about how people would get their property back after the city “removed” it.

Roney was told the signs would be similar to those for towed cars, and they would include a phone number for recovery. But she said the problem was larger, as the city would have to establish a site for impounded lightweight vehicles and staff the removal effort. Surely there would be a financial impact, but she knew of no analysis.

She also weaved into the discussion concerns about previous conversations about being able to bring food in one cart but not being able to bring laundry in the same cart and different allowances for scooters with and without batteries. At a previous meeting, City Manager Debra Campbell clarified that those rules are for what people are allowed to take on buses. The current issue with bike racks is separate.

To that, Roney countered that the new transit rules were compelling people to leave belongings behind, perhaps chained to bike racks. City Attorney Brad Branham explained that what people are allowed to bring on buses is governed at the federal level by the Americans with Disabilities Act. It is not permissible to store anything in the aisles of a bus due to space constraints. North Carolina law governs how long the city can hold abandoned personal property, and durations are based on the type of equipment and its value.

Currently, the city has 65 bicycle racks and four bicycle corrals. The plan was to put signs up at the corrals as soon as the ordinance goes into effect and “add them to other locations as the need arises.” Staff acknowledged that issuing citations would be difficult unless the city wanted to start requiring bikes to have license tags.

The ordinance states that a violation would constitute a misdemeanor, so apparently people would only be charged when they attempted to retrieve their property. Violators would be charged in accordance with General Statute 14-4, and the portion of that ordinance pertaining to “the operation or parking of vehicles” indicates penalties would not exceed $50 per infraction.

Council voted 6-1 in favor of the ordinance, given that the details Roney mentioned could be addressed separately at a later date. Because the ordinance includes a criminal penalty, a second reading will be held on July 25.