VIPD Sgt. Clayton Browne (center) and Bicycle Officer Earl Mills (right) give a young St. John rider safety instructions.
A bicycle safety rodeo hosted by the V.I. Police Department’s Community Integration Team (CIT) on Saturday, February 12, intended to make children safer riders, but also raised concerns among the island’s competitive adult bikers.
“The goal was for the kids to learn safety rules of the road for bicycles,” said Linda Bechstein, St. John CIT chairperson. “Our original report was that kids out in Coral Bay were running with cars on the road with their bicycles and we wanted to stop that. The intention was to make children riding bicycles safe and to be honest I didn’t even think about the adults.”
CIT, VIPD officers and officials from the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) gathered in the Coral Bay ball field first and then took the rodeo to Cruz Bay at the V.I. National Park ball field. The day was also intended to raise awareness about laws regarding bicycles, which stipulate the need for license plates, warning signals, reflectors and more.
A total of about 30 children attended both rodeos, of which only two were able to get their bicycles inspected. The other children were turned away because they didn’t have the required safety features and licensing requirements.
All bicycles must be registered with BMV, to the tune of $15 each per year, and must feature a bell or horn attached to the frame of the bike, a light on the rear of the bicycle and a license plate. The children who were unable to get inspected were turned away because they didn’t have all of the equipment, Bechstein explained.
A lot of what is needed is relatively inexpensive,” said the St. John CIT chairperson. “But they are not available on St. John, so you have to go to St. Thomas. We have discussed as a group obtaining some bells and horns and making them available to people who can’t afford them or offer them at a discounted rate.”
CIT has urged VIPD to enforce the long-ignored laws after a two-month grace period to give riders a chance to comply, explained Bechstein.
Children are also not allowed to ride on public streets under the age of 12 without adult supervision, according to the V.I. Code. Children were able to complete an obstacle course, after which they were given bicycle helmets courtesy of the St. John Accommodations Council.
Adult competitive bicyclists, however, might even have a more difficult time complying with the decades old V.I. laws.
“I think it’s a great idea for kids and I’m all for safety procedures,” said one rider, who wished to not be identified. “But for adult riders there are quite a few of us with high-tech racing bikes and trying to comply with this law is going to be difficult to impossible. These laws were written 20 years ago and bike designs today are so high-tech, when you put these things on it that aren’t supposed to be there, it could affect the performance of the bike and the safety of the rider.”
“There might not even be room enough on new bikes to put all of the equipment required,” said the bicyclist.
Updating the bicycle safety law might be the way to go since the existing law also doesn’t address what is probably the most dangerous element of bike riding today, according to the St. John cyclist.
“A new law, reflective of 2011 bikes and concerns, could include something like no headphones, which is a major safety concern,” said the rider. “That would be more sensible than making everyone get a license plate and a light. I’m all for trying to comply with safety regulations, but the regulations should be realistic and up-to-date, and the existing law isn’t.”
The day did give children an opportunity to interact with VIPD officers in a positive environment, according to Bechstein.
“As a whole, a lot of the day was just about children being comfortable talking with police officers and having a friendly conversation with them,” said Bechstein. “It was about being instructed how to do the right thing instead of being told they were doing the wrong thing.”
CIT members will focus next on preparing for a summer activities fair in May, Bechstein added.