The Electric Commentary

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Run for your lives! It's....

A bunch of skinny guys in spandex? Leaders of small towns in rural Wisconsin are banding together to try to solve a big problem. People are riding bikes. This must be stopped.

I have been meaning to blog about this since I first came across a letter written by the president of the township of Black Earth and sent to local, state and federal (yes, she sent it to US Senators)government officials alerting them to this problem but I was distracted by a wedding this weekend which kept me away from my computer. The first of the ol' boys from high school tied the knot. It was a really fun time. Greg (the groom) is one of my best friends from high school and a really great guy and his wife Sara is really great too. And she's really hot so I'm extra proud of Greg. They met during their freshman year in college when they were on the University of Minnesota's crew team. He was the first guy in the boat and she was the little girl that drives. They essentially spent several months on the water staring longingly into each other's eyes. Awwww. The wedding was a blast. The open bar was unforgiving this morning and judging from a receipt I found in my wallet I went to Denny's at 3am and got a chicken sandwich but very fun nonetheless. I digress.

Here is the letter that was written by Jeanne Poast and sent to Governor Jim Doyle, Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, senators Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl, and several other government officials:

Hello to the Governor, County Exec. Kathleen Falk, Senator Erpenbach, Senator Feingold, Rep. Travis, Rep. Baldwin, and Dane County Supervisors -Wendt and Hitzemann! [sic]

We have been having a real problem with groups of bike racer(groups)[sic] over taking [sic] our area and the roads! Leaders from the Townships of Berry, Mazo, Vermont, Black Earth, Cross Plains and the village of Black Earth have expressed concerns to the Dane County Sheriff's office. But we need more help then [sic] they can give us. Laws need to be changed or understood better. Seems [sic] the biker has alot more rights then the people who are paying for insurance, license plates and the roads we drive on!

Next Monday night there is a meeting at the Vermont Town Hall and I have been asked to go and I really want you to come to the meeting!

These people are living through this all the time and they need your help! They need to be heard by someone who can make a difference!

I have an idea... Charge them a fee! Why can't we put license plates on bikes. That way we can make them accountable for breaking the law! When they break the law then we can call the police and have a way to know who it is! So many of these groups of bikers come into our village and /or townships and take over the roads! This is where we live! How would they feel if we take [sic] over in their town or village? They have no regard the [sic]people that live here or their property. The state and county need money and this is a major problem. Charging them a GOOD healthy fee for a license plate would help with some of the sort [sic] fall in the county and state budget!

After all this is a hobby!

Please come to the meeting on July 12 at 7:30 p.m.!
Something needs to be done and it has to start some place!

Jeanne Poast
Black Earth Village President
Population 1314
1210 Mills St., Black Earth, WI 53515
Cell # 608-444-0190 or home office 767-2564

Let us realize that the privilege to work is a gift, that power to work is a blessing, that love of work is success. --David O. McKay

Where do I begin?

My first thought when I read this was "who does this lady think she is?" I've been biking pretty regularly for the past few years and I've had some close calls. Drivers, especially in rural areas, can be dangerous and many of them seem like they would rather cripple a cyclist than be delayed five seconds on their drive from the farm to the Farm and Fleet. They yell and honk their horns and come dangerously close when they pass and I've never been entirely sure why. I know cyclists that have been forced to ride off the rode to avoid getting hit. I've been stopped and threatened by two fat guys in overalls.

And the townspeople need help? We're the major problem? I realize that this "issue" is definitely affected by point of view. Maybe we are as annoying to them as they are to us. Sometimes I get annoyed by drivers when I'm walking and sometimes I get annoyed with walkers when I'm driving. That's just the way it is. Annoying is not against the law.

Ms. Poast's letter doesn't make much sense. She never really says what we are doing that we should stop doing. She wants us to get license plates on our bikes so they can call the county sheriff if we are seen breaking laws. I have three problems with this. The first problem with this idea is the impracticality of putting a license plate that is big enough to read on a vehicle that is four inches wide. My second objection to license plates is that if a sheriff spent any time responding to a report of "reckless cycling" I would lose all faith in police-work and the use of tax dollar. Is this really a problem that our civil servants need to address? Aren't there bigger problems in Black Earth and Vermont and Mazo? I think my biggest problem with this is the potential for abuse that would go along with license plates. Its clear that some of these motorists, without reason, hate us and want us out of town. If you make us have plates on our bikes and give the sheriff the power to issue citations based on uncoroborated allegations of reckless cycling it will open the door to bogus complaints. These people do ot need another weapon.

