“What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.” — Confucius
“Can we all just get along?” — Rodney King
“Sometimes you just have to bite your upper lip and put your sunglasses on.” — Bob Dylan
If there was a compelling theme to 2018 on our lanes, paths and roadways — and a foreshadow to 2019 — it was conflict. We are bumping up against each other, and everyone is getting cranky as the friction of transit tribalism deepens.
Of Bicycle magazine’s eight most-viral video moments from last year, four captured attacks on cyclists (a truck shadowing a rider so it could blast him with diesel exhaust; a woman injured when she rode her bike into a trip wire stretched across a bike path; a man who rode to the hospital after being stabbed; and a car purposely sideswiping a rider in a bike lane).
Other angry drivers, hoping to expose allegedly unnecessary infrastructure, have been triumphantly posting photos of vacant bike lanes. (Other people could share equally meaningless photos of vacant parking ramps and residential streets, but that would be wrong.)
And, lest we forget, the state’s most recent report analyzing bicycle-vehicle crashes found “about half (50 percent) of all contributing factors cited were attributed to bicyclists.”
We have met the enemy, and it is all of us.
The challenge in 2019 is that there will be a lot more of us out there, fighting for our bit of turf. At some point, as the census of two-wheeled traffic broadens to include more and more bikes and e-assisted gizmos, someone will probably have to legally differentiate rules of the road between bike lanes (where children and leisurely riders often ride) and commuting bike lanes (where they usually do not).
The good news, for 2019 and beyond, is the emerging universal truth that the more people there are on bikes, the safer it is to be on a bike. It is worth noting that the state record for bicycle deaths in one year was 24, in 1977.
It appears that in 2018, seven people died while riding a bicycle in Minnesota, according to state records. That number, despite steadily increasing numbers of people on bikes, has been consistent (five, six or seven deaths each year) for the last seven years. The exception was 2015 when 10 cyclists died.
According to the city of St. Paul, one cyclist died in the city last year; Minneapolis — the state’s most congested place to ride a bike — might have had none. The city’s Department of Public Works last week wasn’t ready to officially announce a fatality number, but over the last five years Minneapolis has had either one or two bicyclist deaths.
The additional good news, friends, is that, if we are the problem, we are also in fact the solution. According to the state Department of Public Safety, in 2017 (the last year for which final numbers are available), 36.4 percent of the bicycle-vehicle crashes were caused by cyclists’ “failure to obey traffic signals/officers” or making a “dart/dash” into traffic. (You know who you are.) At the same time in 2017, 36.7 percent of the bike-vehicle crashes were caused by drivers’ “failure to yield right of way” to riders. (Again, you know who you are.)
Those are problems — arrogant, clueless, reckless riding and driving — that can obviously be fixed as everyone learns this year to embrace congestion. Special note to our beloved young people: 43 percent of the people injured in those bike-vehicle crashes in 2017 were younger than 25.
And speaking of to-do items for 2019, one reminder to the city of Minneapolis: Last year, a team from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, working with Hennepin County, installed a bunch of bike-mounted radars so that they could measure exactly how closely vehicle traffic was coming to riders. They checked all manner of circumstances, from protected lanes to plain city streets.
It makes sense that “vehicle passing distance” is by far lousiest on four-lane streets without biking facilities, or road markings, and that the distances between traffic and bikes increase as riders are “more protected.” But the inspired researchers also put some of their bike-mounted radars on the Bryant Avenue Bike Boulevard, which Minneapolis created without noticing that it is a busy commercial bus route with parked cars on both sides of the street.
The university team’s finding: a) buses and trucks have the “highest likelihood” of crowding bikes generally; and b) of all lanes, paths and routes in the city, “A cyclist is more likely to be encroached upon on a bike boulevard than any other bike facility.”
Tony Brown is a freelance writer from Minneapolis. Reach him at email@example.com. His column appears twice a month. Read archived columns at startribune.com/bikeguy.