Bloom time for bicycling

The first green shoots of summer have appeared with the return of the Nice Ride Minnesota bike share system. Like crocuses or daffodils, the bikes have signaled the return of warm weather even when covered with late winter snow. (It’s been cruel how often they’ve been covered with snow!)

The return of warm weather sends many of us to greenhouses, nurseries, and garden stores to pore over rows of flowers, herbs, or vegetables and decide which ones are suited to our particular soils, sunlight and (harder to judge) level of care and luck. How many perennials and how many annuals to get this year? Almost every flat of flowers has a little plastic card with key information—just the right dose of knowledge to dig in the trowel and start planting. As a poet once said, “hope blooms eternal.” Whether the plants thrive is another question (at least for me).

There’s no little plastic stick with instructions for getting back on your bicycle, but there are a few key things to remember, just as with gardening. When you are ready to head out, remember these four things for a safe and happy summer (with thanks to Steve Clark of Bike Walk Twin Cities and the City of Minneapolis bicycling web site).

1. Check your ABCs. A = is there air in the tires, B = do the brakes work, and C = how’s that chain turning? Give the bike a spin around a quiet street or an open parking lot to make sure it’s all functioning before you go out for a longer errand or commute ride. If you think your bike needs a more thorough checkup, take it in to a bicycle shop or take advantage of one of the many open shop nights around town. Spokes bike/walk center in Seward, Recovery Bike Shop in Northeast, Sunrise Cyclery in Uptown, Freewheel Bike Shop, and the Hub Bicycle Coop are just some of the Minneapolis locations with open shops or free classes. There are many open shop nights for women only.

2. PAVAC. Not exactly an easy string to remember but these letters stand for the five attributes of safe bicycling, as taught by the League of American Bicyclists. P = be predictable and signal your intentions. A = be alert to what’s going on around you. V = be very visible, not only in terms of lights at night, but also when riding with traffic—make sure motorists can see you. A = be assertive (be willing to take the lane when necessary). C = be courteous. If you’d like to know more and become a League Certified Instructor of bicycle safety, the first step is Traffic Safety 101, which is being offered once a month starting in April by the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota (the cost is $50 for a two-day class: one evening followed by a full day).

3. Caution at intersections. According to a City of Minneapolis report, most crashes between bicyclists and motor vehicles occur at intersections along busy streets (in traffic parlance, “major arterials”). Crashes are happening because motorists are not seeing or yielding to bicyclists and bicyclists are not riding in a predictable manner. The report found that both drivers and bicyclists are equally at fault. So instead of shaking your fist, be extra careful. If you’re on your bicycle, watch for approaching vehicles turning left or right into your path. When approaching an intersection, even if you are in a bicycle lane, be aware of cars around you that may be intending to turn. They should yield, but why not make sure that’s happening? For extra safety at intersections, carefully merge into the flow of traffic (make sure to signal what you are doing) so that there is no confusion about right of way or intentions to turn or go straight. Never go straight through in a turning lane. At some intersections around town (15th Avenue SE in Dinkytown and on Blaisdell at Lake Street) green paint indicates areas where motorists and bicycles might be crossing paths in order to turn. 

4. Watch for people walking. Whether at intersections or along shared paths (for instance, around the lakes, near the Mississippi River, or along the Midtown Greenway), bicyclists should be aware of people walking and remember that pedestrians always have the right-of-way. When you’re coming up on people walking, slow down and make sure to let them know you are about to pass, either with a bell or by calling out “on your left.” Note that on several shared paths around the city, the speed limit is only 10 mph. 

Did I see sunshine and 70s in the forecast? Time to renew your Nice Ride subscription and/or tune up your bicycle and get outside!

Hilary Reeves is communications director for Transit for Livable Communities.