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Top 10 Questions for Bicyclists: Behind the Story with Sherry Johnson

We sit down with Sherry Johnson to chat about her popular article series of motorists’ questions for bicyclists!

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Our theme song is Tanz den Dobberstein, and our interstitial song is Puck’s Blues. Both tracks used by permission of their creator, Erik Brandt. Find out more about his band The Urban Hillbilly Quartet on their website.

This episode was hosted, edited, and transcribed by Ian R Buck. We’re always looking to feature new voices on the show, so if you have ideas for future episodes, drop us a line at podcast@streets.mn.


Ian: [00:00:00] I’m doing my best to not be, like, reckless in the ways that I’m stringing together all of these different little, like cheat codes, right? Biking in the city feels like I have unlocked like a new game mode, right?

Sherry: [00:00:14] Yes! You get to take all these little, like, shortcuts. You get to go through parking lots, you get to find all the cool urbanist ways to get places.

Ian: [00:00:23] Yeah, I’ve leveled up!

Ian: [00:00:28] Welcome to the Streets.mn Podcast, the show where we highlight how transportation and land use can make our communities better places. Coming to you from beautiful Seward, Minneapolis, Minnesota. I’m your host, Ian R Buck. There’s a lot of great content on Streets.mn, and sometimes an article comes up that both makes a big impact and also clearly has a lot of depth behind it that didn’t quite make it into the article. But that gives us a great opportunity to do a podcast episode chatting with the author about like, what was the process of writing the article? How was it received? All kinds of fun stuff. So today we’re going to be chatting with Sherry Johnson, who just wrapped up her five part series called Why Do Cyclists Do That? So first of all, Sherry, happy early birthday.

Sherry: [00:00:54] Thank you so much. And happy birthday to you, Ian.

Ian: [00:00:57] Yeah, we just figured out yesterday that our birthdays are one day apart, which is kind of delightful. Yeah. So this series, five part series, not very many of those that we get on on Streets.mn. I, um, for any listeners who haven’t read any of the articles yet, can you give us like a high level kind of summary of what the concept was?

Sherry: [00:01:25] So the yeah, the concept was I so I follow quite a few different forums on Facebook and even a little bit of Nextdoor, and I’ve been seeing and I’ve also been serving on or with district councils for a really long time. So I’m kind of privy to a lot of stories, largely from drivers about bicyclists and “who do they think they are” and “what are they doing” and “what are they about?” And I have always been a wannabe cyclist and tried to reduce my own carbon footprint and bicycle more and do that more with my family, but I think it was just in the last three, four years that I’ve really doubled down and gotten committed and that, and now I feel like I’m in this space where I’m recognizing more and more bicyclists voices. I’m reading a lot more sort of urbanist content, you know, and I think those two worldviews kind of clashed in my head. And I was still in his place to understand them both on some level. And I knew that tensions were starting to run even higher with the Save Our Streets campaign over here in my neighborhood. So I just wanted to reach out to a couple of forums.

Sherry: [00:02:43] I chose Saint Paul Town Hall, this Facebook group that is pretty well balanced, and I just said, hey, what are some issues you have with bicyclists and what questions would you ask them? And then I took all of those comments, some of which were hard to read, but all of which were not surprising. And I kind of boiled them down into ten questions and divided them up into a series. And I started that series with the introduction on my own journey to try to level set and say, okay, this is where I’m coming from. And I think one of the big tensions in it is that Streets.mn, you know, a lot of us are bike nerds already, transportation nerds, land use nerds, and we want to have that perspective all the time. But the point is, if we it’d be good to kind of attract people on the edges, people who are curious about biking more. Right? And may just not know, maybe more primarily drivers like I was just a handful of years ago who just have these lingering questions. And that’s the audience that I was hoping to reach.

Ian: [00:03:47] Yeah, it occurred to me, while you were kind of explaining that journey, that mental journey that like many, many of us, like broadly in society, not not just like, you know, our little, you know, Streets.mn corner of like people who are already cycling, but like, everybody kind of has the sense that like, oh yeah, like biking more often, you know, eliminating car trips like that is a good thing to do in general. Uh, but everybody has opinions about, like the way that other people act when they are on a bicycle, you know, like, like and it and it reminds me of the way that like, I’ll be out and about with, like, you know, whatever group of people and somebody will have some remark to say about, like, you see that parent over there? This is why they’re doing parenting wrong. Like everybody has an opinion about how you should be. Raising your child.

