[Opinion] – Stops and Citations

ItâÄôs good to know the University holds true to its word. As bikers have dared to even coast on bikes across the Washington Avenue Bridge, University bike patrols have promptly made out $80 tickets in their names. But these tickets arenâÄôt the only ones frequently given to bikers. The biker-pedestrian battle is no less compelling than the one between the motorist and biker. Moving through red lights and failing to stop at stop signs are a few of the citations often issued âÄî and are often issues, themselves. Not to mention that these tickets are brought to you for roughly $128 a pop. But if youâÄôre a biker and know Minnesota law requires you to follow the same traffic laws as motorized vehicles, youâÄôre probably familiar with the scene in which youâÄôre dismounted and patiently stopped at a red light. Cars begin to line up behind you as the traffic with a green light becomes sparse. Meanwhile, another biker approaches from behind, looks both ways across the intersection, and zooms through before the cross traffic is even hit with a yellow light. As you wait another 30 seconds and see the white walk sign illuminate, you stand on your pedals and crank ahead. The problem here is that the other biker broke the law, but still got out ahead safely, while you, for fear of a $128 ticket, kept your feet planted on the pavement. The good news is that this might change. The bad, is that it wonâÄôt happen until the next legislative session begins on Jan. 9. In May, during the annual Bike/Walk to work week, state Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL, and DFL state Sen. Jim Carlson introduced a new proposal to revise some of MinnesotaâÄôs state biking laws. Kahn was the chief editor of the Principal Bike Law passed in 1979, and is known as an avid biker, herself. Back in May, she commented on the law and reminded the Star Tribune that âÄúitâÄôs how most people behave anyway,âÄù when met with a red light on their bike. Both the Southwest Journal and the City Pages discussed the new law last week. The proposal stems from a law that was amended in Idaho on July 1, 2005. According to the law, âÄúA person operating a bicycle or human-powered vehicle approaching a stop sign shall slow down and, if required for safety, stop before entering the intersection.âÄù If, thereafter, there are no crossing vehicles that pose a threat of safety to the biker, he or she may proceed though the intersection after having slowed his or her bike. In the case of stoplights, a biker must stop fully before entering the intersection, as a motorist must do when turning on red. While it is already written into legislation, bikers âÄî like motorists âÄî must use a signal of intent within 100 feet of an intersection. While bikers commonly complain that motorists do not watch carefully enough for them, these universal hand signals havenâÄôt changed since you took driverâÄôs education. This becomes particularly important with the proposed legislation. Drivers are often concerned a biker will dart out in front of them; it is not difficult to stick an arm out to let them know where you are going. Of course, the proposal has garnered less media attention than the new regulation for text messaging while driving, but it is not to say it has made drivers any less perturbed. The logic for the motorist goes something like this: If bikers are allowed to breeze through an intersection, and weâÄôre supposed to be equal under the laws of the road, whatâÄôs to stop me from rolling through a stop sign in my car? After all, it might help the problem I have with gas mileage, these days. And, if a biker passes me at a stop sign, I just have to pass him again as I accelerate, putting him at risk, again. If another car is approaching, there is often not enough space to pass him safely. The opposition for motorists is the resistance to a game of cat and mouse. They stop at a sign and then pass a biker who has blown through it. Then they must stop for the next sign, while the biker passes their car in the next intersection, and the driver is forced to pay attention to the guy on the bike all over again. To acknowledge the argument of motorists and bikers as equal on the road, you can certainly get better gas mileage by rolling through a stop sign in your car. So why wouldnâÄôt you do so? Because a biker is far less likely to seriously injure a pedestrian crossing the intersection. What the proposal really does is force one to consider the idea that, as the laws stand, bikers are to be treated like cars on the road. But there is a fundamental difference between pushing a gas pedal and pushing a pedal attached to a chain on a bike âÄî their power sources differ entirely. In covering the May proposal, the Star Tribune also acknowledged this and reported that, âÄúThis proposal recognizes the physics of accelerating a bike from standstill as different from pressing an accelerator. It also recognizes that bikes donâÄôt trip pressure plates that trigger a signal change for cars.âÄù Additionally, while biking in the wintertime, stopping entirely rather than slowing down can pose more of a threat to bikers. Even with treads on their tires, decreasing speed is much easier than coming to a full stop on a bike; it is in intersections, especially, that ice accumulates more thickly than on other parts of the road. The fact that drivers are concerned about those who bike next to them on the road reinforces this concept; unless we are pinned between a semi and an Excursion in our Civic, we donâÄôt often feel a great concern for the cars around us. Bikers, by contrast, always feel the presence of a semi or a bus as they are passed on the road. But the difference is their self-propulsion, in that it would take far more to cause injury by stepping on the pedal of their vehicle. The difference has always been acknowledged on a roadâÄôs asphalt; it is fitting that the legislature would do the same.