If you ride your bike on Hennepin Avenue, it’s probably not a good idea to ride on the sidewalk — not just because it’s illegal to ride on the sidewalk in a business district, but also because you’re more likely to get a ticket for riding here. The same is true on Nicollet Mall and at the University of Minnesota.
Of the 1,101 citations given by the Minneapolis Police Department for bicycle-related traffic violations between 2009 and 2015, 50 percent were in one of these three areas, according to a report analyzing bike-related citations and related arrests released in October by Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition volunteers.
Authors Melody Hoffman and Anneka Kmiecik wrote the report based on analysis of publicly available data from the Minneapolis and University of Minnesota Police Departments. They undertook the project to try and understand whether racial bias and profiling was relevant to policing of people on bikes. While they concluded it is probable, there was not enough information available to reach a definite conclusion.
Nevertheless, information they uncovered gives a fuller picture of the experience of bicycling in Minneapolis and how that experience may vary depending on location and individual identity.
Who tends to get cited?
In Minneapolis, 70 percent of area bicyclists are male and 30 percent are female. The race/ethnicity of people given a bicycle-related citation is not known because the Minneapolis Police Department was not tracking this statistic during the study period. It is known that 77 percent of citations were given to men. More information should be available in the future, since the MPD announced in September that they will track the race and ethnicity of all people stopped for traffic violations, including people on foot and bicyclists.
Of the 169 people who were stopped for a bike-related offense and subsequently arrested or logged as a suspect, 96 percent were male. Race and ethnicity is known in these cases because police reports were filed. According to those reports, 48 percent of the 169 individuals were black and 35 percent white. In Minneapolis, the population is 18 percent black and 61 percent white. A report by the American Civil Liberties Union, “Picking Up the Pieces, Policing in America: A Minneapolis Case Study,” finds that blacks are 8.7-times more likely to be arrested for low-level offenses than whites.
Those who were subsequently arrested or filed as a suspect after being stopped for a bicycle-related offense were mostly between the ages of 20 and 29. Juveniles (those under the age of 18) were the second-largest age group arrested. Of the 41 juveniles arrested, 28 were black. This tends to align with the ACLU report, which found that black youth were 5.8-times more likely to be arrested for low-level offenses than white youth in Minneapolis.
Fifty-five percent of bicyclists arrested or logged as suspects were initially stopped for riding on the sidewalk in a business district (49 people total) or because they lacked a front light (44 people total). These reasons were more commonly used to stop black cyclists.
Hoffman pointed out that people are more vulnerable on bikes, and we have to consider the lived experience of a vulnerable person on a vulnerable form of transportation.
“If your goal is to stay invisible, you might not have lights or you might ride on the sidewalk to stay out of the way,” she said.
White cyclists were more commonly arrested in cases where they were initially stopped for running a red light or stop sign.
What behavior resulted in citations?
Bicyclists who were stopped and only received a bicycle citation but were not arrested or logged as suspects were also commonly stopped for riding on the sidewalk (40 percent of the time) but were only stopped for riding without a light 8 percent of the time.
Bicyclists received citations for failing to follow traffic laws 38 percent of the time. This commonly meant running red lights or stop signs, failing to yield or riding against traffic.
Where were citations commonly given?
Fifty percent of the citations given were in downtown or at the university around major attractions, like cultural venues, shopping and restaurants. Streets like Nicollet and Hennepin attract a lot of people but either don’t have dedicated bike infrastructure or have limited infrastructure. Part of the reason for this concentration of citations is related to what the police call “traffic initiatives” and what laypeople call stings. The report’s authors found that federal grants handed down from the Department of Transportation fund some of this work.
“One thing striking to me is the traffic initiatives – in which police are paid overtime for pre-planned operations, like ticketing bicyclists on Nicollet Mall,” said Hoffman.
What can we conclude?
The lack of information about the race or ethnicity of bicyclists who received citations means it’s not possible to say racial disparities are apparent in the policing of people on bicycles.
The analysis of police reports shows a higher incidence of arrest among black people that is not reflective of the population and makes it “highly probable” that racial disparities are also a problem in policing of people on bikes. However, the sample size of 169 reports is too small to conclude this is the case.
“What the report suggests is that other racial disparities also apply to bicycling. It is one more puzzle piece,” said Hoffman.
Since the MPD has announced it will record the race and ethnicity of all people stopped, more information will be available in the future. The report authors recommend doing more analysis as this information becomes available.
For now, the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition is focusing on creating a five-year plan related to enforcement of bicycle laws. At a meeting following the unveiling of this report, Hoffman said some of the ideas discussed included policy work, exploring ways advocates could work with police and targeted outreach in areas where people are more likely to be cited.
Individuals who are interested in getting involved should contact the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition. A meeting to continue the discussion is planned to take place in the second week of December.
While data may not provide a definite answer to the question the authors of this report initially set out to answer, the report does provide insight about the way the experience of bicycling varies across our city.
The more we understand about the experience of bicycling in Minneapolis, the more effective we’ll be at advocating for conditions that make bicycling accessible across the city.