Sherry: [00:04:56] Oh my gosh, I’m. I mean, I’m already going there Ian. Absolutely. Like that’s what it felt like to do this series and to just have different people react differently to not only putting forth the questions and concerns and even the premise of doing that, but also just the positionality of the questions. And a lot of people had very different answers to both to, to almost every question. And I tried to highlight both of those ends. But yeah, it did feel a little bit like a return to ECFE and all those different ways that we see parenting and parenting philosophies. Yeah, people have different ideas about cycling too. And I actually have a story about that too. I remember one of the biggest cognitive pieces of cognitive dissonance for me was, so Dan Marshall is an acquaintance of mine, and of course he writes for Streets and on Twitter. Back when I was on that thing, when it was called Twitter, he wrote some kind of tweet about, well, of course, we don’t always stop for stop signs. That’s dumb. And I was like, “wait, what? What? Why wouldn’t you stop every stop sign as a bicyclist?” You know, I had no idea. And then I started thinking about it. I was like, oh, this makes sense. Oh, there’s an Idaho- There’s a person that’s trying to- There’s a whole group of people that’s trying to get the Idaho Stop bill passed in Minnesota. And that was another sort of thread in this journey. I suppose I just mix my metaphors, but that was another part of this journey, is just realizing just how different people see, even things like stop signs, intersections and learned a lot.

Ian: [00:06:37] Yeah, yeah. And so often like. If you haven’t had to interact with like infrastructure in a particular way, it’s hard to imagine, hard to see, like how it affects a different mode of transportation. Like, I remember when my Nana was asking me about like, so you like, stop at every stoplight, right? And I’m like, well, yeah, I stop for at least a moment, but most stoplights don’t can’t sense that I’m there. So if I don’t go at some point, I’m going to be standing there for forever. And she was like, wow, that, huh? That’s a good point.

Sherry: [00:07:20] I know I’ll never forget. My kid is kind of a rule follower, and I’ll never forget the first time that I ran a stop sign after stopping for a while and waiting and I said, no, it’s okay, honey, and I had to explain that to her. But I think there’s this essence of rule follower in a lot of us that thinks that, you know, this is the rules of the road. It has to apply to everyone. When the thing that just called out to me about this series and doing the research I did is the rules of the road were written for cars. They were not written for bicyclists, they were not written for pedestrians or people who walk and roll. They were written for cars. And we it’s our job to kind of interpret where that lies. And honestly, that is a lot like parenting, right? There’s a lot of places that want to tell you how to parent. But the fact is, every kid, it’s more complex than that. Every kid is different. Every household is different. You have to learn how to parent as you go. And I think, you know, active transportation is a lot like that.

Ian: [00:08:26] Yeah. Sherry, how dare you ask people to imagine the world complexly? No. That’s preposterous.

Sherry: [00:08:33] I mean, that’s also kind of my business model. That’s what I do for a living. So, yeah, and I think that this has been part of that journey is to take my advocacy as I’m wearing my advocacy hat around transportation to to apply that more broadly to walking and biking and rolling.

Ian: [00:08:52] Speaking of journeys, when you first, like, came up with the idea for this and you were like, oh, I could, I could go and bring these questions to cyclists and like put together, you know, kind of a guide. Uh, did you realize this was going to be like five weeks long?

Sherry: [00:09:14] Sort of. I mean, I knew I knew it could get pretty. I knew it was complex going in. And so I knew that it could be hard to unpack. But honestly, it did grow a lot as it went. I had no idea a) that I was, I would get as many questions as I did. I knew I wasn’t surprised by the questions, just merely the number of questions. And then I was surprised at how many folks actually responded. I think I ended up using about 25 different perspectives from the different bicycle enthusiast groups that I contacted, but I think like 50 people participated in some fashion, even if it was often just to say, these questions are crap. You know, like they didn’t like the positionality of the questions, which is understandable. And honestly, again, they were not the audience for this, right? I was looking for bridge builders. I was looking for bicyclists who knew, Yeah, some drivers really do have these questions. And yes, we want to attempt to bridge this gap.

Ian: [00:10:22] Yeah, yeah. But also like I mean explaining like why the positionality of a particular question isn’t like is on shaky ground already is like that. Like that is a good teaching moment as well, right? Um, so how did you go about finding and choosing, you know, who you are going to get answers from. You said that you, like, approached a few different enthusiast groups, right?

Sherry: [00:10:52] Yeah. So I, I basically just I was part of all these Facebook groups and I’ve been sort of building them as I’ve gone as I’ve gone deeper into the sort of active transportation space. And so I reached out to Bicycle Advice Group on Facebook and Grease Rag. Right. You know, who was the other one? And then I just kind of reached out to places like BikeMN, which I got great resources from Sustain Saint Paul, Streets.mn itself. Um, I’m trying to remember if I reached out to Move Minnesota, I think I tried, but they’re busy, and I think that I just was hoping that I would get just a really broad array of different perspectives, and I think it did a pretty good job of doing that. I also part of what I do professionally is narrative change work, something called participatory narrative inquiry. It’s kind of this thing that’s a kind of narrative ethnography. And I think I was going for that as well. I didn’t want to necessarily pinpoint 1 or 2 experts. Right, which is the typical journalistic approach. I wanted to dive in and see if I could get 100 different perspectives, and I knew that the only way I was going to do that as a volunteer writer was using something like a Facebook group emailing various nonprofits that I had a connection with.

Ian: [00:12:22] Yeah. And I, I remember you saying, uh, specifically that, like you, there were a few people who were, like, responding to the questions who you were like, we hear from these, these particular individuals all the time. Like, what other perspectives can you find?

