Why is Minneapolis Putting Parking Tickets Ahead of Bike Safety?

Cars and trucks parked in bike lanes seems like one of those enforcement challenges that isn’t going to get resolved anytime soon.  Even if you bothered to call it in, the offending Uber or UPS or pizza delivery driver would be long gone by the time police arrived.  It seems that keeping bike lanes clear of parked vehicles will ultimately require a shift in mindset, and that is unfortunately going to take time.

Traffic Control Parked in Bike Lane

Traffic Control Vehicle Parked in Bike Lane

The City of Minneapolis could very quickly and easily eliminate one offender, however, and that is its own Traffic Control Unit.  My commute takes me up and down S. Second St., which has a lot of creeping car traffic during rush hour.   That traffic often includes Traffic Control vehicles, which are sometimes parked in the bike lane while the officer writes a parking ticket.  Putting aside the legalities of this practice, which I will get to in a second, this is mindboggling from a policy perspective: the City puts significant effort and investment into building infrastructure to encourage biking only to block that infrastructure and make biking more dangerous in service of providing car parking.

But this isn’t just bad policy; it’s also illegal.  State law explicitly prohibits parking in bike lanes:

169.34 PROHIBITIONS; STOPPING, PARKING.  Subd. 1. Prohibitions.

(a) No person shall stop, stand, or park a vehicle, except when necessary to avoid conflict with other traffic or in compliance with the directions of a police officer or traffic-control device, in any of the following places:

[snip]

(14) within a bicycle lane, except when posted signs permit parking; or

(15) … .

Interestingly, Minneapolis has an ordinance, Sec. 478.90, that mirrors and expressly cites to Minn. Stat. § 169.34, but the long list of places where that ordinance bans parking does not include bike lanes. The state statute is enforceable in Minneapolis regardless of what Sec. 478.90 says, but its omission of bike lanes is noteworthy.

When I first started encountering Traffic Control vehicles in bike lanes, I submitted a request through Minneapolis 311 asking whether the City had a policy on such vehicles parking in bike lanes.  At that time I was not aware of the statute on the topic.  A City representative called me and told me that Traffic Control vehicles are allowed to park in the bike lane if no parking space is available.  After I later saw a citation to Minn. Stat. § 169.34 on the City’s own website, I contacted 311 again, cited the statute and asked for the legal basis for the City’s policy.  This is the response I received:

We are sorry for any initial misinformation or confusion, but parking or stopping in bike lanes is not allowed per ordinance 169.34.1 subdivision A14 [sic]. We would be glad to enter a service request to Traffic Control if there are any vehicles you would like to report parked in bike lanes.

Nevertheless, I continued to encounter Traffic Control vehicles parked in bike lanes, and I again followed up with the City through 311.  This time, after quite a bit of back and forth, I was told that the City Attorney’s office had advised that Traffic Control vehicles are exempt from the ban on parking in bike lanes, under this ordinance:

478.230. – Exceptions.   The provisions of this article, or any other ordinance pertaining to parking or stopping, shall not apply to … authorized traffic code enforcement personnel engaged in performance of their duties.

But this is a city ordinance, and not a statute, and a city cannot simply exempt itself from state law.  After I explained that to the 311 staffer, he put me on hold while he called the City Attorney’s office.  I was not allowed to actually speak with the City Attorney’s office myself and was ultimately told something along the lines of there being a general law enforcement exception to traffic laws.

I haven’t found the legal basis for this exception, or for the notion that it would apply to regulatory personnel writing parking tickets.  But even if that were the case, the decision on whether or not to actually exercise any such “law enforcement exception” would be up to the City.  And this should be an easy one:  If the City is serious about promoting biking, then keeping bike lanes clear of obstructions should take priority over car parking, and City management—or the Council if necessary—should ensure that Traffic Control is not blocking bike lanes while writing parking tickets.

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16 Responses to Why is Minneapolis Putting Parking Tickets Ahead of Bike Safety?

  1. Peter November 21, 2019 at 12:22 pm #

    The City of Saint Paul has made parking in bike lanes even worse in the past year. The City passed an ordinance ( without public comment) that allows permited parking in bike lanes up to 12 dates a year by any organization. The ordinance was passed to facilitate Circus Juventas and their event parking needs on Montreal Avenue ( MN State Highway 51). This was done by Councilman Tolbert when the parking issue was raised and an off-site solution was suggested to be pursued. Montreal is the major truck route through Saint Paul as trucks are forced off of 35E. A very dangerous situation for bikers. The City promotes itself as bike/pedestrian centric and then creates an ordinance that benefits cars at the expense of bike safety. Maddening!

