Second Ward, Minneapolis

This is the public policy forum of Minneapolis Second Ward (Green) City Council Member Cam Gordon and his staff. We use this space to talk about some of what Cam’s working on, explain his positions, and share a little of what life in City Hall is like. Please feel free to comment on posts, within certain ground rules. See our disclaimer, including ground rules, here:

Friday, November 04, 2011

Bicycles as Traffic

This morning, the Council voted to include bicycles in the definition of traffic. 

In itself, this change is neither positive nor negative.  Bicycles were already defined in both State statute and City ordinance as vehicles, and vehicles are part of the definition of traffic.

From the state law (which Minneapolis adopts by reference):

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.  [emphasis added]
And from the City ordinance before this change was made:
Traffic: Pedestrians, ridden or herded animals, vehicles and other conveyances either singly or together, while using any street or highway for purposes of travel.  [emphasis added]

I voted for this change, because it's clear that the process of adopting it has achieved some good results.  Here's the history.  Shaun Murphy, who coordinates the City's Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot program, worked with our Traffic Control department to address ongoing concerns about taxi drivers and others stopping and standing in bike lanes.  The initial reaction from the Traffic Control was that a bike lane isn't necessarily a traffic lane, because bicyclists aren't explicitly defined as traffic.

As the existing text of the relevant laws proves, this was essentially nonsense.  Bicycles are defined as vehicles.  Vehicles are part of the definition of traffic.  Bicycles are traffic, and have been for decades.

When this was presented to the Bicycle Advisory Committee (after the public hearing, interestingly), it was clear that Traffic Control had moved off of their original position before the ordinance was changed.  Basically, the ordinance change served as a catalyst, not a cause.

One other interesting note: the fee for private construction closing bike lanes has been, for reasons I can't fathom, been lower than the fee for standard traffic lanes.  It seems that might change now - again, not as a direct result of this change, because bicycles have always been traffic, but because of the conversations it's started.

My office has gotten a number of contacts from the bicycling community about this change, but folks mostly seem confused.  We've gotten questions like: is this a good thing or a bad thing?  Two members of the BAC, including my appointee Bob Hain, attended the public hearing not to speak on the issue but learn whether this change will have any impact.  Neither of the local organizations whose take on bicycling issues I trust - the BAC and the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition - took any position on this.

So, on balance: this change doesn't create any problems, and the process to approve it has helped solve some.  But, in itself, it's almost a non-change and falls short of being a major step forward for bicyclists in Minneapolis.


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