The Anniston City Council on Monday brought the city’s bicycle helmet law into line with the state’s law, which requires only riders under 16 years of age to wear a helmet.
Anniston’s law had required riders of all ages to wear a helmet on public roadways, bicycle paths or other public rights of way, but the law dissuaded bike rental companies from locating their kiosks in the city, officials said at Monday’s council meeting.
Kent Davis, city manager, said changing the law was critical to the city’s plan to encourage the establishment of such kiosks downtown, where riders could rent a bike short-term by using credit cards or apps for smartphones.
Councilman Ben Little stressed, however, that bicycle helmets are important safety equipment for cyclists, and urged their use. The council voted unanimously to make the change.
“You shouldn't have to be told to do that,” Little said. “We encourage you to wear your helmet. Put it on.”
In 2014 the City Council in Dallas, Texas changed its bicycle helmet law to require only those aged 17 and younger to wear them, according to the Dallas Morning News. The council did so as a bike share program was slated to begin that year.
Statistics seem to show, however, that bicycle helmets save lives. Of the 15,221 cycling deaths in the U.S. between 1994 and 2014, 85 percent of the cyclists weren’t wearing helmets, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Bicycle sharing programs, however, are much safer than other forms of cycling, according to a March 2016 study by the Mineta Transportation Institute, a research institute funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The study found that at the time of that research there had been no fatalities in the U.S. from those riding on bike sharing programs.
The study also found that bike-sharing bicycles tend to be “larger, slower and sturdier” than most other bicycles, and that riders who use bike sharing tend to ride more cautiously.
“This was noted despite the widely observed fact that helmet usage is lower for bike-sharing bicycles,” the report states.
A woman in Chicago in July 2016, four months after the institute's study was released, died while riding a bike-sharing bicycle, becoming the first person in the U.S. known to have died as a participant in such a program.
Answering another longstanding transportation question, council members Monday agreed to raise speed limits along Quintard Avenue.
Council members voted to increase the speed limit along Quintard from 35 mph to 45 mph, and from 45 to 50 mph along Alabama 21 starting near Baltzell Gate Road and continuing southbound until 25th Street, where the Public Works Department is located in the former National Guard Armory. The resolution, which was approved unanimously, also increases the speed along McClellan Veterans Parkway from 50 mph to 65 mph up until the top of the parkway's hill, just before its descent to the Henry Road intersection.
The Alabama Department of Transportation conducted a traffic study in late 2016 and recommended the speed limit increases, but council members at first struggled with the decision. The council had earlier agreed to put off increasing the speed limits over concerns some council members said they heard from residents over the potential for increased accidents.
ALDOT officials met with the council in mid-February to explain what went behind the agency’s recommendations, which led to the council’s change of course. The recommendations were made, city officials said, to increase safety along the roadways by matching speed limits to existing driving patterns.
Mayor Jack Draper said the council’s vote to increase the speed limits came after “numerous discussions with ALDOT, and this amendment is based solely on safety.”
Resident living in southwest Anniston will also see a traffic change. Council members also agreed to change the three-way stop at the intersection of Quail Drive and Patch Place to a one-way stop. Little at a previous meeting told the council that residents in the area have asked for the change.
“This is a very different council,” Little said, thanking the other council members for their support of the resolution to remove those stop signs. Little had previously served on the council from 2000-2012.
Prior to the council action portion of Monday’s meeting, during a time meant for comments from the public, Little walked down from his council seat and said he was speaking “as a citizen.”
Little spoke of concerns over the announcement Friday that Regional Medical Center had reached a deal to purchase Stringfellow Memorial Hospital from its current operator, Tennessee-based Community Health Systems.
Little said he was “very concerned about the monopoly that may be going on at RMC,” referring to RMC’s previous purchase of Jacksonville's 104-bed hospital. Little said he planned to ask the council to get an opinion from the state’s Attorney General on the deal.
Stringfellow’s property and hospital facility are owned by the Community Foundation, under the foundation's Stringfellow Health Trust. Community Health Systems operates the hospital under a contract with the foundation.
Councilman Jay Jenkins, who is also a member of Anniston’s Health Care Authority, an independent 15-member board that helps oversee the hospital, said the deal reached between the two is positive.
“This whole process has been fully vetted,” Jenkins said. “I do believe that once the details come forth and are shared that everybody will recognize that this is absolutely in the best interest of our community.”
In other business, the council also:
— Declare 10 city-owned vehicles and heavy equipment as surplus.
— Approved a bid of $80,100 from EMTEK Excavating to demolish 13 structures.
— Agreed to accept a donation of $14,000 from the Anniston Museum Endowment Corporation, which the city will use to pay for repairs to the Anniston Museum of Natural History’s auditorium floor.
— Agreed to waive rental fees for the Anniston City Meeting Center for the Anniston High School father-daughter dance on March 10.