A Charming Third, or Tilting At Windmills

Welcome to Winter! In addition to the cold and snow, we are in the early parts of the the 2019-2020 Minnesota Legislative Session.

Among the many hundreds of bills that have been introduced so far, bicycle-related legislation has been introduced in the House (HF 462) and the Senate (SF 1014). This proposed legislation, which seems to be very similar to HF 3925 as submitted in 2018, includes several positive aspects: it provides helpful clarity regarding who determines when a person riding a bicycle may ride other than “as far to the right as practicable” (the bicyclist does!), it clarifies the definition of what constitutes a bikeway, it grants the ability for a person bicycling to proceed straight ahead from a right turn lane(?), and it clarifies safe passing of and by persons bicycling. By and large, all good stuff!

Unfortunately, the legislation also includes a couple less positive aspects. First, it continues to include the word “curb” as a primary referent proximate to which the person bicycling must cleave, thereby leaving open the possibility of requiring said person to be bicycling in the gutter pan (since curb <> edge of lane / gutter). It also adds new language requiring a person bicycling on a bikeway to give an audible signal when overtaking another person or bicycle (bicyclist?) on the bikeway. Granted (and agreed) that is a best practice in more crowded bikeways, requiring it seems to overlook many frequently occurring interaction types (earbuds, extendable leashes, middle-of-the-lane travelers, socializers, etc) and put the onus for civility as well as the risk of perceived culpability solely on the person bicycling. Do people driving cars have to give an audible signal when overtaking other roadway users? Are people walking required to signal audibly when overtaking? Not good stuff.

And disappointingly, the proposed legislation includes nothing about #IdahoStop / #ParisStop / #DelawareYield. Hopefully I’m not flogging a dead horse or rolling another boulder up this hill, but the concept of persons bicycling being able to most clearly tell when it is safe for them to proceed at intersections is well understood (yes, it is also well misunderstood (#BikeHatersGonnaHate), but that is a distraction). As has been stated in the past, the law in Idaho that permits persons bicycling to conditionally treat stop signs as yields and stop lights as stop signs has been in place for 30+ years and the world hasn’t ended. In 2017, Delaware became the second State to implement legislation (info here) that permits “bicyclists to yield at stop signs (when the coast is clear), instead of requiring a complete stop at all stop signs with no exceptions“. In 2018, Colorado signed into law the ability for local communities to implement #IdahoStop. In 2019, Utah is considering, and has passed out of committee, a similar law they’ve branded #UtahYield.

Combine these facts with the increasing frequency of intersections in Minnesota being converted to roundabouts (changing stop lights / stop signs to yield signs for people driving) or being controlled (in part) by flashing yellow arrows instead of absolute, everyone stops all the time signs / signals, and it becomes clear that Bicycle Friendly Minnesota is (and all the other Bicycle Friendly political subdivisions like Counties and Cities, etc are) overdue to implement laws like this.

So, how can we do that? First, establish a relationship with your elected officials (Representatives and Senators, in this specific context, but also mayors, city council members, etc) and help them understand these things. Research it (lots of helpful links here!), and go talk TO them, not AT them. Second, contact your local bicycle advocacy organization (the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota – Bike MN) and/or national organizations (like the League of American Bicyclists) and let them know this is important to you. Third, keep your eyes peeled – maybe someone will tilt at that windmill this Session!

Stay warm!

16 thoughts on “A Charming Third, or Tilting At Windmills

  1. Kyla Ware

    Understanding these details is key, I agreee!

    We also need funding for https://www.mncyclingcenter.org/ Kids are biking less because parents are worried about safety, etc. Education and accessibility for biking, repair, (bonus: STEM re engineering and physics of bikes!) is the best approach.

  2. Jeffrey Klein

    The Idaho Stop is the road diet of bike laws, which is basically that you could do it tomorrow for almost no cost and it would immediately make life much better for cyclists. I’m all for the more complicated, expensive, long term stuff, but there’s these basic things that are huge missed opportunities.

    1. Brian

      I guess the big advantage here is that roads heavily used by bicyclists will have a lot fewer cars on them if Idaho stop comes to be.

      My interpretation of the law is that if I as a driver am legally stopped at a stop that then all cross bicyclists don’t have to stop as my vehicle is no longer oncoming traffic as I am legally stopped. Yes, I have driven through areas where bikes outnumber cars and I would sit at a stop sign five to ten minutes before there was ever a break in bike traffic.

      Does anyone really think bicyclists will ever stop at stop signs if this becomes law? What cop would ticket a bicyclists for this? The cop doesn’t want to end up in court defending his judgement that a bicyclist yielded when they should have stopped. This would become subjective instead of objective. Speed can be measured objectively to issue tickets. A cop can clearly see a car not stop at a stop sign.

      1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

        It’s sorta charming that you think the law causes people on bikes to stop at stop signs.

        I do not believe you’ve ever stopped for five minutes for bikes, nor that you’d ever, absent some sort of organized ride. (Only time I’ve seen it was a memorial ride).

        1. Brian

          No, I have never stopped for five minutes for bikes under current law because bikes are required to stop at stop signs. If Idaho stop becomes law then bikes will no longer be stopping.

          I have driven on West River parkway when bikes far outnumbered cars. Luckily, I no longer drive downtown so it shouldn’t be a problem for me.

  3. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    I am also concerned about the rewriting of the definition of bicycle lane and the requirement of a bicyclist to ride as far right as safe on the “road”, rather than the “roadway”.

    I think this could be interpreted by law enforcement as a mandatory bike lane use — or even more extreme, mandatory shoulder use.

