The arrogance of the bike-path runner

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April 22, 2014
By: David Brauer
David Brauer

Let’s consider the various types of bike-path runners around Southwest’s lakes.

The rabbit. Sleek in a singlet, sinewy exposed flesh, gaunt determination, the rabbit simply feels too fast to deal with pedestrian path tortoises. “I am running at bike-plus speeds,” thinks the rabbit, “therefore I deserve this path. So what if I force more bikes into the passing lane?”

The plodder. “I think I am a rabbit,” thinks the plodder. “All those rolled eyes and backward glares are surely meant for the plodders.”

The wrong-way plodder. “I am more clever than right-way plodders,” thinks the wrong-way plodder. “I believe that plodding toward speeding bikers somehow equals safer.”

The cow-path cheater. “I believe,” thinks the cow-path cheater. “I believe an invisible force field at the edge of the asphalt will always protect me from passing bikers’ bags, pedals and handlebars.”

There are other species — including the smug stroller-pusher— but they all have one thing in common: no matter their rationalization, they are violating city law.

The Minneapolis Code of Ordinances — PB7.5-3 if you must know — is unequivocal:

“No walker shall walk and no jogger shall jog on any designated bicycle pathway, except where such pathway is also a designated pedestrian pathway.”

You may be wondering what kind of runner I am. I am this kind:

The runner on the pedestrian path who barks at bike-path runners.

Sad to say, the Park Board relies heavily on we self-appointed safety guardians. Spokeswoman Dawn Sommers says the park police focus on “education, not ticketing” and counts on our civilian posse to try the pricklier tactic.

Terming heckling “very common,” Sommers observes, “Most people can’t sustain prolonged ridicule and get on the right path.”

This is not my experience. I have been astounded at the grief bike-path runners can absorb. Some are genuinely clueless, others block the noise with headphones, several seem to enjoy the abuse. (They are runners, after all.)

In their way, they are all trampling the memory of Betty Malkerson, who unknowingly gave her life for separated paths.

In May 1972, Malkerson, a pedestrian, was killed in a collision with a cyclist on Lake Harriet’s single path. Her death inspired the separation that bike-path runners ignore today, and also the park trails’ 10 mph limit — the rule cyclists most commonly break.

(If cyclists think the car-driving culture holds them in low esteem today, imagine their standing in the wake of Malkerson’s death.)

Even the lakes’ one-way driving lane stems from that grim spring day. Separating paths took years, so the Park Board initially repurposed a two-way lane for cyclists, using concrete dividers you see on highways. To save money, dividers were spaced, and drifting cyclists would not-infrequently face-plant when pedals got trapped in a gap.

For a time, Minneapolis ordinance mandated cyclists use only paths. But a few years after Malkerson’s death, legislators led by Phyllis Kahn passed the law giving cyclists equal right to streets, repealing municipal path-only ordinances. This is why the Park Board plausibly (if passively) insists cyclists over 10 mph use the damn street.

Miraculously, despite ordinance-breakers on both sides, there have been no cyclist-pedestrian fatalities on the trails, at least in the eight-plus years Sommers has worked for the Park Board. We have to take this as fact, since the board doesn’t keep stats on collisions and injuries, because so many are unreported.

Mortality-free years might cause the self-centered to shout “SEE?,” but Sommers responds, “If there weren’t rules and signage, things would be so much worse.”

Sommers says that the lakes are the state’s second-most-visited attraction; with pathway congestion getting worse, I’d argue the chances of another fatality are only rising. I yell because I do not want to be a passive co-conspirator in the next death.

That said, citizen hazing is a crappy way to do enforcement. Lacking true authority, heckling can lead to disputes, and potentially violence. Park police “education” means the self-centered runner feels no consequences.

I run a decent pace for my age; I’ve made myself accept that a lake circuit means accepting slower times to navigate congestion, or a shift to off-hours, or picking a different route. I will not trample — clockwise or counterclockwise — on Betty Malkerson’s grave.

David Brauer, a former Journal editor, lives in Kingfield with his wife and two kids.