BERKELEY LAKE - Nearly every seat was filled at Thursday night's City Council meeting, with most attendants showing up to have their say regarding first read of a proposed city ordinance regulating cycling on certain streets within the city - Lakeshore Drive, Ridge Road and Little Ridge Road.
In the end, Mayor Lois Salter was left to break the tie vote, nixing the measure.
The most controversial component of the ordinance, proposed by council member Bernie Cohen, would require both the bicycle and the bicyclist to register annually with City Hall to have a permit to cycle on these roads. This proposal was spurred by a recent accident involving a cyclist and a pedestrian.
"This is only the most recent accident. There have been many more," Cohen said.
The problem, as it's become on this instance, is that Berkeley Lake (specifically Lakeshore Drive) draws cyclists from surrounding areas because of its scenic but tight and narrow curves. Cohen's stance on the ordinance is that, while it would not prevent accidents from happening any more than traffic laws do, it would increase cyclists' accountability and "visibility" to city law enforcement.
Another problem, said Gwinnett Deputy Sheriff Nakia Brooks, is that a police officer can not enforce city ordinances. Therefore, Charlie Sewell, the city's ordinance enforcement officer, would be left to the task. It's a logistics problem, to say the least. Sewell has neither the time nor the resources to police cyclists and enforce the ordinance, he said.
Council member Debbie Guthrie opposed the ordinance, saying it is "absurd and Draconian. We are fortunate to have police officers who are aware that the issue is important to us and will bend over backwards to help with it." Cohen replied that, up until the recent accident involving the cyclist and pedestrian, "nothing has been done. It's an issue now because this has happened, but in a year it will be forgotten and we'll still have the problem."
Public sentiment was polarized. Cyclists argued that they are not the only violators of the Georgia laws; pedestrians and motorists are culpable as well. Those in favor of the ordinance argued that something has to be done to raise awareness that Berkeley Lake enforces all of the laws set forth by the state of Georgia regarding safety and rules for cycling.
The city's ordinance committee chair, Walter Anderson, summed up the feelings of the committee saying, "We find that this ordinance doesn't enforce safety. We find that it is divisive, separating cyclists, motorists and pedestrians. We encourage the council not to adopt the ordinance in its current form."
Many who opposed the ordinance, including Guthrie, suggested that other measures should be tried before adopting an ordinance that increases paperwork and work load on city employees. "These police officers can educate citizens and cyclists regarding Georgia's laws. We can post signs signifying our strict enforcement of the laws," said Guthrie.
Other speakers suggested designating certain days and times that cyclists are permitted to bike the roads in question. But the general argument against the ordinance was that police officers can enforce state laws, so they should be allowed to do so. Councilman George Sipe said that "if we rely totally on county and state laws, then perhaps we don't need to be a city. This ordinance is not 'Draconian' nor is it onerous. I don't think we're asking that much."
Several times during the meeting, Salter had to call for order, as comments were being made out of order and when others had the floor, more evidence of the passionate feelings on both sides. After more than an hour of open discussion, Cohen moved to put the ordinance on first read. Sipe seconded the motion. The vote was tied 2-2, with Sipe and Cohen voting for first read and councilwomen Delicia Reynolds and Guthrie against it. Salter, left to cast the deciding vote, said, "I vote not to put this ordinance on first read until I fully understand it and that our citizens clearly don't want."
Salter did admonish Sipe and Cohen to start over and try to come up with an ordinance that makes more sense for everyone.
The mayor did make the statement that she wants it understood locally and nationally that these issues are important to Berkeley Lake and that they are being taken seriously. "I want it to be known that I am directing our police to do everything in their power to find and punish violators."