Category: Commuting by Bicycle

RKJTfinal: A Guide to Attempted Vehicular Homicide

20688043_256862844827106_8736407523847831552_n

At 2 a.m. on Sunday, June 25th, I was struck by a hit-and-run driver while riding my bicycle.

I lived.

I’m still in some significant discomfort, for sure.

But I lived.

As this news made the rounds via friends and family on social media, some openly wondered why this wasn’t covered in the local media outlets. There are three main reasons for this.

First: Don’t let those half-assed, crammed-in bike lanes on Broad Street fool you: The City of Mankato doesn’t give a shit about cyclist safety, and by extension, neither does its police force. My incident is the third such occurrence I’m aware of (anecdotally) within the last three months, and each time the Mankato Department of Public Safety has seemingly expressed zero interest in pursuing the assailants. This isn’t surprising, considering that up until recently, their employees feigned ignorance as to whether parking a motor vehicle in a bike lane was illegal. At the time of the incident, they didn’t even ask me for a statement, meaning that no report of this potentially felonious occurrence likely exists. (Update: According to a journalist with Southern Minnesota News that reached out to me via GoFundMe, the police stated that they made a report within 5 hours of the incident. If this occurred, it was done without any input from anyone directly involved.)

Second: I declined to give a statement to the local news. An employee from the Mankato Free Press reached out to me via Facebook Messenger the day after the incident, and upon returning her call, the conversation basically amounted to something along the lines of well, the police don’t have much information, so if you could provide the basic info, that’d be great. When I asked if there were any questions that she’d like to ask me about the incident, there seemed to be little interest in actual reporting or inquiry, so I declined further statement.

Here’s the deal: My face was riddled with freshly-congealed scabs, my shattered heel was awaiting surgery, and my opiate cocktail was in full effect. The last thing I wanted to deal with was being misquoted in a local fishwrap with a highly-questionable editorial reputation and an online readership comprised of pasty MAGA chuds frothing their jowls at the opportunity to dogfuck tired-ass CYCLISTS BREAK THE LAW TOO AND THEY DON’T PAY TAXES tropes in the Facebook comment sections at my expense.

How I dealt with my own trauma was my own fuckin’ business. I don’t need to martyr myself in the press for your knitting group that spends its time advocating for more Specialized parking at the next Styx concert.

Third: Independent journalism in Mankato is fuckin’ non-entity, or I would’ve gone that route. Yeah, we gave it a shot for a minute there, but life is hard. ANYWAY

If anyone was going to hear the real story behind this thing, I was going to have to do it myself. But I shelved this draft for weeks and weeks, because honestly, it comes off as really bitter and angry. Which is to be expected, given the situation, but the outpouring of love from my fiancée, my family, my Fun.com crew, the Cactus Tattoo collective, and everyone that’s contributed financially has made the usual bile that drives my writing dissipate.

I just ain’t that mad anymore.

But, popular demand is a sonofabitch, so here we go: For those interested in how to nearly kill someone with a 2,000 pound weapon and get away with it, here’s your guide.

At roughly 1:30 a.m., my attorney, Adam, lured me away from Lower North to Blue Bricks for last call. I ordered a High Life. I wanted to get up early and roll the Red Jacket + Dump Loop with the Flying Penguin brigade in the morning, and I didn’t need an IPA headache. (I’d already been pegged as hipster trash because I ride a heavy-ass bike and rarely wear a helmet, so I didn’t need to perpetuate the stereotype with a wicked hangover from “too many growlers.”)

After sticking around for a few uneventful minutes, I made the move to leave, but I was faced with the eternal late-night dilemma: Should I ride home across the Veterans Memorial Bridge, with its drunk drivers weaving to-and-from 2nd Street and its dodgy transitions onto the off-street path? Or take the Cherry Street bike lane down to Hy-Vee, in order to hop on Poplar Street on my way to the North Star Bridge?

The latter option was poorly lit and laid out like shit, but that night, my gut told me it was the way to go.

Plus, it was just a nicer trek. The summer air was crisp and cool, a perfect 60 degrees, the kind of weather where you could just mash away in jeans and a sweatshirt without breaking a sweat. Crossing the North Star and the rolling straight into Lower North is just a rad little ride that’ll never lose its charm.

So eventually, I was rolling up Poplar in Kato, sweet-ass mullet flapping in the wind.

On paper, this stretch of road was designed to be “bike friendly.” Poplar boasts dotted bike lanes going in each direction, with no center line for cars. This was implemented roughly 18 months ago, yet motorists are still largely confused as to how this arrangement should work.

[Helpful Hint: Much like regular traffic lines, dotted bike lanes can be crossed by vehicles while solid lanes cannot. On Poplar Street, if there are no bikes in the lane, YOU CAN DRIVE IN IT. Don’t roll down the middle of the street like a goon. If there’s a bike in the lane ahead of you, slow the fuck down and only pass them when it’s safe to do so.]

These bike lanes just straight-up disappear at the Sibley Parkway crossing, as it’s assumed that cyclists will transition to the small stretch of off-street pathway that materializes here.

