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As bicyclists saddle up after a long winter, Minnesota legislators are preparing to grant them greater rights to ride on the road.
But not without a fight.
Measures advancing in the House and Senate would make it harder for motorists to use bike lanes and easier for cyclists to use both them and the shoulders of roads. The proposals picked up support Friday from U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who said in an interview that Minnesota is “way ahead of the curve” in promoting bike safety.
Some Republican legislators would prefer biking advocates to slow down.
“I bet most people in the state don’t even realize what a bike lane is,” said Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, during a recent legislative session. He called a proposal to ban motor vehicle parking in bike lanes “ridiculous” and “a way to collect fines.”
The proposals are approaching final legislative action as the U.S. Department of Transportation on Monday holds a national summit on bicycle safety in Minneapolis. It will feature federal, state and local officials, engineers, designers and safety experts.
The state Senate passed a bill this week that prohibits cars from using bike lanes to pass other vehicles, requires drivers to use a turn signal when crossing a bike lane to turn, and prohibits them from parking in a bike lane unless permitted by signs.
Republicans tried unsuccessfully to strike the presumed parking ban. Sen. David Osmek, R-Mound, said it would burden local governments to post signs allowing parking. Hann said the ban would leave drivers confused on whether they’ll be ticketed for parking in bike lanes.
Sen. John Pederson, R-St. Cloud, said the parking ban would interfere with delivery drivers.
“I’m not sure this body wants to stand in front of somebody’s hot pizza,” he told the Senate.
Minneapolis vs. state?
Reflecting a belief among Republicans that the parking ban is merely a Minneapolis priority, Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, proposed allowing the ban only on bike lanes in Minneapolis.
“It is the state of Minnesota, not just the state of Minneapolis,” Kiffmeyer told senators.
DFLers defended the proposals and picked up plenty of support outside Minneapolis, though city legislators led the way. Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, chair of the Senate transportation committee, said allowing cars to park in bike lanes “defeats the entire purpose of establishing bike lanes.” He added that delivery drivers are “resourceful.”
Bicycles “need to be treated like any other vehicle that is using our roads,” Dibble said. “More and more folks are biking on our streets. That’s desirable.”
Sen. Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, said the measures are needed because rider safety is a growing concern as more people travel by bicycle.
The state House is advancing similar proposals and an additional provision to eliminate a requirement that cyclists ride only at a right-hand curb or edge of a road when on a shoulder or bike lane.
“The purpose of a bike lane is to provide a safety avenue for cyclists, and drivers need to be respectful of that,” LaHood said.