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Higher bicycle fines appear likely: Fargo leaders set to cast final vote

FARGO — With little opposition from bicyclists, higher bicycle fines look like they'll be cruising to the finish line when city commissioners cast their final votes at their 5 p.m. meeting Monday, Oct. 8.

A couple of bicyclists weighed in before the last vote on Sept. 24, but neither explicitly opposed the higher fines.

Because city fines may not be higher than comparable state fines, most bicycle fines will remain at $5.

The few that are expected to increase to $20 would be the same as motor-vehicle fines, which Assistant City Attorney Nancy Morris said is allowed by state law.

Police Chief David Todd, who worked with Morris to draft the new law, told city leaders Sept. 24 that a $5 fine is not much of a deterrence. "The $5 ticket is not much deterrence, and the officers know that, so therefore $5 tickets aren't being written. When you consider the amount of resources that go into writing the ticket, processing it at court, and so on and so forth, $5 is not worth the officer's time."

He said a $20 fine is "barely" worth writing, but that's for the Legislature to decide.

Bicyclist Justin Kristan wondered if the city has a demonstrated need for higher bicycle fines. If there's no data to justify it, he said it shouldn't be done.

Commissioner Dave Piepkorn, who first proposed the higher fines in August, said he feels bicyclists and motorists should pay the same penalty for violating traffic laws.

Bicyclist John Peterson said he doesn't have a problem with higher fines, but noted that when a motorist makes a mistake and hits a bicyclist, the bicyclist gets hurt. But when the bicyclist makes a mistake and hits a motorist, the bicyclist is, again, the one that gets hurt, he said.

Dan Farnsworth, a planner with the Metropolitan Council of Governments, said the last time the group addressed bicycle safety that members agreed residents want bicyclists to follow the rules of the road. He said it'd be nice if there was time for the group to study the fines, but he generally favors an increase.

The city last changed bicycle fines in 2014 to conform with state law. Until a state Supreme Court ruling in 2008, many of the city's fines exceeded state fines. After Stephanie Sauby, a West Fargo motorist, sued, the court ruled that local governments may not levy fines higher than state fines for comparable violations.

Of the 11 bicycle-related violations addressed in Fargo's draft law, four are also specifically addressed in state bicycle laws. The fines for these and one other violation, which forbids bicyclists from riding faster than warranted by conditions, would remain at $5.

A $40 fine for failing to get a bicycle license would be reduced to nothing; the city doesn't issue licenses any more. A $40 fine for kids 12 and younger riding downtown would be reduced to $5.

Fines for four violations will increase to $20, of which three are not specifically addressed in state bicycle laws. One violation, however, is essentially the same as state law.

"Every person riding a bicycle upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all the duties which may be applied to the driver of a vehicle," the city law says in part.

"Every person riding a bicycle upon a roadway is granted all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle," the bicycle chapter of state law says in part. "Any person who violates any of the provisions of this chapter may be assessed a fee not to exceed five dollars," the law says.

This suggests a city fine of $20 would exceed the state fine of $5.

Morris said this is allowed, however, citing another part of the bicycle chapter. While violations of bicycle laws won't result in points being assessed on a violator's driver's license, the law says that "any other legally authorized penalty for a criminal traffic offense or noncriminal traffic violation is applicable to bicyclists."

Tu-Uyen Tran
Tran is an enterprise reporter with the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began his newspaper career in 1999 as a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, now owned by Forum Communications. He began working for the Forum in September 2014. Tran grew up in Seattle and graduated from the University of Washington.
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