A legislator’s bid to require bicyclists to have special permits to use bike lanes in urban areas is drawing sharp criticism from Minnesota cyclists.

Under a bill introduced last week by Rep. Duane Quam, R-Byron, bicyclists would need to attend an educational program and pass a test to receive a permit to use bike lanes. Riders under 15 would be barred from using bike lanes.

Quam said he intended the proposal to prompt conversations about bike safety and said he’s concerned about a lack of consistent bike education across the state.

“It’s meant to be a start to a process,” he said.

Quam’s idea was quickly denounced on social media, with many users saying the bill could make biking less safe.

The proposal also unfairly targets urban communities, said Zack Mensinger, a University of Minnesota-Morris professor who uses his bicycle as his primary mode of transportation.

“You wouldn’t require drivers to get a different permit to drive on gravel roads vs. paved roads,” he said.

Mensinger said the permit requirement could also decrease the number of bicyclists on the road. Some studies have shown that more cyclists can often mean fewer collisions.

Minneapolis has the densest biking network of the country’s most populous cities, as of last year.

The bill’s age requirement could be counterproductive to the work some communities have done to place bike lanes near schools, said Dorian Grilley, executive director of the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota. He also said the rules could deter minority and low-income groups.

Quam said he’d be open to allowing children under 15 to use bike lanes with parents with permits and waiving permit fees for low-income people.

While the bill aims for increasing bike safety, restricting bike lane use could actually make biking more dangerous by forcing riders without permits out of bike lanes, said Martha Wittrock, an avid biker from Coon Rapids.

Ethan Fawley, executive director of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, said legislators should focus on investing in bike safety education programs that already exist, such as the Safe Routes to School Program.

“[Quam’s bill] certainly isn’t solving any problem that I’m aware of,” Fawley said.

Fawley said he did not think the bill will gain traction in the Legislature. Lawmakers haven’t scheduled a hearing for it yet.

 

Haley Hansen is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.