Heavy-duty biking (copy)

With interest in biking on the rise due to COVID-19 boredom, a lot of questions about cycling rules and regulations are coming to Ask Us Guy, not pictured above.

Q: Hello! I have a question which might make a good topic for an article in light of people cycling more because of COVID-19.

A: The reader actually had three bike-related questions. And if the Ask Us column is any indication, there’s definitely an increased interest in biking. Here’s another recent submission ... .

Q: Does the city of Mankato have an ordinance on how bicycles travel around the city? Are they allowed on sidewalks?

A: Those are the first of four total bike questions.

And from another reader ... .

Q: We’re considering an e-bike for my wife but before we buy one, I have a few questions ... .

A: When contacted with the long list of exercise-related queries, Mankato City Manager Pat Hentges immediately turned the topic over to Community Development Director Paul Vogel, partly because Vogel’s department was involved in creating the extensive system of bike trails and on-street bike paths in the city but mainly because Vogel is an avid cyclist.

“I used to do about 11,000 (miles) a year, but I’ve toned it down to about five or 6 thousand,” said Vogel.

And, yes, Vogel does know his stuff.

So, here goes ... .

Q1: Does the city of Mankato have an ordinance on how bicycles travel around the city?

A: There is a short ordinance, but Mankato essentially follows state law when it comes to biking — Minnesota Statute 169.222.

Q2: Are they allowed on sidewalks? Do pedestrians have the right of way?

A: Bikers can ride sidewalks in much of the city. And, yes, they are required to yield to pedestrians.

But bikes are prohibited from sidewalks in commercial areas, which includes downtown and routes like Madison and Riverfront Drive.

The reason for prohibiting bikes in commercial areas is mainly just the danger of collisions with pedestrians in more constricted spaces, Vogel said. He points to a business district like Old Town.

“You can see the potential (danger),” he said. “Somebody could come out of a business and the bicycle would be right there.”

Q3: We’re considering an e-bike for my wife but before we buy one, I have a few questions: What are the rules for motorized scooters & bikes? Specifically, are they allowed to operate on the sidewalks?

A: Electronic-assisted bicycles, which is what the state calls e-bikes, are pretty much allowed anywhere a bicycle is allowed, including bike paths and sidewalks in non-commercial parts of town.

For readers not familiar with e-bikes, they look pretty much like a regular bicycle but have a small electric motor that makes pedaling easier.

The term “scooter” is a little more nebulous, but state law allows “motorized foot scooters” where bikes are permitted if the scooter has either “wheels no more than 10 inches in diameter, or an engine that is capable of a maximum speed of not more than 15 miles per hour on a flat surface.” Larger and faster machines have to be licensed and operated like a motorcycle.

Q4: What’s the difference between a bike path and a sidewalk? For instance, is the path that runs along North Victory Drive between Madison Avenue and Highway 14 considered a sidewalk or a bike path? Same question for the path that runs along Thompson Ravine Road between North Victory Drive and North Sixth Street. How do you tell the difference?

A: The important difference is width, Vogel said. Bike paths are typically 8 feet wide, and sidewalks are typically narrower. But if you’re not carrying your tape measure, there’s another method for figuring it out.

“The easiest way to differentiate between them is trails are usually asphalt,” he said.

The city specifically designates bike trails, and a map showing many of those trails can be found at www.mankatomn.gov/home/showdocument?id=1312.

As for the specific paths mentioned by the reader, the path on the east side of North Victory Drive is a shared-use trail for both walkers and bikers. That’s also the case for the Thompson Ravine path.

Q5: How should cyclists navigate Madison Avenue? (There are lots of stores within cycling distance of the surrounding neighborhoods.)

A: The path along the south side of Madison, east of Victory Drive, is an official bike path. So bikers can share that one with pedestrians, Vogel said.

West of Victory Drive, the path is a sidewalk. So bikers on that portion of Madison would have to walk their bike, ride on the street or take an alternate route such as the trails along Glenwood Avenue or Thompson Ravine Road.

Vogel, who rides on streets a lot, said there are lower-traffic streets that connect the hilltop and the valley such as Adams Street that are good alternatives to Madison.

Q6: Should cyclists take a whole lane when on Madison?

A: Nope. State law requires bikers to be as far to the right as practical, unless they’re preparing to turn left.

Q7: Should they ride on the shoulder or turn lane?

A: Yep, stay to the right even if that means being in a turn lane or on a shoulder with a good paved surface, Vogel said. And he reminds bikers that they are required to stop, signal and yield just like a driver of a motorized vehicle.

Q8: Should they go with the traffic or against when on the streets?

A: “You’ve gotta ride with the traffic, except — as I’m sure someone will point out — on Broad Street, north of Madison Avenue,” Vogel said.

Broad is a one-way street in that area, but there’s a “contraflow bike lane” that heads toward Tourtellotte Park — opposite the direction of the motorized vehicles on Broad.

If people are curious about Mankato’s wide-ranging efforts to become a more bike-friendly community, Vogel suggests looking at the city’s Complete Streets Plan at www.mankatomn.gov/home/showdocument?id=2048 .

It’s 54 pages, filled with charts and maps and diagrams, and makes for another time-killing alternative to biking for people sheltering in place during the pandemic.

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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