Democracy in action

Parkersburg City Council meetings can sometimes be a snooze fest but not this past Tuesday night. Instead it was a David and Goliath matchup, with the city playing the part of Goliath and the beleaguered bicyclists playing the part of David. Someone, who knows who or why, had proposed a ban on motor-assisted bicycles.

A little background … motor-assisted bicycles are defined by WV state law as a bicycle equipped with a motor of 49cc or less. If the bicycle is equipped with a motor of 50cc or larger, then, by state law, it is NOT a bicycle. Instead, it is considered to be a motorcycle and is governed by the same laws as motorcycles; the driver must wear a helmet, the bike must have head lights, tail lights, mirrors and other safety equipment, the owner must pay property tax on it, and the machine must be titled, licensed, and insured.

Bicycles have been the object of prejudice since their invention. The first “bike”–called a draisine–was invented in 1817. It quickly became highly popular with athletic young men. But within three years most cities had banned them due to the public’s objections. Some things never change, even in 200 years!

In this case though, the motor-assisted bicyclists were not giving up without a fight. They came, these riders, and eloquently made their case to the council. Many of them rely on the motor-assisted bikes because it is the only means of transportation they can afford. They ride them to work, to the grocery store, to the pharmacy, to school … to all the places they need to go to be able to live their lives. Some riders have motor-assisted bikes because they have disabilities that prevent them from getting a driver’s license. Some riders need them because the public bus system isn’t running on a schedule that enables them to get to their job when they need to be there.

Several of the riders told stories of their bikes being a literal lifeline to them when they were recovering from injuries or addiction. Having the bike, and being able to get to recovery meetings or doctor’s appointments, actually saved their life and enabled them to start putting it back together.

Their stories were inspiring enough that city council backed down and sent the proposed ordinance to subcommittee for further review and possible revision. Let us hope it dies there.

Kim van Rijn



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