City attorney Jeanine Hummer suggested to council members at their Sept. 20 conference session that they pass a law that would penalize intoxicated bicyclists, who ride their bikes on private property that is open to the public for vehicular travel or parking a.k.a. a parking lot.
Hummer said her department recently prosecuted a 51-year-old man who was riding his bicycle drunk in the Whole Foods parking lot at 1555 Lane Ave. on Feb. 2.
The man, Upper Arlington resident Robert Ebert of Andover Road, pleaded guilty Sept. 20 to a charge of reckless operation. He received a $300 fine and two additional points on his license.
Currently, neither Upper Arlington nor state law punish cyclists who ride drunk on private property. Intoxicated cyclists can be charged if they are riding on the street, though, and receive punishment similar to that of motorists.
"During a recent prosecution of a case, there was an unintended consequence we saw relative to when a person is charged with operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated," Hummer said. "We saw that if you look at our OVI statute and read the bicycle ordinance, it appears, just like the state code, that a bicycle would be exempt from an OVI if you are on private property. That is based on the language that is duplicated from state code."
According to the staff report presented to council Sept. 20, the city law department suggests that council amend the current city ordinance involving bicycles and substitute the word "vehicle" for "motor vehicles" to clarify sections regarding resisting arrest and fleeing the scene of arrest.
Hummer said the main point of asking council to amend the ordinance is to make the roads safer.
"If you're intoxicated on a bicycle and you are not able to operate it, you may veer into another (vehicle)," she said. "That is the whole philosophy behind why bicycles are charged with OVI that are regularly operating on a street. We are trying to prevent that unsafe situation."
A few council members questioned the proposed change, noting that the cyclist would be on private property, where there would be fewer vehicles.
"Most people don't live in a parking lot. They have to get there and they have to leave," Hummer responded.
Council member Wade Steen said he was struggling with a decision on the law change.
"I'm really wrestling with this," he said.
Council members are slated to take a vote on the amendment at their next meeting at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 27.
The Columbus Dispatch contributed to this story