New Ordinance Permits Bicycle Confiscation


Photo by Bryan Rubin, Photo editor

Police Chief Juan Torres describes enforcement of the new bike ordinance at the City Council meeting on Tuesday. The ordinance allows police officers to confiscate bikes parked in unauthorized locations.

Chaining a bicycle to a signpost or a fence is about to become a lot more costly in Oberlin.

At a meeting on Tuesday, City Council passed an ordinance allowing the Oberlin Police Department to confiscate bikes that are not parked in bike racks or attached to hitching posts.

The ordinance also increases the fine for leaving a bike in an unauthorized location from $10 to $20. Bikers will have 90 days to pay the fine and pick up their bike before it is disposed of.

“The purpose of the law is to change behavior,” Police Chief Juan Torres said at the meeting. “Taking custody of the bicycle is going to be one of the last resorts.”

Torres added that police officers will confiscate bikes when they become a “nuisance issue” or “block the sidewalk in a manner that might endanger other vehicles or pedestrians.”

The primary motivation for the ordinance is to make the downtown safer for the elderly and disabled people, according to Councilmember Sharon Pearson.

“We had a gentleman named Marion Parker who came before City Council three or four times,” Pearson said. “He is somebody who has a sight problem — he is partially blind, I believe — so when he is walking in the downtown and there are all these bikes parked all over the place, it’s hazardous for him.”

Pearson also stated that the ordinance would allow police to move bikes left in place for long periods of time.

“Sometimes bicycles can stay chained in places for months, and there was not an ordinance in place for the police department to do anything about it,” Pearson said.

Councilmember Bryan Burgess successfully pushed to amend the ordinance to allow people to leave their bikes on the sidewalk, but only if they leave them unlocked. The aim, Burgess said, is to allow bikers to easily pop into stores downtown while also keeping the sidewalk relatively unobstructed.

“I hope what this might do is cause someone to say, ‘Well, I can’t lock my bike on the sidewalk,’” Burgess said. “Knowing that their bike isn’t locked on the sidewalk is going to induce them to hurry in the store and then get right back out and move their bike.”

Following the ordinance, the city will try to add more bike racks along Main Street and College Street. The city also wants to work with the College to add bike racks along the edges of Tappan Square.

“We have to add more bike racks, and we have to let people know where the current ones are,” Councilmember Linda Slocum said.

For Slocum, the sidewalk in front of Slow Train is one of the primary problem areas.

“We put [a bike rack] behind Slow Train but I don’t think people parking out front realize that,” Slocum said. “Slow Train is, I would say, the main area of concern.”

While the ordinance technically goes into effect 30 days after its enactment on Tuesday, the Police Department plans to have an additional 60- day “grace period” before enforcement to educate the public about the new rule.

The Police Department plans to make a web page, print flyers and work with the College to make people aware of both the new ordinance and the location of all the bike racks in the city.

Councilmembers repeatedly emphasized both at the meeting and to the Review that the ordinance is not meant to discourage cycling in Oberlin in any way.

“I hope that everybody accepts this in the spirit that it’s intended, and that is to make the downtown a safe place for everyone,” Slocum said. “We really do want to encourage bicycle traffic, we just want to make it a good experience.”