Sidewalk bicycling: still a problem downtown

It’s time for my annual whine about those who ride bikes on the downtown sidewalks. (See the Sep. 2007 blog post w/ 32 comments and Sep. 2008 blog post w/ 26 comments). City Admin Joel Walinksi has an update in the April 17 Friday Memo:

To improve safety regarding sidewalk bike riders in the downtown, the community service officer will be dedicating more time to public education involving those bike riders that disregard the city ordinance. Additionally the Public Works/Engineering folks will also be looking at signage or stencils that (continued)

can be used to reinforce the current ordinances. As these efforts are put in place, the police will move towards tighter enforcement of the standing ordinance of no bike riding on the downtown sidewalks.


  1. John S. Thomas said:

    I firmly agree with this ordinance, however, it still ignores the root cause of the problem. It is simply UNSAFE to ride a bike on Division street.

    However, we are more than happy to ride our bikes to Washington street and walk them to our destination downtown, or to the library, lock them up, and proceed to our destination.

    April 19, 2009
  2. John S. Thomas said:


    I think that coordinating the education efforts of the Community Service Officer with the “Commuter Challenge / Bike to Work” day efforts may be a start as well.

    More visibility would be good, especially at the second street side of downtown. Many of the folks that I see come from the colleges as well, so an informational campaign focused by some small ads in the college paper might be an option.

    I will say the the Community Service officers are doing a great job. Emily has been stopped several times while WALKING her bike on the sidewalks of downtown and THANKED by the officers.

    I know that stencils would be effective on the sidewalks, but they also look quite tacky… 😎

    April 19, 2009
  3. Madelyn Hartke said:

    I don’t believe that biking down Division street is such a treacherous thing. If autos are moving at safe speeds between stop signs then it wouldn’t be a problem to share the road with cyclists. I find that biking down the center of the lane, instead of off to the right, is much more safe because all the drivers can see you. People can ride their bikes on Division street safely if they simply recognize the increased amount of traffic.

    April 19, 2009
  4. Patrick Enders said:

    If bicycling on the sidewalk is illegal, it’s quite amusing to have bike racks on the sidewalks in the middle of the blocks, but to have the only graded access to those racks be at the corners of the blocks.

    The problem isn’t that bicyclists are a danger on Division St.. The problem is that cars are a danger to bicyclists on Division St..

    Clearly, the only sensible solution is to reroute all private motorized vehicle traffic onto Hwy 3 or Washington, and leave Division St. safe for the rest of us.

    April 19, 2009
  5. The problem isn’t that bicyclists are a danger on Division St. The problem is that cars are a danger to bicyclists on Division St.

    Exactly, Patrick. If a bicyclist is comfortable riding down Divison, s/he should be perfectly free too. I’m happy to acknowledge, however, that a good number of cyclists aren’t. If we don’t want these people riding on sidewalks, there need to be viable alternatives. The Park/Trail master plan, approved by the City Council last fall, includes bike lanes on Water and Washington. Were the City to implement these, there would be real benefits to staying off Division.

    April 19, 2009
  6. Mera Colling said:

    I wish that both pedestrians and bicyclists didn’t have to share division street with cars, period. It has worked well in other cities, why not here? I’ve had people say that making downtown one-way in Faribault killed it, but Northfield isn’t Faribault.

    If we closed the downtown parts of division street to car traffic and made it all walking and part bicycling plaza, it would be so much easier to get from one end to the other. Crossing the street on foot downtown is miserable, and parking and driving there isn’t much better.

    April 20, 2009
  7. john george said:

    Patrick & Sean-I take issue with this comment:

    The problem isn’t that bicyclists are
    a danger on Division St. The problem
    is that cars are a danger to
    bicyclists on Division St.

    I just came home from my Monday run to Just Foods. While I was stopped at 5th. & Water waiting for my turn to make a left turn, the car on my left was beginning to take his turn to proceed up 5th. Street. As he was about in the middle of the intersection, a bicycle passed my van on the right, zipped across 5th. without even pausing, and forced the car on my left to make a panic stop in the middle of the intersection. One or two seconds difference in timing, and I would probably still be answering witness questions on a police report and the cyclist would be a statistic. It is just this cavalier attitude on the part of the cyclist that I DO NOT understand. The rest of the traffic world does not revolve around cyclists.