Sherry: [00:12:40] Right. Yeah. I mean, there were definitely the Bill Lindekes and the Andy Singers of the world.

Ian: [00:12:47] Who did get quoted a few times in the series. So yeah.

Sherry: [00:12:51] I just thought of them as the touch points for maybe once an article I’m going to relate to that person or Angela from BikeMN. You know, like, I wanted to have this expertise, this grounded space of expertise, but I didn’t want to just hover there. Right. Yeah. And what ended up happening is just a lot of people came up to the surface as having their own. And this is something I greatly believe in, sort of individuated, place based, perspective based expertise from the different ways that they have biked in the different places that they have biked. That’s what they bring, right? It was a real treat.

Ian: [00:13:31] I really liked the way that you incorporated the content from from BikeMN’s bicycle friendly driver series, course, whatever they want to call that. Um, that was, you know, I mean, obviously, like, you are going for the same audience that they were making that content for, right? But that was like that was such a perfect like, you know, matching cyclists answers with the like, okay. And driver here is a way that you can help, you know, when you encounter a situation like this to to not make things worse.

Sherry: [00:14:15] Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah, definitely. And I think I mean, BikeMN folks were really generous. And because everybody knows when you start doing volunteer journalism, especially when it’s around transportation, like getting good photos, that is not constantly a bike rack full of bikes, you know, is very difficult. And so I was looking for pretty much any image that would help convey the content. And when I found out that they did this people friendly driver program and that they’d recently given one of these talks and were willing to share this with me, and can I use these images? And they were very gracious and I would encourage anybody to check out their program. BikeMN, it’s so great. I kind of want to put my kid through and she gets her license and she’s she told me already. She said, mom, I take transit and bike all the time. It’s almost like pulling teeth to get her to actually drive. But but I’m excited that that program exists. I wish every teenager, I wish every person in Minnesota could take it, because just having recently gone through, you know, driving school with with her, that’s really not the focus, right? And in fact, the focus so often among folks my age who are getting their kids cars and used cars is the bigger the better, right? My kid won’t die in this accident because I have a giant SUV, and we’re trying to teach her kind of the opposite, right? We’re going to get, you know, you’re going to have our little Honda Fit to drive to your summer job in, and there’s airbags, and we’re going to teach you to be safe. And we’re going to teach you to look out for those folks who had the least amount of protection. And again, we’re getting into parenting advice again, I guess. But it is so related, right?

Ian: [00:16:09] Yeah. Yeah, it’s. Everybody says that like. Yeah. You can’t talk about transportation without talking about land use and housing and vice versa. But like, yeah, I mean, parenting is also like very intertwined with all of those things.

Sherry: [00:16:26] Absolutely. And what’s cool is Stina is working on an episode about biking with your kids, and a lot of the folks that did come out for these stories had really cool perspectives about how to bike with your kids safely, and how the ways that they, the adaptations they made to bike in a system created designed for cars, particularly with rising use of SUVs, larger vehicles. That was a really intriguing perspective, and I learned a lot, and I wish I had known from fellow parents who also biked with their kids. Even when we first moved back to Saint Paul from Seattle in 2018, my kid was at an age where she was still making some serious errors on her bicycle. And I’ll never forget the first time that we took her on Summit Avenue. Oh, goodness. She we thought we had taught her how to make a left turn, but she almost got killed trying to do that, trying to take the lane. And a truck just completely ignored her signal. And you know, I not only is that also a part of the, you know, the threads that are woven into this series, but it’s why I’ve gotten involved into the bike lane, bike lane versus trail debacle on Summit Avenue.

Sherry: [00:17:49] And it’s why, you know, I tried not to have a bias when I wrote this, but the fact is, you know, you are there’s a position to Streets.mn and I wouldn’t have I would have done it very differently if I had written for a more straight up news organization. And in fact, I think one of the hardest parts of this series was part five. I had been asked to, in which we talk about bicyclists who don’t like bike lanes versus those who do, those who want the separated, grade separated off street trails, those who don’t. And unfortunately, I wish I could have sourced it better. I wish I could have. If I could go back in time, I probably would have gotten more bicyclists who really, really don’t want off street trails. Because I feel like I want to understand that perspective even a little bit more, and see maybe where some of our common values might be.

