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Missoula bicycle police officer

Missoula Police Officer Andy Roy patrols around Caras Park by bike on a rainy day.

Don't leave your bike locked up and unattended for days on end in a public space.

"We get complaints from business owners, property owners, especially in downtown, about bikes abandoned in public right of way," said Ben Weiss, bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for the city of Missoula.

The bicycles might be locked to trees or utility poles or even bike racks, and he said they can be a hazard to pedestrians and can damage trees. Plus, business owners want bike racks open to customers, not used as storage.

"The bike parking that exists in our downtown was paid for in part by business owners," Weiss said.

Weiss made his comments at this week's meeting of the Missoula City Council, and council members gave new bike regulations a preliminary thumbs up. On Jan. 5, they will consider final adoption.

To address complaints about abandoned, locked bikes, Weiss said the city decided to treat bikes more like vehicles. You can't abandon a bicycle for more than five days, and if someone files a complaint, the city can remove it, even if it's locked.

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Ordinance updates came about because the city wanted to address a couple of different issues, Weiss told council members.

For one thing, staff noticed contradictory code about bike registration, he said. In one place, the regulation mentions a fee, and in another place, it says it's free.

"We were up in the air. What should it be?" Weiss said. "So we looked at, what does this program actually bring in, and who is using it, and how is it helping the public?"

They learned it was bringing in some $1,000 to $1,500 a year, less than the amount it takes to collect the money, Weiss said. They also found the majority of people who used the program were in the prerelease program, or people who were forced to do so.

"It essentially was a tax on the poorest of the poor," Weiss said.

In a recent presentation, Weiss told the people in the prerelease program they were the only ones that were obeying the rules.

"They got a big chuckle out of that," he said.

One idea behind registering bikes is the city can forward a found bike to the address of a person on the registration. But the program wasn't working for a variety of reasons.

"While the program does charge money, it is not enough to even cover the expenses of charging the fee, yet it is high enough that many bike shops are unwilling to comply with the section (in the ordinance) that requires them to license any bike they sell," read a city memo about the change.

So the new ordinance doesn't mandate bike registration because, Weiss said, the city prefers people "not be criminalized for not registering their bike." The former fee for a "normal" registration was listed as $10.

"We'll continue offering the service, but we don't think it should be part of the city code," Weiss said.

The memo about the ordinance change also noted "bike license programs across the country do not make money, nor do they appear to be all that effective at licensing all bikes."

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The ordinance change involves some code cleanup as well.

At the meeting, Councilman Jordan Hess asked whether the city could impound bikes the same way vehicles are impounded, and Weiss said the code is nebulous in that regard. Councilwoman Marilyn Marler said she agreed cleaning up the regulation was important.

However, Marler also said she preferred to keep mandatory bike licensing, although she understands she's in the minority in that respect. She suggested marketing the program in the future. 

The council will take up the matter at its next regular meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 5.

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University of Montana, higher education