In blazing heat or bitter cold, the Twin Cities has a reputation as one of the most bike-friendly areas in the country. But with motorists, bicyclists and motorcyclists all trying to share the road, building a transit system that is safe for all concerned remains a work in progress.
After all, there are still far too many bike accidents in which cars or trucks hit bicyclists. Those accidents are often serious and sometimes fatal. There are also far too many close calls, as well as too many pedestrian accidents. The Minneapolis – St. Paul area may be better than most in accommodating bikers, but it is not Utopia, either.
This article will discuss some of the safety issues involved in translating the formal rules of the road into the creation of a complex yet cohesive transportation system that includes a vibrant bike culture.
Rules of the Road for Cyclists and Motorists
The formal rules of the road are right there in the driver’s manual. The basics haven’t changed much over the years, as a recent Minnesota Public Radio program discussed.
For starters, the general rule is still that drivers should consider bicyclists as having equal rights and responsibilities on the road. In other words, a cyclist has just as much right to be in a lane of traffic as a car does.
To be sure, sometimes in the Twin Cities there are designated bike lanes. Summit Avenue in St. Paul is only one example.
If there is no designated bike lane, however, and a motorist wants to pass a bicyclist, the general rule is that the motorist should allow a space of at least three feet. Allowing three feet when passing may mean changing lanes, even if the bicyclist is hugging the side of the road.
Bicyclists, for their part, are often taught to ride as far to the right as practicable. There are many exceptions to this, however, such as when preparing for a left-hand turn. Staying to the right is not necessarily safer in all circumstances. This is because occupying more of the lane can make a biker more visible to other vehicles.
Specific Locations: River Road, Midtown Greenway
Passing is a particular problem on the River Road in Minneapolis and St. Paul. It’s a narrow road to begin with. If cars are in each lane, there isn’t room for one of those cars to pull around a bicyclist and still give the cyclist three feet.
There is also a bike path along the River Road. In more technical terms, this path is a “multi-use trail,” known as MUT in transportation lingo. This trail gets frequent use not only by bikers, but also by runners, rollerbladers, dog-walkers, parents pushing strollers, and many others. With so many users, the risk of pedestrian accidents caused by bicyclists is real.
Another high-profile biking venue is of course the Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis. It’s a word-class setting, featuring a wonderful bike path connecting to the famous Chain of Lakes. Yet it’s also become a source of tension within the biking community. Lycra-clad cyclists who are into racing can be at odds with recreational cyclists who won’t be setting any speed records anytime soon.
If You Are Injured
The more people who get out and bike, the more motorists must learn to respect the rights of bicyclists. But until the safety lessons have been better learned, bike accidents are likely to remain a too-frequent occurrence. If you have been hurt in one, an experienced personal injury lawyer can help you understand your legal options.