One of the reasons I was so excited to attend the University of Minnesota this fall was how allegedly bike-friendly campus was. I was proud to be able to say that my main mode of transportation was both healthy and eco-friendly.
One can imagine how upset I was after being charged a $98 fine for bicycling on a fairly clear sidewalk. It’s unsurprising that I didn’t notice the sign as I was rushing to my work. Back in South Dakota, I was pulled over while driving three times and was only fined once. I received no warnings for my bicycle violation, and my $98 fine is only about $10 less than my speeding ticket. Taking into account the fact that speeding in a car is far riskier than slowly riding a bicycle on a near-vacant sidewalk, the fine is outlandish.
Isn’t it funny that we never read about fatal bike accidents on campus? Or even bike accidents that cause more than scrapes and bruises, especially to pedestrians? When I ride on sidewalks, I take care to bike slowly. I walk my bike when the risk of hitting someone is even feasible. It’s not as if we have much of a choice if we need to cross campus quickly, considering that only a few campus sidewalks have adjunct bike lanes. For an institution that claims to be so bicycle-conscious, this is poor planning.
Before anyone accuses me of being a privileged college student who’d rather spend money on alcohol, I must clarify that I have no problem with reasonable fines. I’m relatively proud of how the University spends money, at least compared to other colleges of its size. I cannot, however, say that a $98 fine is something I can pay. Unlike drivers who are likely to have a disposable income — gasoline generally necessitates money — bicyclists and college students in general aren’t guaranteed to have spending money on hand. This $98 would likely have been spent on food or new winter clothing. With as little support as many of us receive, it’s absurd to believe that we can pay nearly $100 for something so trivial.
So, University, before you take another Benjamin out of my pocket, maybe you should give me a decent bike lane to get to the Recreation and Wellness Center. Maybe you should lower your fine so I don’t have to wonder where my next month’s groceries will come from. And, perhaps, you should think about the consequences of penalizing cyclists: unhealthier students, increased air pollution and a soiled reputation.