Counterpoint: Right of way for bikes at an intersection? It depends.

  • Article by: KIRBY BECK
  • Updated: November 26, 2013 - 7:05 PM

Rider who described a dispute with police may have been in the wrong.

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As a court-recognized cycling expert, I feel it necessary to respond to “My two wheels vs. their badges” (Nov. 24).

I am very familiar with the intersection of Hennepin Avenue and Oak Grove Street where Scott Parker states that his encounter with two Minneapolis police officers began. He wrote that he was riding north in the “bike lane” along Hennepin. But the facility he describes is not an actual bike lane (which would be a separate lane on the roadway and controlled by traffic laws). Instead, it is a two-way facility that is above the curb and essentially replaces the sidewalk.

This would be considered a bike path and is not part of the roadway. Most traffic laws are not applicable to bike path users until they reach an intersection. The path crosses Oak Grove with a marked crosswalk and “walk/don’t walk” pedestrian signals.

Parker didn’t mention what the pedestrian signal was flashing at the time. Nor did he describe whether he had entered the crosswalk. I suspect he had not yet reached the crosswalk, because he made an “abrupt stop” to avoid colliding with the police car as it made a right turn.

A green semaphore is for roadway traffic and does not control cyclists or pedestrians using the crosswalk. Cyclists riding within crosswalks are considered “pedestrians” by Minnesota statute — therefore beholden to pedestrian signals.

It seems the officer was correct to be “unimpressed” by Parker’s reasoning.

Statutes require motorists to yield to pedestrians “within” the marked crosswalk. Pedestrians standing above the curb, walking toward the crosswalk on the sidewalk — or cyclists riding toward the crosswalk — are not technically afforded legal right of way. While a motorist should be aware of their presence and be prepared to wait or safely interact, the path user does not have the right of way by statute until actually entering the crosswalk.

Moreover, Minnesota statute says a pedestrian (or cyclist when deemed a pedestrian) may not “suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is impossible for the driver to yield.” Cyclists coming downhill northbound on the side path along Hennepin toward the intersection and crosswalk at Oak Grove should do so cautiously and should be prepared to stop for cars turning or signaling to turn right whose drivers may not see them approaching from behind.

I wonder if that was the riding behavior Parker exhibited that summer afternoon?

The interaction between Parker and the officers is for others to judge. I can assure everyone that Minnesota law enforcement officers, like most police officers in the United States, receive little to no specialized training in bicycle and pedestrian laws, and may be as uneducated about them as the general public. Had Parker been charged for violating the appropriate pedestrian statute, as he may have done, the traffic charge might not have been so easily dismissed.

Ultimately, Parker’s commentary pointed out his potential ignorance of the law and the proper use of bicycle facilities around the cities. The safe and legal use of bike lanes, paths and trails is not self-evident. Nor do they give cyclists the right to ride however they wish. Since bicycle and pedestrian instruction isn’t required or provided in schools or driver training programs, cyclists must educate themselves on the applicable laws — then obey them.

Perhaps this can be a teachable moment.

 

Kirby Beck, of Coon Rapids, is a bicycle safety expert and retired police officer.

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