Fort Scott is one of only a few Kansas communities whose municipal code requires that bicycles be registered. Nominally, this is a theft-prevention measure, or at least a way to assist the police in re-uniting a recovered bicycle and its owner. Some communities also use registration as an opportunity to inspect the bicycle for required equipment, such as brakes and reflectors, or to educate bicyclists on traffic laws. In theory, all these reasons have at least some benefits to bicyclists.
But Fort Scott’s ordinance takes bicycle registration one step further:
10.40.020 – Registration required
No person shall operate or propel a bicycle upon any street in the city unless and until the bicycle has been registered with the chief of police, and has affixed to it an unexpired license. Bicycle licenses shall be procured from the chief of police. Ord. 2357 § 2, 1965
There are a couple off aspects to this law that are curious:
First, it requires everyone — whether resident or visitor — to register their bicycle with the police. Requiring residents to register their bicycle is one thing, but requiring visitors to register their bicycle is quite another. How are visitors (unless they’re bike law nerds like me), supposed to know the law even exists?
Second, the law provides no provision for riding a bicycle to the police for registration. It seems to assume that any bicycle entering the city would be transported by car/truck to the police station for registration. How about bicyclists that ride their bicycles to town? Are they supposed to dismount at the city limit and walk their bike several miles to the police station?
I found these provisions quite odd, so I decided to take a little trip to Fort Scott and check things out in person.
I bicycled from my home to Fort Scott — a distance of about 100 miles — over two days. My first stop in town was the police station:
Inside, I asked whether the bicycle registration requirement applied to visitors as well as residents.
I had expected some confusion, perhaps a need to look up the statute, or to check with a superior, but the officer answered immediately, as if they got this question every day. The answer: Everyone, whether a resident of Fort Scott, or a visitor to town, is required to register their bicycle.
So I asked them to get me legal. I had to give the officer my name, address, bicycle make, model, and serial number, which was logged into a book, and the officer then affixed a metalized sticker to my frame:
So now my bicycle is legal to ride in Fort Scott!
The registration was free, and the officer was the model of courtesy and professionalism, so no complaints in that regard. (And I was not cited for riding my un-registered bicycle through town to the police station … whew!)
But still, isn’t this a bit silly, expecting bicyclists to check in with the police as soon as they get to town, or risk a fine, or having their bicycle impounded?
My next stop was the Fort Scott Chamber of Commerce. When I asked them about the law, they were surprised, and said they weren’t aware of the law, and had never heard of it being enforced.
I suggested that they might want to consider asking the city council to update the law, and that the mandatory bicycle registration should be repealed (or at least made voluntary).
Here are some of the points I made:
- Fort Scott is trying to promote tourism, and part of that is the Gunn Park Trails, as well as a new Riverfront Trail that the city is planning to build. Cyclists would be less likely to come to a city where it’s a hassle to ride your bike legally.
- Fort Scott is a popular stop for cross-country touring cyclists, and it’s unreasonable for visiting bicyclists to be expected to know about, and comply with, this obscure law, or risk a fine or impoundment of their only means of transportation, particularly when very few other communities have such strange laws.
- Most bicyclists consider a mandatory bicycle registration law to be bicycle-unfriendly, and they are less likely to visit or spend money in places that are not bicycle-friendly.
- Other cities in Kansas, such as Lawrence, Topeka, and Wichita, have eliminated their bicycle registration schemes.
- Bicycle use should be encouraged — for health, for happiness, for traffic relief, for improving air quality, for reducing noise pollution, for making a community attractive to active and creative individuals, etc. — and mandatory bicycle registration throws up another hurdle that discourages bicycle use.
- Mandatory bicycle registration wastes police time and resources that could be better spent on more important matters.
- If theft prevention/recovery is the main goal, make the bicycle registration voluntary (as many other Kansas communities do), or encourage use of the National Bike Registry.
- The law leaves bicyclists vulnerable to police harassment. A bicyclist may be stopped for a traffic citation, for instance, and the police may decide to tack on a registration violation, because they can, whether or not the bicyclist had any idea or expectation that the bicycle should have been registered.
- The law has the potential of compromising bicyclist’s legal rights. Suppose a motorist injures a bicyclist in a collision, the case ends up going to court, and the motorist’s attorney argues that because the bicycle was not licensed, as required by law, the bicyclist was operating illegally, and should not be entitled to compensation. (Think that sounds far-fetched? We’ve seen time and again that judges and juries will grasp at any available straw to vindicate a driver who injures a bicyclist…)
- If the city is not going to actively publicize and enforce the law, what’s the point of having it on the books?
I don’t know if my discussion with the Chamber of Commerce will lead to repeal of the law, but I hope it at least gets people talking about and thinking about making Fort Scott more bicycle-friendly.
The community has so much going for it — incredible history, beautiful old homes, a lovely downtown, the scenic Marmaton River, the amazing Gunn Park, and some really friendly people — that it’s just a real shame that this silly and unnecessary law gives the community a black eye (at least among cyclists).
Other than this bicycle registration business, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Fort Scott, and came away highly impressed by the community. But, as long as this law stands, it’s hard to really recommend the streets of Fort Scott as a bicycling destination…
(However, the Gunn Park Trails are excellent, as are the many low-traffic bicycling routes in Bourbon County, outside the Fort Scott city limits!)