City Commission, Here We Come! December 13, 2013

No person shall stand upon or along a street or highway for the purpose of soliciting a ride

I mentioned in the last post that there were some issues to clear up with the city before we moved forward.  The big issue is an ordinance that Maria Kaminska from the City Attorney’s office uncovered from the depths of the Standard Traffic Ordinance- a collection of traffic laws that have been adopted by most cities and large towns in Kansas.  If you look in section 69, subsection A, you will find this:  

“ No person shall stand upon or along a street or highway for the purpose of soliciting a ride”

Dang!  That really puts the brakes on roadside ridesharing. So, how does one go about changing an ordinance?  I learned that it’s not that difficult a process, but it’s good to do your homework.   First, I met with Kaminska and a liason officer from the Lawrence Police department, and had a long chat with transportation planner Todd Girdler.  We all agreed that the big issue is traffic safety.  The last thing anyone wants is a heinous  traffic accident caused by roadside ridesharing..  Fortunately for me, Kyle Matthews, an expert on hitchhiking law, has been following this blog and emailed me with a number of suggestions taken from other state and city ordinances.  These include things like no soliciting rides after dark, no drunken or high riders or drivers, no distracting or obnoxious behavior, and making sure there is a safe place to pull off the road before stopping.  I am  also working on a training manual that will put a lot of emphasis on figuring out where cars can safely pull over.  A map that shows good, safe locations to ride from, and a set of rules and protocols for revoking memberships of dangerous riders and drivers will help increase safety as well.

The next step was to write a letter to the Mayor and Commissioners.  In the letter, I introduced Lawrence OnBoard and requested a change in the language that would allow roadside ridesharing.  The Sustainability Advisory Board was immensely helpful and wrote a letter of support for my request, as did Jefferson County Commissioner Lynn Luck, Thad Holcombe, Trina McClure and my fellow board members at the Sustainability Action Network.  I also included the abstract and reviewer’s comments from the paper I wrote with Anne Dunning in the packet for the commissioners.   And once again thanks to the brilliant and energetic Eileen Horn for greasing the wheels.

Hooray! The city manager put us on the agenda for December 17th, so today I am busy inviting as many people as possible to come to the meeting and show support for Lawrence OnBoard.  If the commissioners approve my request, they will direct city staff to work on changing the language to the ordinance.  This would be a HUGE step forward.  Not only would it show that the city is willing to allow our activities, but I’d have a model ordinance to share with other communities who want to try out something like Lawrence OnBoard.  I hope to see all of you there at City Hall on Tuesday at 6:30.  Wish me luck!