Ian: [00:18:53] Yeah. The thing that struck me while I was reading part five, which was at 3:30 a.m. this morning because I woke up in the middle of the night, and when I can’t fall back to sleep, that’s what I do, is I read Streets.mn articles. But the thing that struck me while I was reading part five was I was realizing that like. Well, you know, for me. It entirely depends on the ride in terms of like whether I’m going to prefer being on a separated bike lane or if I’m going to be in the road. Like if I am commuting, then I’m kind of doing whatever is going to get me to work with the least conflicts, you know, and and in a timely manner. Um, if I am, like, riding with friends on a group ride, we’re almost certainly taking, uh, you know, separated, pleasant bike trails. But if I’m on, like, a randonneuring ride, you know, which is long distance, 100k, 200k rides usually out in the countryside with a bunch of, like, very, very experienced cyclists. We will we will sometimes like, you know, if there’s a trail alongside whatever like County Road we’re on, we’re sometimes in the road. Yeah. Um, and so like, like for me, I realized like, well, this doesn’t it doesn’t change like. What I prefer to advocate for. But I did have to recognize that. Like, oh yeah, some like sometimes I prefer to ride in the road and sometimes I prefer to ride on separated infrastructure. Yeah. Um, so it’s not just like, you know, cyclist A and cyclist B disagree on where they want to ride. Sometimes it’s just within oneself.

Sherry: [00:20:57] Ah, right. Yeah. And that’s what I tried to convey. And I think I did at least get a couple perspectives like that. I think when I, when I published, when I recently shared the article, article series that had been published, I did get sort of one more perspective that was really upset and that thought that I had completely oversimplified everything. And I think in some ways this person was right in the same way that I just shared with you. But I also was struck by, I don’t know, there’s their concern was that, you know, transportation designers now, as we start to accommodate, as they start to accommodate more modes of travel, as they start to think about active transportation and accommodating that within a particular right of way, you know, the trend is to, you know, narrow the driving lanes, right? And all the designers, all the transportation nerds tell us that when you narrow the driving lanes, everybody slows down because there’s this perceived safety issue with going too fast. And and it’s it’s almost automatic that you design for the speeds you want people to go at. And I think that there’s this misconception among some folks who like the bike lanes on the road that, you know, as you narrow those lanes, that you’re actually making it more dangerous for everyone because then you have less passing room and and I’m sure that I’m sure that some transportation person is doing further studies on this as we continue to change our, our, the profiles of our roads. But I guess that’s one thing that I wish we could convey to folks is sometimes what feels intuitively wrong. Narrower lanes are safer for everyone. Narrow driving lanes. It’s some of the hardest things to teach and convey when it feels wrong. Right?

Ian: [00:23:00] Yeah.

Sherry: [00:23:02] Yeah.

Ian: [00:23:03] I’ve I’ve heard some arguments along the lines of like from, from vehicular cyclists perspective specifically that like if we if we build separated bike ways, you know, in a lot of places, then the state will pass a law that says cyclists cannot ride in the road if there is separated, you know, and like that has literally never come up right at the state level. It’s it’s, you know, it’s not a thing that is like looming over our heads. I don’t think that anybody in the country has like passed any laws like that. But I think the thing that I can see happening for sure is like. When we put separated bike lanes in and and we narrow the vehicle traveling lanes then drivers on that street, when they do encounter a vehicular cyclist who is choosing to be in the road and taking up a full lane. The drivers are probably going to be more pissed at you than they would have been, right? You know, if you if there was a painted bike lane, but you had, you know, or if there was no bike lane at all and you are taking a lane, but there’s enough room to pass. I can definitely see those encounters being less pleasant.

Sherry: [00:24:23] Yeah, it’s like they’ll be going slower, but the fact that they have to go even slower in order to pass you with less passing room might make them buzz past you in a way that they might not if the lanes were wider. Yeah, that’s a really great point.

Ian: [00:24:39] I remember seeing a comment by a driver recently who was saying something about like, um, you know, cyclists, even if you’re like a super sportsy, you know, like road cyclist, you’re not going as fast as you think you are. And and that may be true, but what I would say to that driver would be, um, you’re not going as slow as you think you are.

Sherry: [00:25:03] Yes. That is the thing I have learned from having an e-bike is I have an MPH gauge on my on my bike, and I’m consistently going 20 to 21 miles an hour, 21 downhills because I have a governor and I’m a class, but class one, class three, I don’t remember what they’re called, but yes, I am capped at 20. I do get up to 21 going down a hill and I’ll be on a 20 mile an hour street and cars will pass me super fast. And again, I think you’re right. They don’t realize how fast they’re going and they get mad that I’m going. Literally a car speed limit. That’s very frustrating.

Ian: [00:25:42] And I think that’s a that’s a culture shift that is definitely going to take time. I have hope that it is going to happen, but it is going to take time that like, okay, now that we have 20 mile an hour. Speed limits by default, and our public works departments are starting to design our street reconstructions with that speed design in mind. Like. Over time it is going to become the norm to be driving 20, 25, 30 miles an hour instead of 30, 35, 45, 50 miles an hour.

