Bike safety rankles mayor

By RICHARD LUKEN
Register Reporter

Iola Mayor Bill Maness noted the irony in declaring June 5 as Iola Walk and Bike to Work Day. Too many are reluctant to ride bikes on city streets because of safety concerns, he said.
“We have motorists who don’t have the slightest consideration for pedestrians and bicycle users,” Maness said at Tuesday’s City Commission meeting. “It’s wrong and it needs to stop.”
The mayor’s comments sprang from a discussion about how to mark the Prairie Spirit Trail’s intersection with North State Street. Maness is a proponent of adding a signal light to alert motorists of trail users attempting to cross the street.
Maness recalled stopping in his car recently to let a trail user cross, only to see that other motorists continued to pass in both directions. It wasn’t until he turned on his car’s flashers that other motorists noticed the pedestrian.
Assistant City Administrator Corey Schinstock visited with engineers and officials from the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks about the cost of erecting signals at the intersection. He found two potential hurdles: cost and liability.
“If you want to put a crossing signal, you might as well go big and pay $70,000 or $80,000,” for a signal with overhanging lights noticeable from each of the five State Street lanes, Schinstock said.
Doing a small-scale project would be akin to “throwing the city’s money away,” Schinstock said, because a small signal would not be noticed any more than the existing trail crossing signs.
And, KDWP officials indicated if the city installed a signal, thus changing the design of the trail’s layout, it could be liable if a trail user was then injured at the intersection.
Under the current design, the liability falls on KDWP. The trail has no other signals along its 60-mile route from Iola to Ottawa, Schinstock said.
“The problem is the liability factor,” Commissioner Craig Abbott agreed. “This is the kind of stuff people are hunting for.”
Maness was incredulous that the city would be better served by not installing a signal at the crossing.

AS THE discussion turned to other hazardous intersections — including many around the courthouse square — Maness noted that pedestrians in crosswalks often have to wait for cars to pass instead of the reverse.
He asked Schinstock and City Administrator Judy Brigham to visit with new Police Chief Jared Warner about better enforcing crosswalk laws.
The mayor said he would encourage law enforcement officers to do a full-scale, zero-tolerance approach to better educate the driving public about pedestrian safety.
“It’s unacceptable that we have people reluctant to ride bikes in town because they don’t feel safe,” Maness said. “Right now, this isn’t a safe community.”