I'm going to try to make it to this meeting tomorrow if I can. I would really like to see exactly what the "major problem" is and what they propose we do about it.

A second letter, ripe with grammatical errors, written by Ms. Poast and sent to Bombay Bicycle Club and a letter that I wrote to some of the same officials in response to her Ms. Poast's first letter appear in the comments to this post.

More to come...


  • To the bicycling world,

    First, I would like to let you all now that I have heard you…

    Along with the original e-mail I had sent to local and state leaders asking for help and sharing my idea. Which I do not in any way think my e-mail was inflammatory or hateful, just expressing the need for some attention to an area that concerns myself and my constituents. I have received over 40 e-mails from different bike people and at least 20 of them are just blain nasty! I have been told I am racist, sedentary, uneducated, a hick, and told I should be ashamed of myself. And the list goes on.

    For what, voicing my concerns and using the First Amendment of the US Constitution.
    "Freedom of Speech" Public official or not I am a human being first!

    I never gave any permission to post my e-mail on anyone website. Even if you were told that I did. Had I known that they were going to forward my e-mail on to the entire state of Wisconsin. I would have explained myself in more detail. But that is the chance I took when I press send. Plus being a public official my e-mails are open to anyone according to the state open records laws! I know that and understand the law.

    But I was asking for help with an issue that I am very concerned about
    just sharing an idea.

    So now let me explain…

    I have not even been given the chance to explain my IDEA. Some of you have jumped to conclusions or put words in my mouth. And that is all it was an IDEA! WOW! To explain why I thought license plates would be a good idea so that residents can report cyclists' traffic violations to the sheriff's office. We have the right to do that but, at this point how can we identity the biker in the wrong. Paying a fee for a license is not a tax, it is a FEE! I know that people who bike on our roads pay state and federal taxes just like any other citizen of the United States. What I am talking about is different. Everyone who uses the road needs to be held accountable for breaking the law. Dane County is growing and the county budget for the Dane County Sheriff's office is to remain the same or less. How can the Sheriff's office do more patrol with only 2 or maybe 3 Dane County deputies covers the areas William 1,2,and 3 beats which is the western end of the Dane County? That is a lot of road to cover.

    Here are some of the questions and problems that have been asked of me about SOME riders...
    They do not obey the traffic laws. This is # 1!!! Not everyone!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Bikers are to ride single file on the road and this law is broken all the time! I don't agree with 2 abreast if not impede traffic. Everyone has there own idea which it means to impede traffic. On some of the narrow road in the township of Vermont that is the whole road. Those roads are not build for bike racing. Another problem that the organizers do not work with us. And all of a sudden there are 100's of bikers in the township or village and we have no idea what is going on. SOME just take over with no respect for the people that are living here... These are just a few of the complains I have gotten. I have received tons of complains!

    A comment was made to me...
    We are riding through so fast, just wait a minute and we'll be out of your way. THIS IS A PROBLEM!
    People can be killed in a minute.

    What little kids are playing and you are coming so fast that you can't stop!

    What is a car is broke down in the road or a farmer is going down the road with a load of hay? They have rights to the road too! Why should everyone get out of the way?

    I have seen people involved in these bike racing stand in the middle of the road and not let a fire truck through to help with an injured bike rider?

    What happens when you have an accident with a car... Who fault is that??????? Who pays????
    Who gets the ticket???? Do bikers carry insurance? How do we report a biker to the police when they do break the law?

    These are some to the questions asked of me as a leader of the Village of Black Earth.

    In general we all pay taxes but this has nothing to do with paying your tax bill! It would be a fee!
    More education and changes are the key on this issue for both sides.

    On a more positive note…

    I did receive some good feedback in e-mails from bikers who understand and want to help with the problems and have offered ideas! Thank you!

    I have talked with the Town chairmen of Vermont, Steve Frame and he feels the Bombay bike club is a well organized group who respect the area and welcomes them to the township. Frame says, "These are good people, I wish the rest would follow in the steps of this group."

    I also had good talks with Dave from the Bombay bike club, Michael McLean, secretary for the University of Wisconsin Triathlon team, Marjorie Ward Executive Director Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin and more. They heard my side of things and want to have a meeting to come up with some ways to make this work for everyone. That is my GOAL!!!!!! I am not saying that all bikers are bad. But more education needs to be brought to all people on what the laws are! And there needs to be some way to identify the bikers that break the laws! You can identify a car when it's driver is breaking the law by it license plate. Drivers have no more rights on the roads than do cyclists. Cyclists must abide by all of the same laws and regulations as a motorist does. If a cyclist, or a motorist, were to break any of them, a police officer can and does give out tickets. But how do you identify the biker who has the same rights to the road?

