A proposal to decriminalize riding a bike on Minneapolis business district sidewalks is getting a cool reception from some city officials.
The recommendation is one of several by authors of a study focused on incidents in which police cited cyclists for traffic law violations. It found black bicyclists to be disproportionately ticketed for riding on the sidewalk or without lights at night in comparison with their share of the city’s population.
Melody Hoffmann of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, which commissioned the study, said the recommendation takes into account that in many instances cyclists are issued tickets for riding along thoroughfares such as Lake Street where it’s more risky to cycle.
Some of the city’s major commercial arteries such as Lake and Franklin and Central avenues also ranked high for vehicle-bicycle collisions in a 2013 Minneapolis study.
It’s generally illegal to ride on the sidewalk in a block in which more than half of the frontage is in commercial use. That rules out most of downtown, Uptown, commercial areas near the University of Minnesota, and long stretches of streets such as W. Broadway or Central Av. NE. But using the sidewalk outside of business districts is legal.
But several City Council members said they’re not buying the recommendation.
“I don’t see a strong case being made for decriminalization,” said Kevin Reich, chairman of the Transportation and Public Works Committee. Jacob Frey, one of two council members representing most of downtown, also disagreed with decriminalization. Uptown area Council Member Lisa Bender sees the issue of sidewalk riding as indicative of a need to expand bikeways.
“Generally, the tension I see is that in commercial areas where we prohibit bicycling on the sidewalk for good reason, to avoid conflicts with pedestrians, there often are not safe bicycle facilities. And, like anyone else — drivers, people walking or taking transit — people traveling by bicycle are trying to get to stores and other destinations,” she said. “Over time, building out our network of safe and protected bicycle routes should help give people traveling by bicycle a better alternative than choosing between the sidewalk or a busy road.”
The city’s new public works chief, Robin Hutcheson, said pedestrian safety is one concern arising from the recommendation, and she’d like to get the police response to concerns raised about disparate treatment. Last year, the city repealed long-standing laws against lurking and spitting because they were enforced disproportionately toward people of color.
The Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition is taking a cautious view of decriminalizing sidewalk riding. The organization is adding pedestrian advocacy to its bike portfolio. Executive Director Ethan Fawley said concerns over racial equity in ticketing need to be balanced with the safety of sidewalk users.
Reich said he agreed with Hoffmann’s suggestion that there be targeted outreach to cyclists riding on sidewalks. She said sometimes cyclists are unaware of the ban, or that nearby routes with less-intense traffic sometimes offer safer alternatives. Fawley noted that areas where sidewalk riding is banned are inconsistently marked.