Sherry: [00:26:24] That would be so nice. You know, I have to say, I used to be quite the car enthusiast. You know, I kind of worked my way up and my dream car was a Honda Civic Si coupe with a spoiler, and I got one when I was out in Seattle, and I drove it all the way across country to Minnesota. And then I became this active transportation nerd. And every day I would look at it sitting in the street as I’m biking more and more and walking more and more. And I just got sadder because the thing is, once you’re it kind of relating back to something you said earlier and even my own teenager, it’s like the more I walk, the more I bike, the more I realize what my real speed is. And I remember I used to love taking turns really quickly in this really low, wide wheelbase vehicle and like and accelerating fast and hearing the purr of the engine. I mean, there is nothing, nothing made me happier than the sound of my beautiful SI VTEC engine revving up to this really super fast speed really quickly. But again, it sort of took the joy out of doing that and going that insane speed. And I found myself lowering my speed all the time. And eventually, and now I’m at the point where I really do go 20 miles an hour. And I think, you know, even five years ago, if I’d been my own passenger, I would have been like, oh my gosh, please go faster, you know?

Ian: [00:27:57] I remember, I remember when they had announced the 20 mile an hour speed limit was, you know, coming, but they had like the law hadn’t actually come into effect yet.

Sherry: [00:28:09] I was furious, I didn’t understand.

Ian: [00:28:11] Oh, wow.

Sherry: [00:28:12] Yeah. At that time. Yeah. I thought it was silly.

Ian: [00:28:16] So that wasn’t that wasn’t so long ago. Sherry.

Sherry: [00:28:18] Well, I think it was I guess not. Yeah, I think it’s been it’s been this sort of slow. It’s almost like I reached a tipping point and then after which I just didn’t see driving in the same way at all.

Ian: [00:28:32] Anyway, so so they had like announced that the speed limit was going to happen, but it wasn’t going to come into effect until like, the crews had enough time to go out and actually install all of the signs. And in that in-between time, I wasn’t driving very often, but when I did drive, I made sure I was like, I’m going to just drive 20 miles an hour now. And I had a passenger with me who was like, Ian, you know that that law doesn’t exist yet. And I was like, yeah, but nobody’s nobody says that I have to drive 30.

Sherry: [00:29:07] I know, yeah, I mean, even just my kid. I know we’re talking about cars, supposed to be talking about bikes, but my kid, you know, was we were teaching her how to go through a residential neighborhood here in Summit Hill, and she’s going consistently 15 to 20 more on the 15 side. And we’ve been coaching her. You have to get up to 20. And she’s like, but but there are kids and pedestrians and bicycles and blind spots everywhere. I don’t feel safe going 20. And we had to deliver this awful news that, well, honey, if you don’t go 20, you’re danger is less about hitting people and it’s more about somebody getting mad and passing you, buzz passing you, and then they’re going to hit somebody.

Ian: [00:29:52] Yeah, but also, like, she’s not responsible for other people’s behavior.

Sherry: [00:29:59] I know, but it’s that it’s that predictability, right? It’s, uh, even even no matter what mode you use. Right? You want to be predictable to other people on the road who are sharing that mode. And I think when the cultural understanding, the sort of social story of driving is that you go the speed limit, that’s that’s a hard nut to crack.

Ian: [00:30:22] But, you know, I think it is it’s very, very responsible to, you know, be aware of like, oh, I’m in an environment where things can come out from behind those parked cars very quickly, and I need to be able to react to that very, very quickly. Like that’s, that’s a very like that’s an instinct to hold onto. Yeah. For sure.

Sherry: [00:30:47] Absolutely. Yeah. There was this person, Jessica Schoner, one of the experts that kind of rose to the surface, you know, in my crowdsourcing. She actually is the co owner and data science lead of Safe Streets Research & Consulting. And she was talking about her own experiences biking and talked and she taught me a lot. She said you know there’s this thing like called a multi multiple threat crash. And I’d always sort of seen it. Right. There’s it’s it’s in some of my nightmares about how my kid gets killed crossing the street is that the good driver stops and the bad driver passes because they don’t think they should stop. Right. And I didn’t know there was a name for that. And I didn’t know just how bad the statistics were on that. And I appreciated I appreciated the way that Angela Olsen at BikeMN and Jessica Schoner helped me understand. This is why you never this is why you want to be really careful about taking the taking the your turn at the intersection when a driver just Minnesota Nice’s it to you. Right. And again that’s that predictability right? We want we want to be predictable to one another. We don’t want to just randomly take a oh yes I’m going to cross because you benevolent driver told me I could. When we can see that there are a lot of folks around who may not be quite as benevolent.

Ian: [00:32:15] Yeah, well, and that kind of situation comes up even when everybody’s doing. Everybody but one person is doing the right thing, right? Like it’s not. It doesn’t just come up when somebody is waving you on through an intersection, when they shouldn’t be waving you on, like, like I’ve been on foot crossing Snelling Avenue – literally, I think probably the worst street in Minnesota – and and I’m wearing my, like, full, full torso, bright orange safety vest. You know, the driver in the nearest lane to me stops because I’m entering the crosswalk. And by law, they have to stop, you know, because I have the right of way. And as I get to the other side of that car and I’m about to enter, you know, cross the second lane of traffic, somebody, you know, slams on their brakes and, you know, barely stops in time before they hit that crosswalk. And, and, you know, I see them through the windshield going. Like mouthing, “I didn’t see you.” And I’m like, bro, I’m wearing an orange reflective vest.

