Bikers busted for riding on sidewalks

Michelle Moriarity

Because of increased bicycle accidents and injuries, Dinkytown merchants and Minneapolis police joined forces this spring to enforce a little-known bicycle law.
About 20 years ago officials made biking on sidewalks in business districts illegal in Minnesota. But years of relaxed enforcement ended this spring with many vocal complaints from Dinkytown business owners about the dangers their clients face when stepping outdoors.
“A number of customers get hit,” said Skott Johnson, owner of Autographics Copy and Print Center. “We’re pro-biker, but this is such a busy intersection.”
Bicyclists could ride on sidewalks in business districts until the late 1970s, when officials created a state statute prohibiting it. In 1991, Minneapolis adopted a city ordinance echoing that sentiment.
Since then, police officials in such areas as downtown Minneapolis and Uptown cracked down by issuing tickets to violators and impounding their bikes when they deemed it necessary.
Though police in Dinkytown only greet violators with a warning and request for compliance now, they might ticket the cyclists in the future.
Robert Patrick, a southeast Minneapolis beat officer, also cites safety reasons for this sudden re-enforcement of the law.
“There have been a couple of cases of people walking out of stores and being hit by bikes,” Patrick said. “(Bicyclists) can get hurt just as easily as someone coming out of the store. We just want to make it safer for everybody.”
Many Dinkytown merchants contributed to Patrick’s efforts by posting bright yellow signs in their shop windows warning about the law. They also occasionally stop violators and remind them they belong on the street.
Though Patrick said his efforts are beginning to pay off, Johnson said it will take more time to see the difference.
Despite support from some business owners, other merchants are wary of the law’s implications.
Mark Lindblom of Lindblom’s Jewelry said he thinks the streets are more dangerous for bicyclists than sidewalks. “And this is probably the highest-concentrated bike area in the state,” Lindblom said.
Lindblom, who is a bicycle enthusiast, said the high traffic volume and absence of bike lanes on Fourth Street can be a fatal combination.
“I’m all for the law,” he said. “But it’s very dangerous here. I would rather have them on sidewalks than on streets with no safety factor.”
Despite Lindblom’s concerns, officials continue to execute the law.
But enforcement of this ordinance is difficult when public knowledge of its existence is limited.
Cynthia McArthur, director of the Minnesota Community Bicycle Safety Project, said the task of informing the public about bicycle regulations is tricky.
“You have to have an education and enforcement policy that is very public and very noted,” she said. “We don’t have a good way to get to everybody in a consistent manner.”
McArthur said the only time motorists and bicyclists have access to information about bicycle laws is in August, when changes to these statutes are published in newspapers.
And some who know about it are not comfortable sharing the street with motorists.
“The streets are too busy,” said Matthew Meier, a freshman in plant biology. “It’s kind of tough with all the parking on the streets.”
Jeremy Fuchs, a freshman in mechanical engineering, agreed. Bicyclists can safely share sidewalks with pedestrians, he said.
If cyclists continue to break the law, however, Patrick said he will not hesitate to ticket violators. But he hopes it is not necessary for him to resort to such measures.
“All we’re looking for is cooperation,” Patrick said. “It’s a harsh thing to do, but they are breaking the law.”
“It’s all about courtesy, respect and sharing the road,” McArthur added.