A lot of ink has been spilled over state Representative Duane Quam’s proposed bill HF499 requiring “urban bicycle lane permits” in order to ride in a bike lane. The full text of the bill can be found here. Lots of people in the cycling community wrote, called or met with him. Many wrote columns, blog posts or letters to the editor, both locally and nationally. Like others after I read the proposed bill I emailed him and the House Transportation Committee. To my surprise, he replied. Here for your amusement is our exchange and a little commentary:
Dear Transportation Committee Members and Representative Quam,
The proposed House Bill HF 499, requiring bicycle licenses and safety classes is poorly conceived and it is totally biased against urban areas in this state. Its minimum age limit of 15 undermines programs like “Safe Routes to Schools”, undermines fitness and obesity-reduction goals and penalizes low-income young people who may not have access to other transportation modes. The $5 fee will be grossly insufficient to cover the costs of administering classes and providing permits to what could be nearly a million state residents.
If you believe that everyone riding a bicycle should take a safety course, then it should be EVERYONE, not just people in “urban districts”. If you’re concerned about bicycle safety, then you should look at actual safety data that shows how, where and why cyclists are being hit by cars, and what ages of cyclists are most vulnerable. If you do this, you will find that speed (of cars) and driver distraction are the chief causes of car crashes with both bicycles and pedestrians, as is visibility. Allowing cities more leeway to reduce posted speed limits (something that is not allowed in the state Highway Manual) and requiring bicycles sold and operated in the state to be equipped with flashing tail-lights would do more to save lives than this piece of poorly conceived legislation.
The legislation’s requirement that anyone using a bike lane be 15 years of age or older is also insane. 15-year-olds are juniors in high school! National safety data shows that kids much younger than this can safely use bicycle lanes and infrastructure and the state currently has “safe routes to schools” programs to teach kids as young as 5th grade about bicycle safety. What’s more, based on federal standards, bike lanes and bike boulevards have been built or are being planned around many of our schools, something we’ve been doing for decades. As written, this legislation would even make riding with your child to school in an urban area into a crime.
The legislation assumes that kids under 15 have other transportation options when, in the Twin Cities, (according to national census data) 20% of all households don’t own a car. So the legislation penalizes mostly low-income kids. It also requires that all people 15 or older get drivers licenses. Because most people ride bicycles at one time or another and the Twin Cities have an extensive bike-share system, this legislation, as written is basically a “voter ID” law and kids, starting at 15 would be required to shell out not just $5 for the permit but $65 for a drivers license.
Finally, as many as a million people would need to take classes and be certified in order to legally ride a bicycle. The Transportation Committee would be insane to think it can administrate a comprehensive course of this nature and provide permits for just $5 per person when it can’t even adequately fund the state’s education system or pre-K for less than thousands of dollars per student.
This legislation is a power-grab by out-state Republican legislators who just want to have a stick with which to bludgeon and penalize cities and predominantly DFL voters. It’s basically a tax and an unfunded mandate from a party who claims to be against both these things. I urge you to oppose it and withdraw this poorly conceived and poorly worded bill.
Duane then replied–
This started because I saw a big increase in bike lanes, asked around and found that we do not require knowledge of the rules of the road for bike riders. I’m concerned that we will have a tragedy, followed by a rushed through fix. In order to start the discussion, I had the revisor take what is required for motorcycles and adapt it for bikes used on bike lanes. Base need is to know the rules of the road and be old enough to be attentive and safe. Used a nominal fee for covering costs.
Starting with treating the rider as a vehicle operator using city streets and modifying from there, seemed logical. I’m very open to ideas and input to progress towards a consensus solution. (Such as exempting children accompanied by adults/parents; waved fee for low income; accepting training/testing connected with schools; one plate a rider can use on any of their bikes; the idea is to have the discussion.)
I hope this helps, let me know if you need anything else.
Have a great evening.