    April 20, 2009
  8. Patrick Enders said:

    My post was only partly serious. (The ‘partly’ part is simply that I suspect that my idea doesn’t have a prayer of coming to pass.) Madison WI closed its main downtown street to private motorized vehicles, and it worked wonders for the vitality of their downtown street life. I love the pedestrian traffic on Division St. on the occasions when we close it to traffic for some festival or another; I wish that we’d do that every weekend.

    On your other point, cavalier attitudes are also very common in car drivers. Just last Thursday, I was biking east along 7th(?) St and entering an intersection where the N/S street had a stop sign, but I did not. A car came to the intersection from the north, stopped to let a car pass heading west, then pulled into the intersection bearing down on me despite her stop sign and my right-of-way.

    Mercifully, my brakes were in good order – as were hers. Her response? It seemed to be a little “here I am, didn’t you see me?” wave and a smile.

    Stupidity (as well as distractibility) abounds in drivers of all sorts. The difference is that bicyclists are not generally driving lethal weapons. (Note your own description of the near-outcome of your near-crash.)

    April 20, 2009
  9. john george said:

    Patrick- I agree that there is much room for improvement on all sides. In sheer numbers, there are many more dangerous motorists out there than cyclists. Your observation, “…The difference is that bicyclists are not generally driving lethal weapons…” would seem to put the onus on the cyclists, since they are more vulnerable.

    As far as converting division street to pedestrian/cyclist traffic only, Minneapolis has done this successfully with Nicollet Mall. The only vehicular traffic there are buses and taxis. That has not prevented me from having a few close calls with cyclists, though. Attentiveness is simply something required on all sides. I have a theory that our preoccupation with passive safety devises has lulled us into a false sense of security, and has actully put everyone in a passive state. I don’t have any studies to prove or disprove this, but understanding human nature as I do, I think there is credence for my suspicions.

    April 20, 2009
  10. Patrick Enders said:

    John, you wrote,

    Your observation, “…The difference is that bicyclists are not generally driving lethal weapons…” would seem to put the onus on the cyclists, since they are more vulnerable.

    Really? If one person is walking around with a pea shooter, and another is walking around with a Gatling gun, “the onus” to be careful falls on the person with a pea shooter? I don’t follow your reasoning.

    April 20, 2009
  11. norman butler said:

    In Germany, if you are driving a motorized vehicle and you take out a bicyclist or a pedestrian then legally you are toast. This is the difference and the point and the issue has bugger all to do with bicycle lanes etc.

    April 20, 2009
  12. john george said:

    Perhaps I’m using the wrong term, Patrick, but, taking your pea shooter analogy a step further, it would seem wise for the pea shooter holder to try not to start a battle with the person carrying the gattling gun. It seems that in these discussions in the past, there is an attitude among vehicle drivers (I’m not saying it is right, just there) that streets are made for cars and bicycles, unlike pedestrians, are intruders. Just because the bicyclist has equal access does not mean he/she is going to be granted that right automatically. Defensive driving is always wise. I think it is even wiser for the cyclist to exercise. When I used to ride my bike, I always assumed that cars and trucks were going to infringe upon any “rights” I had as a user of the roadway. I still think it is wise to approach the use of the roadway from this perspective.

    April 20, 2009
  13. Jerry Bilek said:

    Griff, you are correct, it’s still a problem. I like the city’s approach to improving the situation. John Thomas offers wise advice. If you don’t feel safe on Division, use Water st and drop down to division on a numbered st. then walk you bike on the sidewalk to your destination. I do feel safe on Division and ride it regularly.

    April 20, 2009
  14. Nick Sinclair said:

    I just had to chime in here. I agree with John George up there. I have seen many bicyclists disregard intersections with stop signs. I watched a group come down 4th into downtown. A truck was stopped, and started to make a right. The bikes came past him at full speed. He almost took out two bicyclists in one shot (which I do think is 30 points). There was no way for him to see them since they came from behind. He stopped in time, but then the bicyclists yelled at him! I also want to rip my hair out when a bicyclist is riding down the middle of Division, they take too long…. get out of the way. I think one of the more dangerous encounters is out on Cedar towards Apple Valley. They have no shoulder to ride on, and they do not move over to let cars by. I do agree however that closing Division to traffic is a great idea. I love going to State Street in Madison. I think as an “art town” we could benefit from that. We could have little kiosk galleries and merchants, or something.


    April 20, 2009
  15. Justin London said:

    Griff–another thing that will help is better access to bike parking; here I am thinking about curb cuts and long blocks. If you want to lock your bike to the rack in front of Goodbye Blue Monday, you have to access the sidewalk/rack some distance away (or stop in mid block and slip between parked cars, up the curb). This in turn “encourages” (if that is the right word) bikers to ride on the sidewalk from the corner to the bike rack (on occasion, mea culpa).

