ELKHART — The Elkhart City Council passed the bike buffer ordinance unanimously Monday night, Aug. 4.
But at the same time as the council made a move ultimately aimed at protecting bicyclists, several council members chastised some in the biking community for their lack of regard for safety.
The new ordinance will require motorists to provide a 3-foot buffer when passing bicyclists on city streets and establishes a $25 fine for violations.
The council voted 8-0 on the final two votes to secure passage.
The proposal had the support of a local bike organization, Bike Elkhart, as well as Greater Elkhart Chamber President Kyle Hannon, former police chief Thomas Cutler and Mayor Dick Moore’s administration.
A council committee had already recommended its approval.
Several council members and others pointed out that bicyclists have to work more at being safe on city streets.
Councilman Brian Thomas said he started tracking infractions of bicyclists he would see while driving around the city in recent days and expressed amazement at the number of times he saw bicyclists doing something improper. That included one traveling down S.R. 19 against traffic in a traffic lane.
“If I had a 3-foot two-by-four, I probably would have impressed upon him the need for bicycle safety,” Thomas joked.
Council member Mary Olson picked up on Thomas’s concerns about bicyclists who “are not very disciplined.”
Jim Brotherson, a cycling enthusiast who helped lead efforts to pass the ordinance, agreed with their concerns.
“Some cyclists are neglectful of their own safety,” Brotherson said.
The ordinance, he said, represents a small step, but said he believes its passage sends a powerful message “that our city intends to protect cyclists.”
Several people said the new policy is an opportunity to improve bike safety and also provide an opportunity to talk more about bike safety.
One man who addressed the council said he had been clipped twice by vehicles that got too close.
While neither incident resulted in an accident, he said it was an example of motorists being too close to bicyclists and not paying attention.
“This ordinance will address that because it will provide a barrier of safety for bike riders,” he said.
Hannon said young professionals are looking for communities that have a reputation as being a bicycle-friendly community.
By passing the proposal, Elkhart will join Fort Wayne, South Bend, Indianapolis and Carmel as other communities that have passed a 3-foot buffer, Hannon noted.
“I want us to be part of that coalition,” Hannon said.
In other matters, council approved a friendly annexation request for representatives of Grace Bible Church for property on C.R. 5.