Reading his response, trying to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume his sincerity, I was struck by his line “I’m concerned that we will have a tragedy”, as if thousands of cyclists and pedestrians being hit by cars in Minnesota (many of them children) aren’t already a “tragedy.” I was also struck by his ignorance. Is this how how he approaches an issue or a problem about which he knows nothing? He didn’t even talk to his transportation department or experts in bike safety! …So I replied back to him.
I have a hard time believing what you say because you are not really addressing any of the issues I raised in my letter.
To begin with, you are not approaching the problem even remotely scientifically. Doing this would require that you identify the primary causes and victims of crashes and attempt to address them. But you’re not using data. You have no bike count data, no demographic data, no crash data, nothing. Even your fundamental assumption is flawed because your goal is not bicycle safety or reducing deaths or injuries. Your goal is simply passing a rule for the rule’s sake and arbitrarily applying motorcycle assumptions to bicycles when the two modes are completely different in terms of speeds, accidents, usage, ages, health and safety. You want to put as many as a million people through a lot of expense and effort and you have no empirical data that, after doing this, you will make any meaningful dent in bicycle and car crashes.
Walkers don’t know the rules of the road and are being hit by cars in record numbers during the past year. Should we automatically assume (with no data) that the walkers themselves are at fault and require that all walkers attend traffic classes about crossing streets and take an exam when they’re 15 years of age that allows them to walk without an adult?!? Of course not, that would be absurd. But this is, in essence what you are proposing. Humans have a fundamental right to walk. But you and the legislature (and MnDOT) don’t honor that right when you assume that streets should be exclusively for automobiles and design them and your legislation as such …and when you falsely assume that the majority causes of pedestrian or bicycle crashes are the walkers or cyclists themselves.
Riding in a bicycle lane is slightly more dangerous than crossing a street but if a 5th grader is smart enough to walk to school on their own, they should be entitled to bike to school on their own. I started biking to school in 5th grade, long before we had all the excellent bicycle lanes and infrastructure that we have today. Bicycling should be treated as a basic, equal mode of transportation everywhere but especially in cities, and it should be made accessible to young people who, based on data, don’t get enough exercise and are consequently suffering from increasing rates of obesity, childhood diabetes and other resulting health problems.
Finally, I’m a huge supporter of bicycle education and “Safe Routes to Schools”. I’ve taken the League of American Cyclists “Bicycling 101, Riding in Traffic” course and helped teach others how to ride, but this is, at minimum, a full day’s course and you can’t do this on a statewide scale “for a nominal fee”. That’s completely unrealistic. What little bicycle education takes place in this state is done mostly with volunteers and small state and federal grants (which your party has often opposed). I’m all for having the discussion but, if you want mass bike education, you’re going to have to find a lot more funding than $5 per person and it can’t be tied to drivers licenses or being age 15 or older.
If you want to figure out ways to reduce car crashes with bicycles and pedestrians, I’ll support you, but you need to approach the problem scientifically, with data and use that data to get the most positive effect for the least amount of money. If you do this, you’ll find there are hundreds if not thousands of people trying to do exactly the same thing in this state, in other states, and at the national level. There are entire organizations from the League of American Cyclists and the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota all the way up to the U.S. Department of Transportation that have amassed huge amounts of data on the problems of bicycle and pedestrian safety. Even MnDOT has some smart people in their bike/pedestrian division who have lots of data and safety information. They rarely are allowed meaningful input on street and highway projects in the Twin Cities because MnDOT is overwhelmingly and myopically focused on cars …but they are a resource if you want real world information about best practices on bicycle and pedestrian safety, costs, etc.
If you’re serious, I suggest you scrap this legislation and start over, with different goals and assumptions, and bring in people who actually have expertise and data on the subject. I am happy to connect you with some of those people.
In retrospect, thinking about the legislation and Rep. Quam’s response and reading more about him, I think he just wanted the publicity that we’ve all given him. He’s a big fan of Donald Trump, who is a master at proposing the outrageous to get some press and publicity. I’m a big supporter of statewide bicycle education but this bill is insane and Quam and his supporters clearly aren’t serious. They seem to just want to harass urban cyclists and urban voters to score points with their base.