Bicycle rule tweaks hit legislative pothole

The Senate Transportation and Public Safety Committee tabled two bike-related bills on Feb. 20

Credit: File photo

A Minneapolis-led effort to change state traffic laws to make it safer for bicyclists was deflated by both Republicans and DFLers in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

The Senate Transportation and Public Safety Committee tabled two bike-related bills on Feb. 20, allowing their sponsor, Sen. Kari Dziedzic (DFL-60), to make changes and possibly include the bills in an omnibus bill later this spring.

“I think there was an anticipation this was kind of easy one, and I think folks weren’t clear about what were the implications of the bill,” said Minneapolis City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden (Ward 8), who chairs the Council’s Intergovernmental Relations Committee.

The bills would do two things: Make it illegal for vehicles to stop or park in designated bike lanes and to clarify state law to give bicyclists the right of way when a vehicle is trying to make a right-hand turn across a bike lane.

The bill to make illegal parking or stopping in a bike lane drew concerns from both suburban DFLers and rural Republicans.

Sen. Jeremy Miller (R-28) said parking near Winona State University is already tight and people sometimes have to park on bike lanes.

“I’m an avid biker myself. I like the concept, but I can tell you that this will not work in Winona and several other of the small communities that I represent,” Miller said. “I would more for allowing our local communities to make that decision.”

Miller offered an amendment to make the bill only applicable in Hennepin County, but that drew concern from newly elected Sen. Melisa Franzen, an Edina DFLer.

“I need to understand how this impacts the areas I represent,” said Franzen, whose Edina district is inside Hennepin County.  

Before that amendment could be voted on, Dziedzic tabled her bill.

Committee members also raised concerns about people getting ticketed without understanding the new rules. Cities, under the bill, would not need to post “no parking” signs near bike lanes, so a motorist could get ticketed for parking on a street that is not labeled “no parking.”

Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-61) is the chair of the committee and said he wants a statewide bill, not one that is unique to Minneapolis or Hennepin County.

“I think what’s at the root of this discussion is whether bikes should be recognized as a fully equal user of city streets, especially where we have designated bike lanes,” Dibble said.

Dibble, who is a bicyclist, said the major concern in Minneapolis is that delivery drivers and others will sometimes double park in a bike lane to make a short trip, causing a bicyclist to have to swerve out into traffic. Most bike lanes in Minneapolis allow parking inside of the lane —  the bill wouldn’t change that.

“It defeats the whole purpose of the bike lane when cars are just sitting there in the bike lane,” Dibble said.

The bills are the result of a city-led push for several changes to traffic laws. Among the changes Minneapolis is seeking is a bill to allow cities to lower their speed limit below 30 mph on certain streets. No legislator has introduced such a proposal this session, however.

The House Transportation Policy Committee was scheduled to hear the bills on Feb. 26. Rep. Phyllis Kahn (DFL-60B) authored the House bills.