(This memorial was created in 2013 at E. Lake Street and Cedar Avenue after a cyclist riding on Lake was struck by a vehicle driven by a man later convicted of driving while impaired. Staff photo by Jerry Holt.)
A recommendation that riding a bike on sidewalks in business districts be decriminalized in Minneapolis is getting a cool reception from relevant city officials.
The recommendation is one of several by authors of a study of a limited database of police reports arising from 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 to their share of the city's population.
Study director Melody Hoffmann said the recommendation takes into account that in many instances cyclists are issued tickets for riding along streets such as Lake Street where it's more risky to cycle. Some of the city's major commercial arteries such as Lake, Franklin and Central also ranked high for vehicle-bicycle collisions in a 2013 city 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 council members say they're not buying the recommendation.
"I don't see a strong case being made for decriminalization," said Kevin Reich, chair of the Transportation and Public Works Committee. Jacob Frey, one of two council members representing most of downtown, also disagreed with decriminalization. The other, Lisa Goodman, said she didn't know enough about the recommendation to comment.
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. 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 that pedestrian safety is one concern arising from the recommendation, and she'd like to get the police response to concerns raised about disparate treatment.
Even the organization for which the study was commissioned, the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, is taking a cautious view of decriminalizing sidewalk riding. It is adding pedestrian advocacy to its bike portfolio. Executive Director said that concerns over racial equity in ticketing need to be balanced with the safety of sidewalk users.
The prohibition is embedded in both state law and city ordinance. It's intended to separate faster-moving cyclists from pedestrians.
Reich said he agreed with Hoffmann's suggestion that there be targeted outreach to cyclists riding on walks. She said sometimes cyclists are unaware of the ban, or that nearby routes with less-intense traffic sometimes offer safer alternatives. She also suggested studying citations again to follow up on a new directive under which police started collected race data for traffic stops, and trying to collect data on the race of cyclists in annual counts. Fawley noted that areas where sidewalk riding is banned are inconsistently marked.
Ironically, the sidewalk riding issue is arising as Hennepin County is reconstructing five blocks of Washington Avenue downtown in which cyclists will be encouraged to use a new sidewalk-level path.