    Right now there is zero requirement for a bicyclist to use a shoulder or shoulder-bike lane at all, because they are only required to ride as far right as practicable on the roadway (travel lanes).

    Even more absurd: the definition of “road” is not defined in the bill or in existing law. I assume that would refer to “street or highway” — that includes the entire right-of-way. Wouldn’t “as far right as safe” in the entire right-of-way be… the sidewalk?

    1. Andrew Evans

      Well, if properly plowed and maintained, shouldn’t bikes me required to use dedicated bike paths or lanes? I don’t get super annoyed about bikers on West River Parkway, or 26th Street in North, but I do wonder why they are putting themselves in traffic when there is a perfectly fine bike path/lane that’s been paid for, implemented, and designed specifically for bikers.

      I do need to write my lawmakers anyway, and will pass on your other points, with the addition of what I said above.

      As long as I’m writing a reply, generally, I’m indifferent about bikes coming to a complete stop. Other than it gets a little confusing on 4 way stop signs, in which case maybe they should stop or at least not assume they can safely cross (I’m unsure if they are legally able to cross without stopping). Again though I take a safety point of view, since a bike doesn’t win (moped, motorcycle, etc) in a confrontation with a larger vehicle.

      I also need to send comments about lane splitting, which maybe should be done at least in the metro areas, but that’s more of a motorcycle and moped thing.

      1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

        People bike in the road where there’s a path because they want to ride faster than is appropriate on the path. Or because there are limited access points to the path and they haven’t come to one yet.

      2. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

        I oppose a mandatory shoulder use / bike lane use because there are a lot of good reasons why someone may not choose to use a bike lane. They could be going faster than traffic in the bike lane. They may want to ride abreast with a friend. They may be avoiding car doors or debris or storm grates.

        And yeah you can write all exceptions those in, but you still put the bicyclist in a position of defending their actions and justifying on a specific point. The reality that if there isn’t a reason not to use the bike lane, 99.9% of bicyclists will choose it. Heck, most bicyclists will use the bike lane if there is a good reason to avoid it. (Thinking of 1st Ave S, where the bike lane is 100% in the door zone even without snow, but most bicyclists still use it.)

        Mandatory side path use would be even more extreme — and thankfully is very rare among state laws. Despite the “speed limit”, the parkway ones are actually unusually good for speed, assuming you aren’t endangering other users. But many side paths are inherently dangerous at higher speeds, especially if you are riding at the left side. Paths like 26th Ave N have at least 24 crossings per mile, which is a lot of potential conflict to be in a place where drivers may not see you.

        Of course, for some users it is a great option — like kids who may not be able to hold a straight line and would be unsafe in the street. Or for adults who just want to pedal along at 8-10 mph. But the individual rider should be able to make that determination without having to justify it to police or a judge.

  4. Liz Walton

    Some introduced legislation that may be of interest: Senate File 911 (https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bills/text.php?number=SF911&version=0&session=ls91&session_year=2019&session_number=0).

    Here’s some of the added language:
    (e) The commissioner must not spend any money from the trunk highway fund on
    creating, constructing, expanding, marking, or maintaining bicycle routes.

    Subd. 7. Prohibition on use for bicycle lanes. No money from the trunk highway fund
    may be spent on creating, constructing, expanding, marking, or maintaining bicycle lanes.
    Money from the trunk highway fund must not be spent to convert a vehicle travel lane to a
    bicycle travel lane.

    Subd. 6. Bicycle lane funding limitation. Notwithstanding any complete street policy or plan, the commissioner is prohibited from spending any money from the trunk highway fund on creating, constructing, expanding, marking, or maintaining bicycle lanes.

  5. Dorian Grilley

    Thank you Liz for pointing out that there is significant opposition in the Legislature to doing things that would make things easier and safer for bicyclists. A few years ago the change from the requirement to ride as far to the right as practicable to as far to the right as safe as determined by the bicycle operator was debated by the entire Senate on the floor and voted down! This year it is likely to pass. It is a big step forward, as noted by Luke, as is the change to the 3′ passing rule adding of or half the width of the vehicle, whichever is greater. Some of the language changes were also needed simply because things like the 3′ passing rule, technically, do not currently apply when you are riding on the shoulder.

    Incremental change, for sure, but it is not without, as Luke points out, establishing relationships with elected officials (in a bipartisan way) and help them understand these things. And, let me add from experience as the executive director of BikeMN, sometimes those relationships take years, sometimes decades, and require a true statewide effort. That is why BikeMN has worked so hard to ensure that there are Bicycle Friendly Communities and Businesses and educators teaching the Walk! Bike! Fun! elementary school safety curriculum all over Minnesota and to create the http://www.bikemn.org/advocacy/minnesota-mayoral-active-transportation-caucus in partnership with the Minnesotans for Healthy Kids Coalition.

    All that said, BikeMN does support the Idaho stop law. But we do not feel that bicyclists have or BikeMN has the standing with the Legislature (given Liz’s comments and other items in the first paragraph) to pass it at this time. Senate File 911’s chief author is the chair fo the Senate Transportation Committee! Again, as Luke notes, this is about understanding and relationships. It will also take a sustained education campaign to pass and implement it and that may take years.

  6. David MarkleDavid Markle

    I haven’t seen the language of the proposed legislation but thank Mr Van Santen for a timely article. He makes good points, but as a dedicated pedestrian I disagree with him about the need for an audible signal by bicyclists who are passing.

    Does the legislation differentiate between dedicated bikeways and combined use paths? The latter can be dangerous for pedestrians..

    Am concerned that there’s still a need to clarify certain right-of-way issues when bicyclists cross intersections using pedestrian crosswalks.

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