The long, odd arm of bike law

?Bells, yes. Reflectors, yes. Helmets, no.

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By DREW CARTER

Why you scofflaw! Yeah, you. You, the Oak Parker who hasn't registered your bike. And you, with the bike without a bell. And you, the bike rider carrying "a package, bundle or article which prevents [you, the lawbreaker] from keeping at least one hand upon the handlebars."

Look, ma, no hands indeed.

Still, Oak Park's 5-page bicycle ordinance isn't exactly exhaustive. No helmet, my dear Oak Parker? No problem!

Now, in River Forest on the other hand, helmets are required?for "every person under the age of 16 years." And the penalties are clearly defined: first offense, written warning. Second offense, driving school for bikers (unless the offender?#34;well, probably his or her parents?#34;"may demonstrate within 10 days ... proof of possession of a helmet."

So, for the first two times you're caught, you just need to have a helmet, not necessarily wear a helmet.

But the third offense is punishable "by the imposition of a requirement that such person perform up to 10 hours of public service work"?#34;prisoners and Little Billy the Helmetless picking up cans in the park.

Bicycle laws for both villages may be found at http://www.sterlingcodifiers.com/onlinecodes.htm.

Oak Park also: requires bikers to obey all traffic laws, forbids bikers from exceeding posted speed limits, requires bikers to ride single file on the right-hand side of the street, and requires bikes to have bells (no sirens or whistles), head lamps, reflectors (red in the rear, amber on the front wheel, red on the rear wheel). Bells must be heard from 100 feet away, reflectors must be seen from 500 feet away.

In Oak Park, adults may not ride bikes on sidewalks and no one may ride a bike on a sidewalk in a business district. However, "whenever any person is riding a bicycle upon a sidewalk such person shall yield the right of way to any pedestrian and shall give audible signal before overtaking and passing such pedestrian."

Bike licenses are required. You have to pay the $1 license fee and register your bike with the village. (In River Forest, it's free and optional.)

Laws in both villages govern the transfer of ownership, serial numbers, rentals and buying or selling of bikes, including that bike sellers must maintain sales records for five years.

In River Forest, operating a bike "without lamp reflector" could get you a $20 ticket (if paid within 10 days, after that it costs $50).

What's the point of bike laws, when many are common sense and the others are rarely enforced?

Oak Park Village Attorney Ray Heise said the laws are all "reasonable requirements."

"You're creating a standard," Heise said. "I would never say it's not important to enforce municipal regulations. It is. But the fact that they're not being regularly policed ... doesn't make them any less valid.

"It's important people have reflectors on their bikes when riding at night."

Oak Park police did not return multiple calls seeking comment.

Other requirements, like licenses, are to protect owners in case of theft.

"It's a good thing. Not many people take advantage of it," Heise said.

To the suggestion that bike laws may be applied inconsistently, he said that would be a personnel issue, and the Citizens Police Oversight Committee is in place to hear about things just like that.

"Those are all very serious issues, and I think we have a pretty accessible system for rooting out problems like that," Heise said.

CONTACT: dcarter@wjinc.com

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