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Friday, August 29, 2008

Cyclists win a battle in Iowa

The Des Moines Register reports today that Iowa county roads will stay open to group bicycle rides, and a big reason for that is the newspaper itself.

The Register, of course, is the driving force behind RAGBRAI -- the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. A fatality and lawsuit tied to the 2004 edition ride prompted Crawford County to ban large group bicycle rides and the Iowa State Association of Counties to seek state legislation and county ordinances aimed at regulating group rides.

David Vestal, the association's lawyer, told the Register that concessions by the newspaper addressed the issue. RAGBRAI officials will rewrite waivers signed by bicycle rider and will purchase liability insurance that covers counties along the statewide route, he said. The Register story did not say how much insurance coverage will be provided to the counties.

The fallout from the lawsuit also had led to these actions:
  • The association lobbied for state legislation that would have barred bicycle riders from collecting damages from counties and cities for most accidents. It failed to win approval.
  • The association then urged county officials statewide to adopt tough ordinances to regulate organized bicycle rides. The sample draft ordinance that the association wrote would require the sponsors of any qualified bicycle event to purchase a $1 million policy that also covers the county. Violators would face fines of at least $750.
  • In Hardin County, the Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance in July that declared the county's roads were not designed for bicycles. Groups of 10 or more bicyclists must obtain at least $1 million in liability insurance, and they can be fined $750 for first-time offenses.
  • The Dallas County Board of Supervisors considered a similar proposal in June, but it was shelved amid stiff opposition from bicyclists.
Hardin County board members will meet at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Hardin County Courthouse in Eldora to consider repealing its ordinance. Supervisor Jim Johnson acknowledged that the ordinance has been unpopular with bicycle riders, but he said county officials were concerned about protecting county taxpayers.

"If RAGBRAI has this covered, then we are satisfied," Johnson told the Register.

It's good to see the counties association back down from the harsh stand. Had more counties passed the ordinance, it would have been somewhat crippling for RAGBRAI but catastrophic for smaller bicycle clubs and other organizations that hold group rides.

The Register, which is owned by the Gannett newspaper chain, probably would have had deep enough pockets to afford the insurance, even with the shaky economic state of the newspaper industry. But lots of smaller groups wouldn't have been able to afford the policies.

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