    April 20, 2009
  16. Patrick Enders said:

    Nick and John,
    I agree that bicyclists need to be extra careful – for the sake of their own skins.

    However, Nick, when you write

    “I also want to rip my hair out when a bicyclist is riding down the middle of Division, they take too long…. get out of the way.”

    …where do you think they shoud go? On the sidewalk? The reason that it is a good idea to bike closer to the center of the road on Division is to keep a safe distance from the parked cars that might always pull out suddenly from their poor-visibility angled parking spots, or else swing their car doors open from the parallel spots.

    Right in the middle of the driving lane is exactly where bicyclists on Division St should be, in order to protect themselves from getting squeezed between impatient drivers and parked car hazards.

    Traffic on Division St. is usually very slow. If you need to drive faster, perhaps you should be driving on Hwy 3, or on Washington St.?

    April 21, 2009
  17. Patrick Enders said:

    Justin, you wrote,

    “Griff–another thing that will help is better access to bike parking; here I am thinking about curb cuts and long blocks. If you want to lock your bike to the rack in front of Goodbye Blue Monday, you have to access the sidewalk/rack some distance away (or stop in mid block and slip between parked cars, up the curb).”

    I agree 100%. It would be very helpful if there was easier access to the bike racks. I would suggest blocking out a car parking spot and placing ramps in the spaces next to the racks. Or just put bike racks at the corners.

    April 21, 2009
  18. Patrick Enders said:

    I would also add that 99% of any time that I have ever spent with my bicycle on a downtown sidewalk has been for the purpose of getting to a bike rack.

    April 21, 2009
  19. nick sinclair said:

    I’m just saying it drives (ha, drives) me crazy. There really is no other place to go. Maybe if you put a 250cc engine on your bike you would move faster. My big problem is with the attitude of some cyclists, as if they are better because they don’t use gas. I will respect a bicyclist if they respect me and the traffic laws….. but do we have to wear spandex? really?

    April 21, 2009
  20. Nick,
    On a busy urban street like Division, bicyclists are generally safest in the middle of the road. With the risk of being “doored” going north or being backed into going south, it’s not realistic for bicyclists to be able to stay completely off to the side.

    Cars generally go 20-25 mph in the busiest part of Division, and cyclist going a reasonable pace is probably at 18-20 mph. It doesn’t seem like that should be that infuriating a slowdown.

    I agree that there is a problem with bicyclists’ lax attitude toward traffic laws, particularly at intersections. However, riding a safe distance away from car doors (fairly close to the middle of the driving lane) is not a violation of any traffic laws. Bicyclists have a right to be there, and it does not seem like that big a deal if you have to go a few mph slower because of it.

    April 21, 2009
  21. john george said:

    Patrick & Sean- I agree with you that the center of Division is much safer for cyclists than on the side. When I am diagonally parked on the west side of the street, it is very difficult to see aproaching southbound traffic, especially if I am in my wife’s Alero and there is a high profile vehicle next to me. It is difficult enough to perceive another motor vehicle, let alone a cyclist. If they were in the center of the roadway, at least there would be a little more “dodge room”. Passing parked cars is dangerous enough for any type of vehicle, as I have had people pull out or back out in front of me without any seeming awareness of my presence. At least with a motorized vehicle, there are four braking wheels with a lot of surface contact. With a bicycle, there is only, what, about 2 or 3 square inches per tire? This is not good traction potential, even though they weigh about 8% to 10% of the smallest cars.

    April 21, 2009
  22. Bill Ostrem said:

    I also agree that cyclists need to obey traffic signals, and they need to stay off downtown sidewalks. Recently my 1-year-old toddled out of a downtown store onto the sidewalk just ahead of me. For a split second, I feared a cyclist on the sidewalk might mow him down, though fortunately none appeared.

    On closing Division St. to cars: I like the idea of trying this out more often than on special events. Close it on Sunday morning and afternoon and open it up to bikes and aerobics or dance classes? Have kiddie bike races? This is the “Ciclovia” idea from Bogota, Colombia.

    April 26, 2009
  23. Bruce Anderson said:

    I’ll second Bill’s comments (#19) in all particulars.

    Nick, in #12 you complain of bicyclists who shot through an intersection dangerously. I agree that was a Very Bad Move on their part — that kind of behavior just pisses off motorists and could lead to the premature demise of those cyclists.

