The “Lowside” of the Road (Non-Automotive Survey Results – Part 1)

The moon is red and you’re dancin’ real slow

Twenty-nine miles left to go

The chain monkeys help you with your load

You’re rollin’ over to the lowside of the road

–Lowside of the Road, Tom Waits


Minnesotans, which side are you on?  Left, right or just “the lowside”?  If you believe the results of a recent survey of non-automotive traffic I did, it probably depends on what you’re doing at the time and where you are. But in many situations, it looks like a lot of you just don’t know. First, a disclaimer: The sample I collected (231) is barely half of the minimum needed (about 400) to represent the state’s population (even using generous margins of error and confidence levels). Also, the sample was entirely self-selected. However, my hope is to throw some light on what appears to be a confusing issue for many. The survey asked which side participants thought sidewalk-eschewing pedestrians and other non-automotive vehicles should use on  two-way Minnesota street and roads. The survey also asked participants whether they used the various forms of conveyance mentioned  in the survey and what they thought their knowledge was of the Minnesota bicycle and pedestrian law. Poll results: Which side of the street/road should you go on in Minnesota? Klared

Findings: A Bit on the Lowside

Participants were more certain about bicyclists, runners and walkers, but much less so with rollerbladers, runners/walkers with children in strollers or on bicycles, and wheelchair users. Many were not sure or answered “either/it depends.” To be fair, the areas were only identified as “rural” or “urban/suburban”, which opened things up for interpretation.  A better survey might have shown participants pictures of various scenarios.

    1. Bicyclists appear staunchly “right wing”

      No big surprise. Most respondents believe that bicycles should be ridden on the right side in both urban/suburban (95%) and rural (93%) areas. Interestingly, respondents seem to also believe that rollerbladers should be used on the right side on urban/suburban and rural streets/roads (49% and 42%), with many being simply unsure. Is it a wheel thing? We won’t know, because the margin of error (+/- 5%) make this last finding inconclusive. But is something going on here?

    2. Walkers and runners in rural areas tend to veer left

      Conversely, respondents tended to believe that runners and walkers should go on the left side in rural (67%) areas. This belief extended to runners and walkers with strollers in rural areas(61%).  In urban/suburban areas, the results were different. Once the margins of error were included, there was no consensus on which side a pedestrian with or without a stroller should go on.

    3. Rollerbladers, wheelchair users, and runners/walkers with children on bikes… stay on “the lowside”?

      Beyond more common scenarios involving bicyclists, runners and walkers, the opinions were much less clear. When margins of error were factored in, there was no consensus on any of the remaining conveyances. For rollerbladers, wheelchair users, and runners/walkers with children on bikes, roughly equal proportions responded with “left”, “right”, and “either”/”not sure.”

    4. Use and knowledge don’t seem to matter

      The survey also asked participants about what forms of conveyance they used and what they believed their knowledge of Minnesota bicycle and pedestrian law was. My hope was to predict how some participants might answer based on their transportation/exercise habits or knowledge of the law. I did run some cross tabulations to see if persons who ran or thought they knew pedestrian law were more likely to believe that runners and walkers belonged on the left side, but these analyses were inconclusive.

Next up:

In Part 2, I’ll dig into why we might be seeing these uncertainties. Is our just the limited sample size and methodology, or is it something more? Is this common in other states and countries? How do laws differ elsewhere? What’s the difference between law and practice? What did Waits really mean by “chain monkeys” and “the lowside”? Stay tuned!


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