Sherry: [00:33:30] Well, that’s that whole, you know, and I talk about this in in my professional life a lot with folks who want to do change work at nonprofits or in government. It’s like we have these brains that are predictive, which means we actually have to change our own mental map, our own stories, our own narratives in our heads before we can literally see or sense something sometimes. Because we aren’t taking in everything with our senses, we’re taking in what we expect to take in. And I think until you start to expect to see. You know, scooters, bikes, wheelchairs, people walking. You will not see them no matter how much orange we wear, no matter how much reflective tape. Right?

Ian: [00:34:17] And I think that that’s that’s probably the major factor in my motivation for like letting my license expire. I haven’t reduced my use of cars because I’m nervous about, like, repeating like the concussion that I got from getting rear ended by a semi truck on the highway. It’s because I am afraid of like my self taking on the responsibility of other people’s safety who are in front of me while I’m operating a motor vehicle, because I know that I’m not up to that task. I know that I get distracted and I’m not going to like, do the right thing 100% of the time. And I would rather to allow a professional driver who has been trained and who is held to a higher standard than we hold your average everyday class D license driver.

Sherry: [00:35:21] Absolutely! And I mean, that relates so much to the increasing size of cars, which we cite, I cite in the series as well. Like if you have this gigantic car, there should I mean, you should probably have to have a commercial license. Sorry folks, but like that is a lot of power to have. And with great power comes great responsibility. I found out that you were a nerd last night, so I’m just going to randomly throw out that type of thing.

Ian: [00:35:49] [laughter] Last night could not have possibly been the first time that you were like, oh, Ian seems kind of nerdy.

Sherry: [00:35:54] Well, I mean, there is something about seeing an actual Firefly on, you know, laser printed onto a coaster. That’s another level. But I want to say that there’s one of the biggest surprises to me, and I want to make sure and share it. And I even talked with my spouse about this last night is, did you know you can’t pass a bicyclist who’s turning left and waiting in the intersection? You cannot pass them on the right unless there’s a whole other empty driving lane. Not a shoulder, not a right turn lane. I had no idea I got schooled, and I’ve done that forever. Right? And I imagine a lot of drivers have done that forever. So I think honestly, between that things like that and the Idaho stop and just the I don’t know about you, but just trying to apply the Idaho stop and my actual bicycling life lately. It’s complicated and. I wish that there were more ways that we could talk to each other and not oversimplify and assume different things about each other, particularly across modes, because people get pretty defensive about their mode and how they’ve been taught to drive and the assumptions that they have about that.

Ian: [00:37:12] I probably shouldn’t communicate all of like the. The things that I do when I’m commuting because I get a little loosey goosey with like, you know, the, the ways that different. Different things that intersect with each other. All right. I’m just going to get into it. Why not? So like so like. Okay. Consider the Idaho stop, which, you know, on its own is just like, okay, a cyclist can treat a stop sign the way that a driver would treat a yield sign. Right. That’s kind of the broad strokes summary of it. If you are at a red light and you have a reasonable suspicion that, like, it’s not going to turn green for you, you can continue, you know, stuff like that. A cyclist who is in a crosswalk has the same rights and responsibilities as a pedestrian in the crosswalk, right? So I will, you know, seek out opportunities where I can be like, oh, okay, I’m coming up to this T junction. There’s a red light, there’s a line of cars waiting. I’m going to just hop up onto the curb cut onto the sidewalk for ten feet, get to the other side of the intersection and then continue.

Sherry: [00:38:31] Yeah.

Ian: [00:38:33] I’m going to go from directly from where I’m riding in the street to, you know, riding in the crosswalk as if I’m a pedestrian and go when a pedestrian can go.

Sherry: [00:38:46] Well, yeah. I mean, that’s kind of the the hybrid superpower of being on a bicycle. And I think, you know, a lot of folks have talked to me, a lot of people are sort of increasingly up in arms and worried about the impact of e-bikes, particularly those that go above 20, but even those that go up to 20, you know, if you can change the governor on them fairly easily. And I, I’m just like, listen, I don’t I actually think that a lot of e-bicyclists are doing just fine. The vast majority of us are behaving well. And I’ve often thought about there’s got to be a conversation about when an e-bike should be able to act like a regular bike, as well as when a regular bike should be able to act like a pedestrian.

Ian: [00:39:32] Right, right, right.

Sherry: [00:39:33] Like. And I think for me, that second one is a much more open question, right? If you’ve got this super maneuverable bicycle that’s fairly light and it does, it’s not it doesn’t have any kind of a battery or engine on it. Then. Yeah, go ahead and be a pedestrian when you want to. I try to signal that I’m a pedestrian by getting off my bike, or at least like, you know, I mean, I’m, I try to be good about it, but I think that part of me is it’s the educator in me. I want drivers around me to know exactly what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. And I try to project that because, yeah, folks mean they drivers can really struggle with bikes. But getting back to the e-bike thing, I’ve been pretty nervous about using my e-bike on sidewalks. But sometimes it’s inevitable, right? If I need to park on a sidewalk to run into a store because that’s where the bike rack is. I’ve been kind of developing this method where I’ll like, stand on my pedals and use just my throttle at a really low speed, because otherwise e-bikes are heavy enough that if I just bike slow, I’m likely to just topple, right? You know, so I think that we’re all kind of learning as, as we work with those e-bikes to for those of us who are aging and maybe have some bad hips and things like that, which is the best thing about an e-bike.

