Mankato bike lanes

A bicyclist rode along a stretch of Broad Street just before it was painted with the markings of a dedicated bike lane.

Q: We waited weeks this summer for Poplar Street to be redone! A very nice wide street — until now. Is it one lane? Are we supposed to hit head-on with the approaching car? Are we supposed to swerve into the TWO bike lanes and run them over? The questions could go on and on. What were they thinking? ... Oh, and one more thing — if there are bikes in each lane, are we supposed to come to a complete stop (and the car behind us will no doubt run into us)?

A: Ask Us Guy believes those queries might fall into the category of "rhetorical questions," but just in case ... . Poplar Street is a two-way road, drivers are not intended to have head-on collisions, nor should they swerve into the bike lanes and run over cyclists. And, yes, if there are two cars heading in opposite directions and two bikes riding in the opposite bike lanes and all four converge at the same point at the same time, the drivers should stop.

OK, that covers all of the questions except: "What were they thinking?"

For folks who don't know Poplar Street, it's a sort-of J-shaped street with one end of the J starting at Riverfront Drive and Warren Street. It winds along the railroad tracks north of Riverfront and reconnects with Riverfront near Burger King and across from the YMCA.

It was chosen for bike lanes because it's part of a relatively direct connection between downtown Mankato to Sibley Park, via Cherry Street, Minnesota Street, Poplar Street and Sibley Parkway. The reader's concern involves the narrower section of Poplar Street as it approaches the railroad trestle northwest of Cub Foods West that carries Sibley Parkway under the train tracks.

That piece of Poplar is narrow enough that there's not room for two dedicated bike lanes and two lanes of vehicle traffic. But that's why the bike lanes in that area are "advisory bike lanes" with broken white lines instead of solid white lines, said Community Development Director Paul Vogel. So, drivers can drive their vehicles over the dashed line of an advisory bike lane when no bikes are present.

If a bike is in the lane, drivers should pass the cyclist by going into the opposing lane of traffic, assuming there are no vehicles approaching in that lane, Vogel said. If a vehicle is approaching, the driver should slow or stop if necessary and wait until it's safe to pass the cyclist in the opposing lane.

Drivers are prohibited from driving over the solid white line of a dedicated bike lane, by contrast, and those lanes have been added to wider streets such as Cherry Street downtown and Broad Street from the north side of the city to Cherry Street. Drivers can cross those solid lines only when they're moving to a curbside parking spot or turning into a driveway or alley — and only after making sure there aren't any cyclists approaching.

One maneuver that gets a little trickier than normal on a street with bike lanes is a right turn. Without bike lanes, a driver turning right doesn't have to give too much attention to the rear-view mirror. But with a bike lane, a driver slowing to turn needs to be aware that a biker might be coming up from behind. And right-turning vehicles are actually supposed to move all the way to the right, into the bike lane, before turning. The key is to merge into the lane, using the turn signal well in advance, if the lane is clear of bicycles. Bikers farther back are expected to see that turn signal and pass the car on the left or wait for the vehicle to make the turn.

State law actually covers the appropriate way to make the turn: ""Whenever it is necessary for the driver of a motor vehicle to cross a bicycle lane adjacent to the driver's lane of travel to make a turn, the driver shall first signal the movement, then drive the motor vehicle into the bicycle lane prior to making the turn, but only after it is safe to do so."

Bottom line for drivers: Don't be afraid to drive in the bike lanes that have dashed white lines when no bikers are present, and avoid driving in lanes that have solid white lines unless you're entering or exiting the road (or pulling to a parking spot along the curb), signaling your plans well in advance.

"It's like driving (in general), 'Drive defensively,'" Vogel said, giving the same advice to cyclists. "... You need to be predictable, you need to be prepared and you need to ride responsibly."

Also, get used to the idea of sharing a good number of Mankato's streets with bicyclists in their own dedicated lanes. By the end of 2016, bikers will have a nearly unbroken route of dedicated bike lanes stretching from Highway 14 to West High School with more added annually for the next five years. At that point, 40 miles of bike lanes covering 20 miles of streets will tie virtually every corner of the city to the on-street system or to bike trails connected to the system.

"It's a very sound implementation process, focusing on the core (of the city) starting this year and then radiating out from the core," Vogel told The Free Press in an April story about the plans.

The city, county and region have done a good job of creating biking and walking trails, Vogel said. The on-street bike lanes tie individual neighborhoods and business districts to each other and to the trails.

The lanes appeared to be popular this fall, but with winter approaching, the number of cyclists is ebbing. And before it warms up again in the spring (and even more bike lanes are added), a new safety video is expected to be completed to help drivers and bikers understand the rules, he said. It will likely air on public access television and be available on Mankato and North Mankato city websites.

Contact Ask Us at The Free Press, P.O Box 3287, Mankato, MN 56002. Call Mark Fischenich at 344-6321 or email your question to mfischenich@mankatofreepress.com; put Ask Us in the subject line.

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