The Drive: Renegade riders give bicyclists a bad name

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 19, 2014 - 10:21 AM

Minneapolis has gone the extra mile to make it safe and easy for bicyclists to ride. Over the past several years, the city has dedicated nearly 200 miles of street lanes and off-road trails exclusively for those on two wheels, and more are on the way.

The city’s continuing commitment to improve infrastructure and safety has earned it the designation as the No. 2 biking city in America and gold level status from the League of American Bicyclists for its efforts to integrate bicycles into the community.

“The increase in bike transportation is wonderful,” said reader Peter Benzoni, who called in after my column two weeks ago about Twin Cities Bike Week and the benefits of biking.

But what about the bicyclists who don’t follow the rules of the road, he asked? “It’s dangerous,” he said. And he’s right.

Bicyclists are required to follow the same laws that apply to motor vehicles, and a vast majority of them do, says Ethan Fawley, executive director of the Minneapolis Bike Coalition. But when they don’t, conflict between motorists and bicyclists surfaces.

“The DNA of a bicyclist is no different from that of a motorist. Some who ride will do things that are unlawful,” said Steve Clark of the League of American Bicyclists, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that promotes safety. “I don’t want what someone else is doing to affect how people view me. I know that happens, but stereotypes don’t do us any good at all.”

Minneapolis sees 250 to 300 car vs. bike crashes every year, and about one-third are attributed to renegade bicyclists. The top three offenses: running stop signs, blowing red lights or traveling the wrong way in traffic. Others problems come from those who ride on sidewalks, fail to signal or make unpredictable movements.

But before motorists point the finger at scofflaw bicyclists, they need to consider their own behaviors. More than 40 percent of car-bike crashes in Minneapolis are attributed to drivers who fail to yield to bicyclists when required, pass a bicyclist without giving a 3-foot clearance or fail to use care to avoid a collision.

Working together

Recognizing that tension between motorists and bicyclists exists, both parties have to work together to resolve it. This summer, Minneapolis officials and police will be distributing several thousand bicycle law education cards to motorists and bicyclists alike at citywide events, to promote safety and to highlight laws that are commonly broken by both sides.

“We know we have to talk to both groups,” said Simon Blenski, a bicycle planner with the city of Minneapolis. “The big thing is that both bicyclists and drivers are equally responsible. It’s not just one side or the other.”

The bottom line is that both drivers and bicyclists are trying to get where they need to go. More than 8,300 bicyclists commute in Minneapolis, according to recent numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau. With that many bicyclists on the roads, it is incumbent on both bicyclists and motorists to learn how to share the road and respect one another.

For bicyclists, that means riding in places where they can be visible and not making movements that confuse motorists. For drivers, that means yielding to bicycles as they would to any other vehicles, and using caution around bikes.

“We all can do better as road users,” Clark said.

 

Online: Follow news about ­traffic at The Drive on startribune.com. Got traffic or transportation questions, or story ideas? E-mail drive@startribune.com, tweet @stribdrive or call Tim Harlow at 612-673-7768.

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