Law needed to protect cyclists

A new ordinance should set a precedent to protect cyclists from continued road rage.

by Martin Jaakola

Many of us at the University of Minnesota use our bikes for commuting. The University has attempted to separate traffic, pedestrians and cyclists by painting bike lanes all over campus. During my daily commute over to the West Bank, there are only a few congested areas where cyclists and pedestrians cross paths. Most people in those spots have been careful and respectful, and the arrangement has worked well.

However, outside of campus, it’s inevitable that those commuting or cycling recreationally will have to share the road with drivers. Minimizing risks during these interactions is the key, but it’s expensive and not always practical to make separate lanes for cyclists.

This is where conflict occurs.

Alvin Johnson, a 64-year-old Mendota Heights resident, has admitted to grabbing a cyclist and dragging him 30 feet after a heated exchange this summer regarding the amount of road space the cyclist was taking. The kicker is that Johnson is being charged with first-degree damage to property, due to the destroyed road bike, but only fifth-degree assault for causing major road rash to his alleged victim — an offense that can carry a lesser penalty.

While an extreme example, it’s absurd that putting an individual’s life in jeopardy can be taken less seriously by the law than property damage.

Recently, Kansas City, Mo., passed an ordinance protecting cyclists from harassment — including bottle throwing and swerving — in an attempt to change the car-centric culture we live in. This is a good start, and Minnesota should follow suit.

I get it; I drive a car as well. Cyclists can get in the way and can be irritating. However, there is never a good reason to put anyone’s life in jeopardy when you are in a 2,000-pound vehicle. Our state law needs to reflect this.