Park cops to enforce path separation, speed limits

Tangletown resident Amy Ollendorf was walking her wire-haired fox terrier Yofi along Minnehaha Creek's shared walking/biking path this summer, and looked up to see an eastbound cyclist speeding down the hill from Lyndale Avenue.

Ollendorf was on the right-hand side of the path; Yofi, on a leash, was on the left, she said. She didn't have time to pull Yofi across the path and worried the dog would dart in front of the bike. She dashed across the path to hold the dog, but too late.

The cyclist didn't have time to stop or swerve, and hit her on the right side, she said.

"I was really scraped up and shaken up and ended up at the emergency room that night just to make sure everything was where it was supposed to be," Ollendorf said. "[The cyclist] was really apologetic. He wasn't moving too fast either afterward."

Ollendorf said she sees people going too fast on the hill all the time, and before the accident, she probably sped down the hill herself. "Now, I am not shy about saying, 'Hey the speed limit is 10 mph. Slow down,'" she said.

Brad Johnson, police chief for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, said there had been a few accidents such as Ollendorf's, but "complaints and the near misses" are driving increased enforcement of park path rules.

Park Police will crack down on the 10 mph bike path speed limit, he said. (There is no police report on Ollendorf's accident; she didn't get the cyclist's name. She said onlookers told her the cyclist said he was going 20 mph.)

Police will also step up enforcement on bicyclists using the walking paths and pedestrians using the bike paths, Johnson said.

He would dedicate one agent full-time to enforce path rules, and the agents will start issuing tickets, he said. In the past, Park Police have given warnings to people using the wrong path.

"It has gotten to the point where we have got to take control," he said. "We feel we have to do enforcement to get the attention of the violators."

Biking or rollerblading faster than 10 mph on park paths is a misdemeanor, Johnson said. It is a misdemeanor for cyclists and rollerbladers to use a pedestrian-only path or for pedestrians to walk on a cycling path, he said.

Misdemeanors carry a maximum fine of $1,000 or 90 days in jail or both, Johnson said. A judge would decide the appropriate punishment (but, obviously, it would not be the maximum, he said.)

The Park Board staff recently repainted the pedestrian, biking and speed limit signs on the park paths.

Johnson said Park Police have received a number of path complaints along Minnehaha Parkway between Lake Nokomis and Lake Harriet. But most complaints they get are from bicyclists saying pedestrians are walking on their path, forcing them out into the street.

That forces the cyclists onto the parkway, creating conflicts with vehicles, Johnson said. "It kind of snowballs."

Misuse of park paths happens systemwide, he said. Hot spots include Lake of the Isles, where construction has forced walkers and bikers to share paths in some areas.

Once the work stops, people keep using the wrong path, Johnson said. "It is like it is a habit now because they have done it so many times. It is hard to break that habit."

People are encouraged to report problems. Call the Park Police at 370-4777.