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City Council, October 27

The peril of long meetings
Bikes, budget, and feral cats
Marc Knapp

The amendment to the Ordinance regulating the use of bicycles on sidewalks received its second reading last night. There was considerable discussion and in effect, by not simultaneously approving the third reading, a final decision was deferred.

The deferral was unusual, at least at the second reading. If there are issues, they are usually expressed at the first reading. At the second reading, compromises and changes have usually been incorporated into the proposed ordinance or amendment, and passage is swift. So what happened?

First reading at end of Agenda
The first reading of the proposed amendment was on the agenda of the City Council when it met on October 13. The meeting turned out to be very long and probably most Council members and certainly the few members of the public still present were worn out. As is usual, those items up for the First Reading are at the end of the agenda. And being there, they can get “short shrift” when meetings prove long. So it was with the proposed amendment.

The catalyst to greater scrutiny last night was a report on the ordinance in the Post and Courier earlier this week. This precipitated a number of phone calls to some Council members. Some members of the public did not like what they read.

Purpose was to allow children to ride on sidewalks
Council member White said he was responsible for the proposed amendment and frankly was surprised at the hostility. He said that there was a lot of misinformation out there. The amendment was solely to allow young children to ride their bikes on sidewalks, nothing else. He was not trying to loosen the laws relating to bikes and skate boards and allow adults to have free reign on sidewalks. He confessed to using the sidewalk to teach his small children how to ride a bike. Living on Daniel Island, it would have been unsafe to teach them on the road. He thought the ordinance should be amended to allow sidewalk use by children in suburban areas and had worked with City staff for months to shape an amendment that would allow this without opening it up for all cyclists. He also said that the amendment would have little effect on the Peninsula.

Issues of safety and enforcement
Council member Evans said that she wanted the issue deferred. Her district covered the College of Charleston, students of which were avid users of bikes. She needed more time to discuss the ramifications. Council member Lewis was less accommodating. He said that he received numerous complaints from constituents about people riding bikes on sidewalks. The folk, often elderly, were opposed to anybody riding bikes on sidewalks. All represented a danger. Besides, who was going to enforce the new ordinance? Present regulations were barely enforced. Council member Evans was leery about enforcement.

Problem of shaping an ordinance for all parts of the community
Personally we liked the amendment though concede that Council member Lewis has a point. We sympathize with what Council member White is trying to achieve but it is a problem to shape an ordinance so it is fair to all parts of the community – suburban and urban. The communities that the two Council members represent are at the opposite end of the economic spectrum. But the ordinance does seem complex as it relies on the speed limit on the adjacent street. Bike riding on a sidewalk is permitted only when the posted street speed limit is 35mph or more. Bike riding on sidewalks is banned in any School Overlay or commercial zone in the area between Broad and the Crosstown, and between the Cooper and Ashley Rivers.

Unusually, the passage of the amendment will be determined at the third reading, probably the next Council meeting.

Question on awarded contract
Another unusual occurrence at yesterday's meeting was a request by a representative of a company that lost out on a bid for City business. In the Ways and Means, members voted to award a $214,000 contract for the installation in Fire Stations of diesel exhaust extraction systems to Air Cleaning Specialists Inc. The representative said his company came third in the bidding but asked the award be reconsidered. He said that the company that won the award had a short history and the product it was installing was unproven.

Council member Shirley asked the City Fire Chief as to the veracity of the claims. He was told that the Fire Department has done its due diligence of all of the systems offered by applicants before it made its choice. He also noted that the system was installed in a number of fire departments in other municipalities. They had been called, and they reported satisfaction. He also said that the choice had been made with input from the department’s fire fighters. Council member Shirley took it no further.

And speaking of the Fire Department, I noted that while stuck in a traffic jam on Rivers Ave., I observed a City fire department pickup truck, the driver of which was not wearing a seat belt and was smoking in the vehicle. Smoking in city vehicles is not allowed. I commonly observed and reported this during the previous hierarchy a number of times. Perhaps a small thing, but if minor regulations are commonly ignored, will the major ones be treated similarly? Remember the Sofa Super Store fire?

Budget deliberations underway
The City also had a public hearing on the upcoming budget for 2010. There were a number of speakers, all of whom were non profits asking for funds to support their endeavors and included Trident Literacy Association and the Red Cross. I spoke also, and said that times were tough and unlikely to get better for some time. It may be time for the City to consider staff and salary cuts. The City had largely avoided these but it may no longerc be able to do so.
Feral cats get another life
The City also considered a change in its ordinance relating to free roaming cats. A similar ordinance was introduced by the County at its last meeting. The change was reported in some detail by the Post and Courier yesterday. In summary, the City is to establish a program with the local ASPCA where “roaming cats” (feral cats) are picked up by the City, sterilized or neutered and then released. Before release to where they were found, they would also be micro-chipped and vaccinated. A representative of the ASPCA noted that some 2400 free roaming cats had been euthanized last year. If the program were in place, about 1500 would have be released. The program in the long run, should lead to a reduction in feral cat colonies. There were also other changes to the City ordinance relating to the impoundment and redemption of animals picked up by the City.