Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Oconee County Land Use Committee Delays Decision on Share the Road Signage Request

Fear of Athens Bike Invasion

The Oconee County Cycling Organization was sent home tonight without its Share the Road signs when the Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee decided to postpone further discussion of the signage until it has information on the legal implications of telling bicyclists and motorists to ride together.

The cycling organization asked the Committee back in July to recommend that the county install Share the Road signs on Colham Ferry road from Watkinsville to Watson Spring Mill road, on Simonton Bridge road from Watkinsville to the county line, on New High Shoals road from U.S. 441 to SR 186, and on Barnett Shoals road from Watkinsville to the county line.

The Committee delayed discussion of the request until tonight, in part so it could ask Emil Beshara, director of the Public Works Department, his opinion of the request.

Beshara left little doubt that he is not in favor of the signs, saying that he was afraid that they would indicate an endorsement by the county of biking on the roads, possibly leading to legal liability should there be an accident.

“I have reservations about putting signs on heavily traveled roads, on narrow roads, on roads with a speed limit above 35 miles per hour,” Beshara said. “I personally have reservations about the possible perception of endorsement of cycling along these routes.”

Beshara stressed that bicyclists and motorists have the same right to the roadway.

“Much to many people’s dismay, bicyclists have the legal right to use our roadways, just as much of a right as a car,” he said.

None of the eight committee members present expressed much support for the request, and several, most prominent among them Frank Watson, were openly hostile.

“I have friends who complain to me all the time about bicyclists and holding up traffic,” he said. He added that he also felt “BikeAthens has a little bit to do” with the request and he didn’t like that.

Watson made the motion to delay any action until the Committee had more information on the legal implications of putting up the signage. The motion passed 7 to 1. (The committee has 14 members, but only eight members showed up for the meeting.)

Richard McSpadden, a member of the Committee and president of the OCCO, was not present, and Tony Glenn made the pitch for the signs in his absence.

Glenn said OCCO selected the four roads because its members indicated they use them extensively, often to reach other roadways in the county with less traffic.

The Committee will not take up the signage request again until at least November. Watson will not be on the Committee then, since his term ended tonight and he did not seek reappointment.

Any action taken by the Committee would be advisory to the Board of Commissioners, which would make the final decision.

In October, the Committee plans to devote its meeting to a public pitch for its recommendation that the county separate the county judicial and administrative facilities and build a new judicial facility near the county jail.

The exact date for that presentation has not yet been set.