Ian: [00:40:58] Yeah, yeah. And and I suppose I should have prefaced like what I was saying with like I. I’m doing my best to not be, like, reckless in the ways that I’m stringing together all of these different little, like, cheat codes, right? You know it does. It feels like like biking in the city. It feels like I am like like I have unlocked a new like a like a like a new game mode, right?

Sherry: [00:41:30] Yes! You get to take all these little like shortcuts. You get to go through parking lots, you get to find all the cool urbanist ways to get places.

Ian: [00:41:39] Yeah, I’ve. I’ve leveled up too. Yeah. Like, I, I can exist in pedestrian spaces and I can exist in vehicle spaces. Yeah. And of course, I like change the way that I am acting and approaching the world when I am in those spaces, you know? Yeah, obviously, like like when I’m biking on a sidewalk, I am going much slower than I am when I bike in the in the road. I wouldn’t say that I literally go at pedestrian speeds, but I go at a speed that like, oh, I can stop in, you know, on a dime. If I need to.

Sherry: [00:42:21] Yeah. And even even on a heavier e-bike, I can do that as well. I might go over or I might be really jarred by that experience with the type of brakes I have on that thing. But but yeah, it’s like you’re more maneuverable. You can you can definitely get away with more. I think probably the one of the other, probably the third most controversial question we asked is, why do some bicyclists choose to disregard rights of way, riding against traffic, riding on the sidewalk? And that was one of those where I had this one group of bicyclists who was very vehement, like, don’t make us look bad. Don’t ever do that. It’s so bad. And then I had this other group of bicyclists, bicyclists who are like, listen, if I can go on a sidewalk and avoid the 40 mile an hour, you know, roadway over there and the one way street that’s going the wrong way from my direction over here, I’m going to do it because that’s what you got to do to get where you need to go. And in a system designed, again, for cars. So I guess I’m more of a pragmatist at heart. I think you have to get where you’re going and whatever way you have to get there, in whatever way, is the safest of all the options, and particularly in ways that are safe for the people around you, where you’re taking the risk onto yourself. Kind of getting back to what you were saying about license, like you’re taking the risk of yourself, not others. That’s yeah, that’s pretty important to my values. And I know not everybody has those same values, right?

Ian: [00:43:56] Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s like getting back to the comparing it to, you know, how people do parenting. You know, it’s like, yeah, we’re all going to have like we’re all coming at this from a slightly different not just perspective but like in slightly different situations. Yeah. Like I yeah, I might see somebody who is salmoning, riding the wrong way in a bike lane. And I’m like, you know, man, I don’t know what’s going on.

Sherry: [00:44:28] I get so mad when people do that.

Ian: [00:44:30] I don’t know exactly what you’re dealing with. Like. I. I am annoyed that now I have to avoid, you know, a head on collision with another cyclist, which, yeah.

Sherry: [00:44:43] Honestly, the only thing that makes me more angry is folks on on a scooter going the wrong way. Like, oh my gosh, like please.

Sherry: [00:44:55] Oh, and here’s one for you, Ian. What is your opinion on bicyclists who walk their dogs on their bikes? I have seen this a lot lately.

Ian: [00:45:06] On their bikes?

Sherry: [00:45:06] Yeah, they’re riding their bikes. Okay. Dog on a leash.

Ian: [00:45:10] And so. And the dog is like, running alongside? I have never seen that.

Sherry: [00:45:17] How have you never seen that?

Ian: [00:45:18] Like, how fast can the dog run?

Sherry: [00:45:22] Pretty fast.

Ian: [00:45:24] Pretty fast. Okay. So like so like this person is going at a reasonable like bike speed. Like it’s like they’re not they’re not like, oh, we’re going five miles an hour and.

Sherry: [00:45:34] They’re going like 15, 20 miles an hour.

Ian: [00:45:37] Wow. That’s impressive. You know, honestly, like, if I were to have a dog, that is the kind of dog I would have is a dog that can keep up with me on a bike.

Sherry: [00:45:45] Oh my God. But can you imagine all the potential safety hazards of passing and different things that can happen? Oh my gosh, I can’t even I don’t know.

Ian: [00:45:53] Yeah, yeah.

Sherry: [00:45:55] See, we all have different values and different levels of perceived safety.

Ian: [00:46:02] I mean, I guess if I had like a really stupid dog that I didn’t, that didn’t think it was going to be able to like stay in a lane. Like if I couldn’t train it to do that safely, then I wouldn’t take it out. Yeah.