    Like motorists, most cyclists use safety protection and obey by the laws of the roads. I have always been polite to bikers until they do something is done to me. I had no idea until the last 24 hours that there were so many anger bikers on the roads. Some of you are being mistreated. I agree! But some of you are also breaking Wisconsin State Laws. We all need to come together and put a stop to this and bring peace to this issue before someone gets hurt or even killed. That is my biggest concern. Hopefully in the end there can be a mature compromise.

    Something needs to be done and it has to start some place that is why I went to the leaders at the county and state levels!

    Lastly many of your e-mail had questions and as much as I would like to, I do not have the time to sit here and reply to all of you.

    I would like to get the message out that I am not against people that ride bikes. And I would be happy to work with a committee of local and county residents to come together and work out something that works for both sides of the issue. I will be working with Marjorie Ward Executive Director Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin to set up at meeting. More education for all!

    A Story on motorists and bicyclists will run
    on WHA and WERN Monday, 7/12/04. If you don't hear it live, go to WPR's website
    later in the day where you can hear it using RealMedia.

    Jeanne Poast

    Black Earth Village President
    Population 1314
    1210 Mills St., Black Earth, WI 53515

    By Blogger DannyNoonan, at 11:22 PM  

  • Dear Ms. Falk,
    My name is Danny Noonan. I am a second-year law student at the University of Wisconsin and a member of the University’s triathlon club.
    It has come to my attention that Jeanne Poast, the president of the village of Black Earth, Wisconsin, has contacted you regarding bicycle riding in Dane County. From what I understand, Ms. Poast sees cyclists on county roads on Dane County’s west end as a major problem and has, together with leaders from the townships of Berry, Mazomonie, Vermont and Cross Plains, organized a July 12th meeting to address this issue and has requested your presence at the meeting. I would also like to request your presence and would like to take this opportunity to provide you with some information so that, if your busy schedule permits you to attend, you will be able to make a fair and balanced assessment of the matter.
    Ms. Poast seems to believe that cyclists are overtaking the area and the roads in and around the aforementioned townships. She seems to believe that cyclists are somehow overstepping their bounds and asserting more rights than the local residents who “pay for insurance, license plates and the roads we drive on.” It seems as though she is unaware of the inner-workings of county and state government. She does not seem to realize that paying for insurance is a private matter between an automobile owner and an insurer and has nothing to do with an individual’s “right to the road.” License plates may help pay for the cost of building roads in some small way but they are primarily funded by taxes that, along with the residents of these townships, I pay. I also do have a car and a license plate. However, none of this determines who has more of a “right to the road.” She needs to be informed that we elect officials who create and enforce laws and that traffic laws are no exception. She claims that “laws need to be changed or understood better.” I agree.
    I ride my bike in that area from time to time and have come to realize that a significant number of motorists in the area do not understand many traffic laws. It is especially scary because it seems as though many of them would rather kill a cyclist than be delayed fifteen seconds on their commute. Drivers curse at, honk their horns at, and cut off cyclists on a regular basis for doing nothing more than what they are entitled to do under the law. For example, drivers often threaten us for riding two abreast when traffic is not busy. They do not seem to be aware that Wisconsin Statutes section 346.80(3)(a) allows this so long as it does not impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic. This statute was incorporated by Dane County Ordinance section 69.01.
    As a cyclist, I make a considerable effort to be aware of the traffic around me. I respect and abide by traffic laws. I signal my turns and I do stop at stop signs. I do not think I am unique in doing so. Most cyclists I know are well aware that they have more to lose in a collision than a motorist does. We realize that the best way to be safe and enjoy cycling is to obey the law. I believe that as long as we do this we should be entitled to ride on the county roads and not be afraid of angry and reckless drivers.
    Please attend the meeting in the Vermont Town Hall on Monday night. Perhaps your influence could help make the motorists in these towns aware that their behavior is dangerous and that they must respect the law. Help them see that cycling is an activity that promotes health and fitness and that it should be commended not scorned. Thank you for your time.


    Daniel J. Noonan

    By Blogger DannyNoonan, at 11:28 PM  

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