    I completely agree that bicyclists should consistently adhere to the laws of the road. I wish that motorists would do the same, as well. As has been mentioned several times in this discussion thread, neither bicyclists nor motorists have a corner on the stupid, dangerous behavior market. I do plenty of both driving and bicycling, and I’d be hard-pressed to say whether I see worse behavior, in general, from bicyclists or motorists. I do know one thing: bad behavior by a motorist is far more likely to lead to the serious injury or death of a bicyclist than vice versa. In spite of this, I’ve seen a lot more hostility directed toward bicyclists by drivers than vice versa (and believe, me some of it ain’t very pretty). I’ve had beer bottles thrown at me, drivers crossing the center line to force me off the road, drivers passing within inches of me even when there is no oncoming traffic,shouts of “get off the f&%^&ing road” and various permutations of same, etc., etc.

    Regarding operating safely and within the law, it bears mentioning that ALL roadway users should be aware of the Minnesota laws pertaining to operating a bicycle:

    Minnesota Statutes Section 169.222 OPERATION OF BICYCLE. Subdivision 1.Traffic laws apply.

    Every person operating a bicycle shall
    have all of the rights and duties
    applicable to the driver of any other
    vehicle by this chapter, except in
    respect to those provisions in this
    chapter relating expressly to bicycles
    and in respect to those provisions of
    this chapter which by their nature
    cannot reasonably be applied to bicycles.

    Please note, Nick, that “every person operating a bicycle shall have all of the rights” applicable to a driver of any other vehicle–including the right to be on the road, either in single-file or two abreast, and passed at a safe distance (minimum of three feet) even if it might cause you (or me) to lose a few seconds in our rush from hither to thither when we’re driving down Division Street (or anywhere else).

    These rights even apply to people wearing Spandex, believe it or not. I plead guilty to being part of that scorned group when I’m riding my bike further than a few miles. It’s not so much a fashion statement as it is kind treatment of my crotch (have you ever tried biking 80 miles in jeans and underwear? OUCH!!) What is it about the funny clothes that (some) bikers wear that sets people off so?

    Anyway, I bike down Division Street just about every day (either on errands or other practical transportation, wearing street clothes, as it were, or wearing funny clothes when I pass through downtown on one of my longer recreational rides). I promise to stay off the sidewalks downtown (as have done all my life), obey the rules of the road, move as expeditiously as possible through downtown. In exchange, I ask only that I not be harassed or killed by a motorist in return. Please.

    April 26, 2009
  24. Patrick Enders said:

    This week, I had the opportunity to attempt to cross downtown with a five year old bicyclist, who was making his way from roughly 5th and Washington to the trailhead of the bike trail.

    The father of the little bicyclist allowed him to ride on the sidewalks a fair bit of the way, while I dutifully remained on the road.

    Frankly, with all the traffic, I’m not sure how he would’ve been able to make it across downtown and Highway 3 safely without staying on the sidewalks. Should he have walked his bike for 6+ blocks?

    April 26, 2009
  25. Margaret Colangelo said:

    I fully support all cyclists and their rights to safety. Bad apples who don’t follow traffic laws make it hard on the ones that do. Vehicle drivers who make it hard for those riders should really learn some patience.

    What I don’t understand is why it’s such a burden to walk your bike to a bike rack. I often park on side streets and walk to downtown stores. What’s the difference? Because you’re on a bike you deserve to ride it all the way to your destination? With that logic, I should be able to drive my car right up to the magic fronts doors of CUB foods. I don’t think it’s asking too much to expect a rider to dismount on sidewalks.

    April 26, 2009
  26. What I don’t understand is why it’s such a burden to walk your bike to a bike rack.

    I think the issue is in part that there’s no practical reason why bikes shouldn’t be able to be parked immediately in front of stores. They occupy dramatically less space than a car. I would say, though, that dismounting mid-block and walking your bike between parked cars is not a hardship; there is no reason to ride on the sidewalk to get to a rack.

    April 26, 2009
  27. John S. Thomas said:

    With that logic, I should be able to
    drive my car right up to the magic
    fronts doors of CUB foods.

    Believe it or not.. they already DO! I saw it today!

    There were two different cars trying to get so close to the front door so that they wouldn’t get wet loading groceries. One was a champagne colored SUV, and another a newer black Buick.

    They were parked so close to the door, that people coming out of the store could not get out around them.

    It was a ridiculous sight to see… and several more idling off to the side in the fire lane.

    April 26, 2009

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