Sherry: [00:46:18] Yeah, my dog, my old dog would have just gotten stuck because he followed his nose everywhere, and he would have just yanked me right off my bike when he caught the smell of some awesome thing.

Ian: [00:46:29] Yeah. Anything else about the the article series that you wanted to mention? Like we got a little bit into the reaction to it. Were there any other, were the other any other like pieces of feedback that you felt were worth sharing or, or addressing like?

Sherry: [00:46:48] I mean, I think the, the hardest part about doing I mean, this is kind of a more broad response to the question. You know, for folks who are interested in this kind of nerdery and who want to write for Streets, I think it’s really fulfilling to just do the research, to just learn to get to be on a cool podcast. Right. But I think as we sort of move away from Twitter, we move to things like Bluesky and these other platforms. I think that we need to kind of find each other. We Twin Cities urbanists again, right? Because I know that I would have loved to have gotten into some deeper back and forths with like minded folks on social media. And Streets.mn Has turned off the comments recently, as has Minnpost and other outfits are following suit because it was getting too, too heated. And I think that any opportunity we can have to open this up to more of a conversation, I think that’s my desire, and I don’t want to be the final expert. And in no way do I want this series to be kind of the final word on any of these questions, and I know there are a lot more questions. Like, again, how are you dealing with that Idaho Stop in practicality? How are you applying that? I’d love to be able to be in situations where it’s more of an exchange.

Ian: [00:48:18] Yeah, yeah, yeah. And that’s, you know, something that on the podcast, my approach has been, well we’re going to take it super old school and I’m going to designate a specific hashtag that people can use if they want to discuss the show.

Sherry: [00:48:35] Oh you millennials. Yeah, us X’ers always forget about hashtags. Unless we’ve been trained in social media. I should have definitely made a hashtag for this.

Ian: [00:48:46] The problem with that, of course, is that like, well, I have to exist and be paying attention to the platforms where people are chatting about it. You know, like, yes, I will see if you use that hashtag on Mastodon. Yeah, I will see it immediately. Yeah. If you do it on Twitter, I’ll see it maybe eventually? If you do it on Tumblr, I’m never going to see it. Right?

Sherry: [00:49:09] Yeah. That’s real.

Ian: [00:49:11] But I don’t think there’s yeah I can’t think of a way around that. So yeah.

Sherry: [00:49:15] That’s all right. So anyway, I would love I would love us to keep talking in the Twin Cities, all the different mode users. And I would like us to be a little less binary in our thinking about one another and about different modes. I think that’s my greatest wish in writing this series.

Ian: [00:49:32] Yeah. And hopefully like it starts conversations among friend groups. You know somebody will share one of the articles and then like, hey, what do you all think of this?

Sherry: [00:49:43] Oh, that would be nice.

Ian: [00:49:46] I think I mean, looking at the analytics numbers, I think it’s definitely happening. Like your your series was far and away like has been getting the most, the most views on the website recently.

Sherry: [00:49:58] I did not actually know that. I thought our managing editor was just being nice. That’s good. Well, good. I hope people enjoy it. I hope people, you know, take it for what it’s worth. And you know, you can always reach me at [facilitator.sher@gmail.com]. That’s my streets, that’s my sort of advocacy email. If you want to have a conversation, raise some ideas for some other pieces. Get in touch please. It’s great.

Ian: [00:50:29] Fantastic. See, that’s even more old school than what I was talking about. Just email me. Right.

Sherry: [00:50:35] Well, did you see that Minnpost was actually posting things that had been emailed to them since they closed their comments section?

Ian: [00:50:42] Oh, nice.

Sherry: [00:50:43] I thought that was kind of clever so I can see myself doing something like that.

Ian: [00:50:47] Mhm. Mhm. Yeah. Um letters to the editor. They’re back in vogue.

Sherry: [00:50:51] Absolutely. Yes.

Ian: [00:50:54] All right Sherry thanks for coming on the show. We’re definitely going to be hearing your voice more in the future. Since you’re on the podcast team and you are actively helping to produce a few episodes.

Sherry: [00:51:08] Yay, yeah. I’m excited. Watch out, watch out for me for on the street interviews here soon at your local hardware store slash bike shop.

Ian: [00:50:24] Thanks for joining us for this episode of the Streets.mn podcast! This show is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NonDerivative license. So feel free to republish the episode as long as you are not altering it, and you are not profiting from it. The music in this episode is by Erik Brandt and the Urban Hillbilly Quartet. This episode was hosted, edited, and transcribed by me, Ian R Buck. We’re always looking to feature new voices on the Streets.mn Podcast, so if you have ideas for future episodes, drop us a line at podcast@streets.mn. Find other listeners and discuss this episode on your favorite social media platform using #StreetsMNPodcast

Until next time, take care!

About Ian R Buck

Pronouns: he/him

Ian is a podcaster and teacher. He grew up in Saint Paul, and currently lives in Minneapolis. Ian gets around via bike and public transportation, and wants to make it possible for more people to do so as well! "You don't need a parachute to skydive; you just need a parachute to skydive twice!"