Lawson Turns Us Away

September 4, 2004
A Report from Ed Chasteen


I am contacting my attorney to ask that he begin the process of bringing suit against the mayor and the town for violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. To find out why, read on.

Since Bush #1 was in the White House, I've been riding the 50 mile round trip from Liberty to Lawson for biscuits and gravy at Catrick's. Hundreds of times I've ridden up to Catrick's front door, propped my bike against the wall, and stepped inside. Thousands of miles these rides have totaled. Thousands of dollars my biking buddies and I have spent in this place of good food and fellowship.

But not today! Twenty-five of us pedaled east from Biscari Brothers Bicycles this morning a little after seven. Soon we were strung out along H Highway on our way through Excelsior Springs and then to Salem Road, with me in my customary last place. Even if I were not naturally slow, still would I ride sweep on these rides when I have called the group together. I want to make sure no one is left behind.

By shortly after nine, I'm a couple of miles this side of Lawson when I see a wave of riders coming toward me, headed back where I've just come from. Marvelous! Another big bunch of riders. Our numbers increase. Hold on! These are my riders. They shout something as they fly by. I can't make it out. I spot two riders up ahead, beside the road. It's Seth and Steve. As I come near, I hear them say, "The police turned us back." My blood pressure peaks. I keep pedalin'. "They won't turn me back," I shout.

I prop my bike along the wall by the door in its customary place. As I step inside, a nice-looking man in civilian clothes identifies himself as Lawson's Chief of Police. He asks me to step outside. He points to my bike. "You can't ride that here. You will have to move it."

"I've been coming here for years. I've always put my bike here."

"There's a city ordinance prohibiting bikes on Pennsylvania between Third and Fifth Streets," he says. "Bicycles have the same rights to public streets as cars," I say. "The mayor told you if you would call ahead when your group wants to come, we would rope off a spot for your bikes up the street." He says. "When those who drive cars call to let you know they're coming, then bike riders will, too." I say.

"Move your bike," he says. "I have Multiple Sclerosis," I say. "This bicycle is my wheelchair. I can't move it. I'm going inside to talk to my friends." I'm talking to Rick Holcomb, the owner, with his wife Catherine, of Catrick's. A uniformed policeman appears shortly and asks me talk to me. We step outside to my bike. The chief asks me again to move my bike. I say no. "Write him a ticket," the chief says to the officer.

Seth and Steve have walked up as the chief and I speak. They parked their bikes back in the lot where they were told. Seth volunteers to move my bike. I take the ticket and tell the officer I have no quarrel with him. "You have to do your job. I told the mayor he should take down that NO BICYCLES sign and put up one that says SHARE THE ROAD. That's what all the other towns we ride to have done."

Steve and Seth are sure our other riders have gone back to Mill Inn in Excelsior Springs for breakfast. But we're standing in front of Catrick's, one of my favorite places in these parts. And they have done nothing to make us unwelcome. We go inside and find a table. Catherine appears. I tell her that we had 25 riders wanting to come to breakfast. She is angry when she learns they were turned back by the police.

"We came back to support you," Seth and Steve say. "I knew you would," I tell them. "I tell Catherine I cannot walk to get my bike and ask her to go tell the police they must come take me to my bike. She does. They won't. Seth and Steve walk over to the police station. They are told they can bring my bike to me. As I'm about to ride off, Catherine rushes out. "We have got to fight this. It's not right. Let's go to the council. I'll email you with the date."

This problem with riding bikes to Catrick's first came to light back in May when a bunch of riders stopped here for the free lunch they were providing in support of our Greater Liberty Bke Ride for MS. A police officer stopped some riders that day and told them they couldn't ride there. I went to the police station when I heard and talked to the officer. I subsequently talked to the mayor. He and I then exchanged letters on the subject.

The mayor said the ordinance was passed because local youngsters on bikes were causing traffic problems and near accidents. I told the mayor that a better way to solve the problem would be to teach bike safety in the schools and to alert drivers that the road is meant to be shared with bikers. I told him that bicycle riders have the same right to the road as drivers. I told him I intended to come to Catrick's on my bike as I always had.

Since May, I have been to Catrick's many times alone on my bike. And our Saturday morning riders have come several times. I had talked to Rick and Catherine about the issue. I thought everything had been quietly and unofficially made to be okay. Lawson is one of five small towns we ride to from Liberty on given Saturdays: Orrick, Excelsior Springs, Kearney, Plattsburg and Lawson. We love them all. And they love us.

Now Lawson doesn't want us. I will not lead our Saturday riders to Lawson again until this unwise and heavy-handed ordinance is struck down. I will go alone, however. I will not change my routine of some 15 years because the town has inept political leadership that is driving away business and making the town look foolish and backward.

I am also contacting my attorney to ask that he begin the process of bringing suit against the mayor and the town for violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. I told the Police Chief that I have MS. That I have great difficulty walking. That my bicycle is also my wheelchair. That I need it close by. He told me to move it a block away. I told him I could not. He said to move it.

I am also contacting the Missouri Bicycle Federation to alert them to this infringement on the rights of bicycle riders. I am also contacting the Attorney General of Missouri to inform him of this improper Lawson ordinance and ask his help in securing relief.

I will go to court on October 4, as my ticket today requires. I will not pay any fine. If I go to jail, I will spend my time composing Letters from Lawson Jail, which readers of my web page and emails will find interesting.

I thought when I went to visit with the mayor in his office that the two of us could agree that prohibiting bicycle riders who come with money to spend is not a policy the business community wants to pursue. I thought we could agree that controlling the bike riding practices of local youngsters can be addressed with more specific measures, such as requiring helmets on all riders, a city-approved bike safety course and an educational campaign to educate drivers to the fact that roads are meant also for bikes.

P.S. As Seth, Steve and I stand in front of Catrick's following breakfast, three youngsters on bikes appear in the forbidden zone. No sign of police.

P.S.S. Our Liberty police ride bicycles. No streets in our town are off limits to them. Or to any bike riders. We have found better ways to keep our children safe than to limit bike riders. On the Saturday before the Lawson police turned us our of their town, the Liberty police (and the Mayor of Liberty) welcomed us at City Hall, where we presented them with two brand new police bicycles that we had led our town to raise money for.

NOTE TO THOSE WHO WANT TO HELP
The Mayor of Lawson needs to get hundreds of letters urging his city to welcome bicycles and their riders. He needs to understand that I'm not just one crazy old man. Address your letters to
George Green, Mayor
City of Lawson
PO Box 185
Lawson, MO 64062
Ed Chasteen is a bicyclist and newspaper columnist for Sun-News of the Northland. Chasteen is a resident of Liberty, Missouri.