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City council passes bike ordinance with changes

New Brunswick residents clashed with city officials at a city council meeting last night, after council members passed an ordinance prohibiting cyclists 12 years or older from riding on the sidewalk and requiring bikes to have bells.

Under the ordinance, cyclists charged with riding on the sidewalk will be fined $25 for the first offense occurring in a year, and $50 to $100 for the second, third and further violations within the year.

The initial bicycle ordinance — first proposed last September — stated that the fine would be no less than $50 for the first offense.

Council members claimed the ordinance would prevent bicycle collisions with both cars and pedestrians. But residents who spoke at the meeting alleged the ruling was unsafe and unfair, particularly for minority residents.

Glenn Patterson, director of the Department of Planning, Community and Economic Development, cited a University of California study, the New Jersey Department of Transportation guidelines and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials manuals to indicate that bicycles are safer on roadways than on sidewalks.

“The reason they do this is because pedestrians are walking on the sidewalk at a much slower rate,” Patterson said. “Pedestrians often make jerky movements, which are unpredictable, and cyclists will have difficulty avoiding them.”

Poor visibility puts cyclists at a higher risk of cars hitting them at intersections when they ride on the sidewalk, he said.

New Brunswick resident Charles Renda said city roads are unfit for cyclists because riders must bike in the same flow of traffic, which poses problems to some on one-way streets.

“I think it’s horrendous. I think it’s outrageous that they would do this,” Renda said. “There are many areas of the city where it’s unsafe to ride on the roadway for bicyclists.”

Patterson said other towns have similar ordinances that ban riding bicycles on sidewalks.

Somerset resident Noble Aaron El Shabazz said the rule could negatively affect the minority population in New Brunswick, he said.

Shabazz, whose son police detained for violating the ordinance, said he worried city police officers would use the rule as an excuse to detain members of the black community.

“They harass people who look like us,” he said. “That’s why we always file internal affairs complaints [with the NBPD].”

After his son was detained, Shabazz said he filed a series of complaints with internal affairs, which they promised to address but continued to ignore.

Shabazz faced other criminal charges at the time of his initial complaint. NBPD internal affairs agreed to consider his complaints after his charges were taken care of, he said.

Once his son was acquitted of these charges, he said internal affairs continued to disregard his complaint.

Other people in the meeting made similar allegations toward the internal affairs department of the NBPD.

These complaints follow the suspension of Sgt. Richard Rowe, an internal affairs officer charged with mishandling 81 internal affairs complaints during 2003 to 2007.

Rowe was suspended without pay on March 21 after the New Brunswick Police Department’s Office of Internal Affairs discovered that files he assigned were missing.

Assistant City Attorney Charly Gayden said she has established an office for residents who feel internal affairs ignored him during this eight-year period. The office is open every Thursday from 1 to 4 p.m. in city hall on 78 Bayard St.

“I feel like that could be useful but I can’t be sure,” Shabazz said. “It could just be a dog-and-pony show.”

The council promised to take further measures to convenience city residents. Among their suggestions was the potential to build bike paths and create a bicycle safety awareness campaign to encourage residents not to abandon riding.

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