06 March 2017

What's Worse Than A Bad Bike Lane? Bad Bike Lane Regulation!

One of the reasons why I don't like to use bike lanes, at least here in New York, is that motorized vehicles frequently pull in and out, and sometimes park in them.  I've even seen drivers use bike lanes for passing.

The problem is that if a car pulls in, or parks, in the lane, there is no room for you to get around it, especially if the lane is "protected", i.e., has a barrier between it and the street.  At least, if only a painted line separates you from the street, you can veer into the traffic lane.  

Another problem is that drivers often pull into the lane without warning--and, it seems, without looking to see whether cyclists are in the lane. If you are riding in the street and someone makes a sudden turn, you most likely can move over or shift into another lane.  You don't have that option in a bike lane--again, especially a "protected" one. 

I did not notice such problems when I recently rode bike lanes in Paris and Montreal:  Drivers in those cities seem more cognizant that bike lanes are for, well, bikes.  That, or the regulations that prohibit motor vehicles are more strictly enforced.  

On the other hand, it seems that cyclists in other American cities have experiences with bike lanes similar to the ones I and other cyclists have in New York.  Bob Collins, a blogger and news editor for Minnesota Public Radio, offers this:  "The biggest problem with bike lanes in the Twin Cities isn't cyclists; it's people who insist on parking their cars in them."

That statement is particularly notable because during the past few years, Minneapolis has stolen some of Portland's, as well as San Francisco's and New York's, thunder as a "bike friendly" city.  In 2015, Minneapolis was the only US municipality in Copenhagenize Design Company's index of the world's 20 most bike-friendly cities.  Montreal was the only other North American city on the list.

(Copenhagenize's previous indexes were published in 2011 and 2013.  I am guessing they will publish another this year, though I have seen no indication of that on their site.)

Anyway, Mr. Collins shows us that there is no end to the ignorance or hostility of lawmakers when it comes to cycling.  Some want, or claim to want, to make things safer for us.  Others simply don't want to upset drivers, who make up a much larger constituency than cyclists, or see us as renegades, scofflaws or worse.

I don't know which, if either, of those categories includes Minnesota State Representative Duane Quam.  Instead of working on regulations to keep motorists from driving or parking in bike lanes--or, for that matter, from texting or talking on cell phones while driving--he has the brilliant idea of limiting access to bike lanes and deterring young people from cycling.  

At least, that seems to be the intent of the bill he's filed with the State Legislature.  Among other things, it would require anyone who wants to use the bike lanes to take a safety course, register his or her bike and pay an annual $5 fee.

But the most absurd part of that bill stipulates that anyone who rides in a bike lane has to be at least 15 years old.  "It's not clear where people under 15--kids going to school comes to mind--are supposed to ride their bikes," Collins wryly notes.  He also notes another onerous aspect of the bill:  that it applies only to areas with "structures devoted to business, industry or dwelling houses situated at intervals of less than 100 feet for a distance of a quarter mile or more.  

In other words, as Collins astutely observes, it is aimed at Minneapolis and St. Paul.  Representative Byron comes from Byron, a town of 5063 residents--and no bike lanes.


  1. Like most such poorly conceived bills, put up by politicians of almost every imaginable ideology, this one will surely quietly die in a committee as soon as people actually THINK about it. The worst thing about THIS bill is that it is being proposed by an engineer. Hopefully, he's not a practicing engineer anymore, as such blather is a disgrace to the profession.

  2. Steve--I didn't even think to look up Quam's non-legislative profession. That makes the bill all the more stunning in its wrongheadedness.

    I hope you're right when you say the bill "will surely quietly die in a committee as soon as people actually THINK about it."

  3. I live in Minneapolis and am one of many local cyclists who reached out to Mr. Q (I'm not giving him or his cosponsor Mr. H more publicity by typing their names) when this was initially proposed in January. To my knowledge he's replied to everyone that I've talked to. He proposed the idea based on **motorcycle law** (copy paste, really) with zero research, and my opinion, after reading many exchanges between him and fellow cyclists, is that he just presented something polarizing to get press. It worked! Needless to say his ideas have not gone over well here in the land of 30 Days of Biking!

    The bill is currently still "pending" for the Transportation Committee, but we're confident it won't go anywhere since there are too many racial and socioeconomic considerations aside from the sheer lunacy of the idea.

    P.S. I've read your blog off and on for years and adore your writings; I'm terrible at using a proper feed reader so it's always a nice surprise to find new posts :)

  4. Kat--Great to see you here! I hope that you're right when you say that the idea behind the bill is so crazy that it won't pass.

    "The land of 30 Days of Biking": I love it!