City rejects helmet statute

Posted: Monday, February 28, 2005

Riding a bicycle in Soldotna without a helmet won't cause you to get a citation or fine, but may invite the people of Soldotna to tell you to get an education on bicycle safety.

Ordinance 810 was voted down at the council's Wednesday meeting. If passed, the law would have required minors under age 16 to wear helmets while riding bicycles or similar vehicles.

At the Dec. 8 council meeting, Soldotna Police Chief John Lucking presented his research on the effects of imposing a bicycle helmet law.

"We would have to develop a logging system to track repeat offenders. If we were to issue citations, that would take as long as 15 minutes to write up the document, and since kids usually ride bikes in groups we would have to write out even more tickets, taking more time. Then someone would have to drive the documents to the courthouse in Kenai, which means it would get into hours of overtime," he said.

Lucking contacted police departments in Bethel and Kenai, which both have helmet laws. He said he got the feeling the laws there were well intended but had some negative effects.

"Enforcing this would be a nightmare," he said.

The council, in order to preserve the good intentions of the helmet safety idea, set an alternative ordinance for public hearing on March 9. The ordinance would appropriate $3,500 for a safety campaign. The proposal also would pay for cautionary signs touting the benefits of wearing helmets along city bicycle trails — while leaving the freedom of choice to individual riders.

"We want to avoid creating a law no one would enforce," council member Jim Stogsdill said. "(Ordinance 810) would create more problems than it would cure."

City manager Tom Boedeker said $3,500 of grant money would be used until June for a radio advertisement to encourage helmet use.

In other business, the city:

n Adopted Resolution 2005-008, which authorizes a pool of funds to finance Kenai River Trail improvements. The pool is made up of funds from the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, the Soil and Water Conservation District and the city of Soldotna. The trail from Binkley Circle to Soldotna Creek will be held to federal design and construction standards.

Boedeker said he was somewhat disappointed with the final design.

"Though it technically meets the standards of handicap accessibility, it's not really ideal. I'd like to see it more accessible," he said.

Though there is not enough money for handicap ramps, Boedeker said he'd like to at least see the project get started — one part at a time. The pool has reached $1.67 million.

The trail's banks will be closed for two years, meaning no one will fish there.

"It has to be closed or we're wasting the money we spent on it," Boedeker said.

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