Bicycling is on the rise nationally and in Minnesota. This is true for Mankato as well.
On a recent rainy day, the annual River Ramble attracted 1,400 riders of all ages. The newly formed Mankato Area Mountain Bikers are building mountain biking trails at a rapid clip. There also appears to be an increase in destination riders in Mankato — students biking to school, commuters biking to work, and shoppers biking to the store. These destination riders are more likely to be found on city streets, although many recreational riders also use streets, county roads, and highways. And while it may seem that we are approaching the end of the biking season, some recreational and destination riders will continue biking through the fall and into the winter.
Given these trends and conditions, the potential for conflict between motorist and bicyclists may also be on the rise. Thus, the time seems right for some review of the legal rights and responsibilities of motorists and bicyclists in Minnesota and Mankato.
Here are 10 things for motorists and bicyclists to remember:
1. With very few exceptions bicyclists must follow the same laws as motor vehicle drivers. An example of an exception is that it is legal for a bike to stop and then proceed through a red light under certain circumstances. (http://www.dot.state.mn.us/bike/pdfs/MN-BIKE-LAW-CARD.pdf)
2. With very few exceptions, bicyclists have the same right to a street, road, or highway as a motor vehicle.
3. Motorists must allow a safe distance when passing a bicyclist. This is generally interpreted as 3 feet. There are situations where a bicyclist must “take control of the lane” to travel safely. This may require a motorist to slow down and wait until it is safe to pass.
4. Bicyclists should ride in the same direction as traffic.
5. Bicyclists do not have the right to impede traffic flow. This means they must generally bike as far to the right as if safe to serve their destination. This also means that two or more bicyclists traveling together may ride two abreast if it does not impede normal and reasonable traffic flow.
6. Bicyclists must obey all traffic control signs and signals, including stop signs and stop lights.
7. Bicyclists should use arms to signal turns and lane changes. It is OK to hold the right arm straight out to signal a right turn.
8. Bicyclists must use lights and reflectors at night and in dim light; a white headlight, and red flashing tail light.
9. On trails and bike paths that cross roadways, bicyclist should obey stop signs and other warning devices.
10. Bicyclists should generally avoid riding on sidewalks, and in many cities or parts of cities, it is, in fact, illegal for bikes to ride on sidewalks. Motorists need to understand this as well, as it is not uncommon in Mankato to hear a motorist shout “get on the sidewalk!” to a bicyclist. An exception, of course, is younger children traveling at low speeds. If it is necessary to use a sidewalk, a bicyclist should essentially act as a pedestrian.
As suggested above, children present a special case. Children should not be riding in motor vehicle traffic until they are ready to do so. Parents, guardians, and other adults can teach children traffic skills on quiet residential streets and gradually move to busier roadways. Motorists need to be especially alert around young bicyclists, who may be quite unpredictable. An unfortunate national trend indicated in one of the above-mentioned studies is that while bicycling rates are increasing overall, rates for children are declining. Hopefully we can buck this trend here in Mankato. Bicycling is a healthy activity that can provide children with a wonderful sense of independence.
To Mankato bicyclists — follow traffic laws and be predictable; respect motorists. To Mankato motorists — be patient with and respect bicyclists; give them space. To both – remember that bicyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of motor vehicles.
Lee Ganske is vice president of Greater Mankato Bike and Walk Advocates.