A view from Midtown // Rights, responsibilities, safety and civility

A quick introduction: I’m currently working at Freewheel Midtown Bike Center and have been there since its opening in May of 2008. I grew up in South Minneapolis and biked everywhere until I got a driver’s license. Prior to working at Midtown, I worked in the outdoor recreation profession for more than 30 years. I worked in metropolitan areas as well as in outstate Minnesota. This work involved managing large outdoor recreational facilities, developing statewide policies and rules that affected outdoor recreation, and operational management of state parks and state trails. During that time many recreational opportunities and facilities were surrounded by population growth and the “islands of natural environment” are now integrated into the larger landscape including transportation.  Most regional and state trails originally developed as recreational facilities are now part of an increasingly comprehensive network for non-motorized transportation.  

Through the years, I’ve biked in many areas of the U.S. and have had the opportunity to vacation in Europe. These experiences have shown me the good, the bad and some of the ugly when it comes to cycling. Minneapolis and the Twin Cities Metro area has much to be proud of and is making great progress as it becomes more and more a multi-modal transportation region. I want to both highlight what we should be proud of and will also comment on areas where improvements are needed. I think the Twin Cities is already a leader in bicycling as transportation, but it can become even better.  

Midtown Bike Center is a unique blend of full service bike shop, a coffee café/sandwich shop, and bike commuter services, including secure parking for commuter club members 24/7 and locker facilities. This shop has afforded me the opportunity to work with a very broad range of cyclists — from people whose only transportation is a bike, to enthusiasts whose recreational pursuits are exclusively focused on cycling, to people who have not biked for 20 or more years, but want to use biking as a means to a more healthy and active life. There is no stereotypical bicyclist. Reasons and motivation to use a bicycle are many and varied, but more and more people see the advantages of biking for both recreation and transportation.

The most recent bike/vehicle crashes and pedestrian/vehicle crashes highlight the need for constant vigilance when we’re driving our vehicles and this means both bikes and motor vehicles.  The League of American Bicyclists puts it very succinctly: “Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles.” When I write about drivers it will mean both operators of motor vehicles and bicycles. When bicycles are being operated on streets, they are vehicles. Cyclists have the legal right to ride in the road just as other vehicles permitted on that road. Pedestrians also have rights that need to be to be honored by vehicle operators, including cyclists.  

Drivers of vehicles also have responsibilities while operating their vehicles.  A good rule to follow is for all drivers to avoid actions that will put them or others in danger. Often this may require yielding right-of-way rather than asserting your rights.  

Defensive-driving habits are necessary for everyone, including cyclists. Here are a few good ideas from the League of American Bicyclists that will increase safety while riding:

• Follow the law: Do I know the laws governing my driving actions in either a car or on a bike?

• Be predictable:  How often do I forget to use signals to change lanes or turn? Do I maintain my position or drift across lanes? As a pedestrian, do I give visual cues to drivers as to my intended actions?

• Be conspicuous: Do I drive without lights at dawn or dusk? Do the lights on my truck work? Do I bike with no lights or reflectors?
Do I ride or walk at night wearing dark clothing?

• Be Aware: Do I look for pedestrians? Do I look back before changing lanes? Do I use my cell phone or multi-task while driving or walking?  Do I have the skills to avoid or minimize the consequences of other driver’s mistakes?

• Ride Ready: Is my vehicle safe to operate?  Am I using the safety equipment available, such as a seat belt or bike helmet?

Let’s make the roadways safer for everyone. Remember, we’re all in this together.

Dan Breva is the manager of the Freewheel Midtown Bike Center at the Midtown Exchange. He has bike commuted for more than 10 years.