Unlike 27 other state legislatures across America this year, Minnesota’s session is apparently unburdened by lobbyists from the electric scooter industry, which is trying to get the zippy little pedal-free contraptions declared legally identical to bicycles.
PeopleForBikes, the bike industry group, has found all manner of safety and insurance issues in those bills. And then there’s the problem, of course, that an e-scooter is actually not a bike. Watch next session.
But we can report that the Minnesota Legislature has been thinking about bicycles this year. What mischief has it been making as the session approaches its final days? Prepare yourself to be unimpressed.
Bike traffic regulations: This bill, offered by state Rep. Connie Bernardy, DFL-New Brighton, cleans up some of the language about how bike riders, drivers, and pedestrians conduct themselves on streets — defining bike ways, that sort of thing. One significant change would expand the definition of a car’s “safe clearance distance while passing” from the current 3 feet minimum to “or one-half the width of the motor vehicle, whichever is greater.”
It passed the House 122-0 and awaits a verdict in the Senate.
“The Big Transportation Funding Bill”: In fact, it appears that much of the above bike regs bill has been woven into the state’s proposed big transportation funding bill, which is in a House-Senate conference committee. It currently requires:
• At least 10% of budgets for transportation projects be set aside for trails, bicycle and pedestrian facilities, and safe routes to schools.
• That a bike rider overtaking another bike or person on a bikeway must “give an audible signal a safe distance prior to overtaking a bicycle or individual” — presumably enshrining On your left! into state law.
• That bicycle riders be allowed to approach an intersection in “the leftmost one-third of a dedicated right-hand turn lane without turning right,” a law that will allow people on bikes to be out of the lanes of traffic.
Bike passes: This bill would mandate bike passes ($10 for anyone older than 16; $2 for daily passes) for riders on state trails. The money would be used for “development, maintenance, and rehabilitation of and enforcement on bicycle trails or trails.”
The bill, carried by Rep. Matt Grossell, R-Clearbrook, remains stalled in committee without a hearing, and presumably did not benefit from Grossell’s arrest May 4 in St. Paul on trespassing and disorderly conduct charges.
Bike tax credits: It used to be, before Congress and President Donald Trump enacted the tax overhaul bill, that employers could subsidize commuting costs for employees who ride their bikes to work. No more. A Senate bill from Sen. Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, is supposed to restore that tax credit, allowing an employer to take a credit up to 30% of qualified bicycle commuting reimbursements paid to employees.
Do not get your hopes up. It’s been sitting in the Taxes Committee without a hearing since January.
About that Transportation Funding Conference Committee — those new bike-friendly regulations are from the House transportation funding bill, carried by Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis. Across the negotiating table from him is Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, who brings a contrasting philosophy to the discussion.
Newman is the author of a Senate bill this session that would prevent the state Department of Transportation (MnDOT) from “spending any money from the trunk highway fund on creating, constructing, expanding, marking, or maintaining bicycle lanes.” In other words, the department could repair or expand a road for cars, but could not accommodate bikes.
MnDOT testified against Newman’s bill, pointing out that “trunk highways have a role in helping people walk and bicycle along and across to get to their daily destinations safely. … Trunk highway funds make MnDOT’s mission of operating a safe, accessible and reliable multimodal system possible, which includes options for people traveling by bike.”
Minnesota’s North Star Grand Prix was formally canceled May 4 for lack of sponsorship support, for the second consecutive year. The Grand Prix is one of the nation’s most venerable pro bike racing events, and was scheduled for June on streets in Minneapolis, St. Paul and Stillwater. Race director Brendon Hale said the event, first run in 1999, could still have a future, and “our board is very much assessing what comes next.”
Contributions to the event’s GoFundMe account will be receiving refunds.
Tony Brown is a freelance writer from Minneapolis. His column appears twice a month. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read archived columns at startribune.com/bikeguy.