    • Rob November 21, 2019 at 12:50 pm #

      Peter do you have a link to the ordinance? I know that Juventas got permits over the summer but they did an enforcement last spring (I live at the bottom of Montreal and yeah – it sucks when you have to go out into traffic because of the parked cars). Didn’t know there was an ordinance created.

  2. Mark November 21, 2019 at 1:34 pm #

    The City cares about revenue, and writing tickets generates that. /story

  3. Serafina Scheel
    Serafina Scheel November 21, 2019 at 1:38 pm #

    Here’s what Commander Brad Hazelett of the St. Paul Police forwarded me from the City Attorney’s Office when I inquired about delivery trucks parking in the bike lane:

    “I’ve scoured the city ordinances (and also checked the state statutes in case there was anything relating to bike lanes generally) and have come up empty-handed. I can’t find anything relating to proper use of, or violations in the use of, bike lanes. We’ve created them but don’t appear to have begun regulating them – unless I’m missing something.

    “So I turned my attention back again to the commercial vehicles. Our ordinances appear to give them at least 3 parking exceptions: 1) using metered spaces for free during certain hours while they load and unload (160.08a), 2) using marked/signed loading zones while they load and unload (160.08b), and 3) double-parking while loading and unloading when access to the curb in unavailable (157.09). This 3rd exception, which actually allows them to temporarily impede vehicular traffic in a traffic lane, would also certainly allow them to impede bicycle traffic in a bike lane. So, while it might be frustrating to bicyclists it’s the same frustration shared by motorists under the same conditions. As long as the commercial vehicle is operating properly under this exception (blocking the bike lane because space at the curb is unavailable) I don’t think the driver of the commercial vehicle is committing any violation.

    “Probably not the answer you were looking for but in an urban environment, businesses rely on delivery trucks to financially survive. Bottom line is that we need to co-exist.

    • Patrick November 21, 2019 at 1:57 pm #

      “it’s the same frustration shared by motorists under the same conditions”

      ….no?

      • Serafina Scheel
        Serafina Scheel November 22, 2019 at 10:48 am #

        I think that’s the crux of the issue. They don’t realize that it’s not the same problem. (Aside from completely glossing over what state law says.)

  4. Monte Castleman November 21, 2019 at 1:43 pm #

    Minnesota statutes don’t spell out the unwritten exception that police may ignore traffic laws when reasonably necessary to perform their duties. For example 196.06 which requires people to obey traffic signals doesn’t spell out “police may run a red light when chasing a criminal” even if we all understand that’s allowed.

  5. Patrick November 21, 2019 at 1:58 pm #

    There doesn’t need to be legal clarity for the city to do the right thing. They could, but they don’t. Sad!

  6. John Maddening November 21, 2019 at 2:47 pm #

    Why not have Parking Enforcement ride bikes during the non-winter months?

    • Nicole Salica
      Nicole Salica November 21, 2019 at 5:06 pm #

      I’ve submitted multiple comments to the effect of “the city needs to have 0 cars in its fleet”, because honestly a bike with some panniers or a cargo trailer is enough for jobs like this.
      basically – i agree 150% – extend it to winter, too!

      • Jeremy Stomberg November 21, 2019 at 6:25 pm #

        I just figured I’d be realistic. I wouldn’t want to work outside in -5F.

        • Julie Kosbab November 22, 2019 at 10:00 am #

          They make the poor folks with the trash pick up sticks for the DID work outside in that. Not sure they’re city staff, but at least someone involved with “downtown” thinks it’s a-okay.

          (And those people aren’t doing sidewalk clearance, either, which would be an obvious need to work outside in that temperature range.)

      • Brian November 21, 2019 at 7:32 pm #

        So, you can’t think of any cases where it might be appropriate for a city worker to use a car? Are you okay with it taking 20 minutes for a police officer on a bike to respond to a 911 call?

        How efficient would a city worker be if they had to ride a bike across the 58 square miles of the city? How many workers would want to work for the city if they knew they had to ride a bike year round in all weather?

        There is no reason a traffic control officer needs an SUV for their duties. There are plenty of smaller vehicles available. I recall they used to use three wheel vehicles.

  7. Ted November 22, 2019 at 10:07 am #

    Met Council (transit) supervisors park with impunity in the bike lanes, and on sidewalks, in St Paul, even when on-street, non-bike lane parking is available.

  8. Walker Angell
    Walker Angell November 29, 2019 at 9:37 am #

    Great article Mark.

    This is also a bit of a problem in The Netherlands and is one of the reasons that in many scenarios where they would once have done painted bike lanes they now build curb protected bikeways.

  9. Stuart December 6, 2019 at 2:30 pm #

    The only way to keep cars out of areas not meant for cars is to physically block them from entering. I thought that was obvious by now.

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