This is what I have done each time.

And each time, I have done so with extreme caution, because it’s dangerous as hell.

Why?

  • Motorists traveling way from Sibley Park rarely come to a complete stop at the traffic sign under the trestle bridge, despite the fact that the Poplar Street cross traffic does not stop
  • Motorists are often confused by the web created here by the off-street paths and split streets that allow access to both the Sibley Park area and Minnesota River Trail, leading to a lot of “no, you go!” situations regardless of who has the right-of-way
  • There is no signage in this area to notify motorists of increased bicycle and pedestrian traffic, so when craning their necks out to see beyond this deep intersection, they’re often just looking for other cars
  • It’s a deeply set intersection, so when transitioning from the bike lane to the path, you actually have to move 6-10 feet into the intersection to make the move
  • As mentioned previously, the lighting sucks

Each time I make this transition, I rise out of the saddle and put my head on a swivel, looking left and right dramatically, taking precaution to avoid a collision even though I have the right-of-way and am free to travel unimpeded. (This right here is a microcosm for the flaws in our infrastructure: the burden of responsibility and safety is shifted not only to the person that actually has the right of way, but also person with the least-dangerous mode of transport.)

No cars incoming. No headlights at the stop sign to my right. I was good to go.

Until I wasn’t.

I didn’t see anything.

I just felt it.

A jolt.

That blinding-black realization: “ohfuckithinki’mgettinghitbyacar

The smack/scrape of the pavement.

Then a flash-open. Hyperawake.

I looked up. The base of that off-street path was in sight. I was in the intersection.

I looked down again.

At my hands.

Blood was pooling in my palms, pouring down from my face.

“Well, fuck. I finally got hit by a car.”

The car, of course, was gone. It was 2 a.m. and they’d probably been drinking. They might’ve blown a stop sign. They might’ve hit me from behind. Hell, they might not have had their lights on, for fuckssakes.

I never saw it coming.

What I DID see was a different pair headlights coming towards me, turning off of Riverfront. My right leg was still pinned under my frame, and I was too weak and shocked to move. I managed to outstretch my left arm and feebly flag the car down.

The car stopped. A man and woman came running out.

“Oh, man, are you okay?” he asked.

“I…got hit by a car.”

“Oh shit.”

They both approached me, already dialing 911. I looked down at my hands again, collecting more blood from my face, and looked up.

“Hey, man, do…do I look fucked up?”

“Well,” he replied, “you probably broke your nose for sure, man. And, uh…you’re bleeding. A lot. We’ll get an ambulance.”

I reached into my handlebar bag; miraculously, my phone was intact. (It’s a Revelate Mountain Feedbag and it’s super rad and you should get one.) I called my partner. We had announced our engagement earlier that day.

“Court, don’t freak out. I got hit by a car.

I’m okay.

I just need help.”

The next few minutes wrought an absolute STORM of activity; with adrenaline at maximum, my memories are merely snapshots.

Court and Mike rolled up and loaded my blood-spattered bike into his van, where it eventually ended up on display next to the NaKato pool table. (To Court’s immense credit, she did not freak out.)

A paramedic showed up and asked me who the president was. I said “Donald Trump” for the first time. He immediately threw me in the back of the van and pumped me full of fentanyl.

All I’d heard about fentanyl is that it kills people, so I asked, “Dude, is…that okay? I’ve been drinking.”

“Ah, well, you don’t seem drunk, you’ll be fine,” he replied, “and it’s just a little bump, we do this all the time.”

He called it a bump, which didn’t seem hella appropriate. But okay.

“Um…alright, man, do the thing. By the way, uh, my foot kinda hurts.”

Then I blacked out.

Next thing I remember, I was taking this photo.

The timestamp was about 4:30 a.m., and by this time, we had realized that the major damage wasn’t to my glorious visage, but my foot.

My heel, to be exact.

Motherfucker BROKE MY HEEL.

And after a hastily-scheduled Rochester surgery in which they clamped the busted-ass chunks of my calcaneus back together and drove a couple of screws through it…

…one bulbous pain pump mainlined into a nerve in the side of my leg…

…nearly two weeks of couch-bound immobility (and the stench to go with it)…

…two seasons of The Killing (which was basically a played-straight Twin Peaks spread out over one giant episode of Law & Order and it kinda sucked)…

… two August vacations scrapped, three bottles of OxyContin, and well over FOUR weeks of having my independence stripped from me based on the carelessness of another human being…

…I was fucking pissed.

I was pissed that our police force seems more concerned with bragging about their civil forfeiture skills than actual public safety, even with the cratered expectations of someone who believes their entire corrupt-ass institution should be abolished. (They probably knew this is how I felt, too, considering they never returned my calls inquiring about the incident.)

I was pissed that the frauds that run this city think that they can slap a cyclist on their wack-ass “Visit Mankato” logo as a marketing tactic even though there’s no reasonable infrastructure in place for cycling-oriented tourists to access the storefronts that make our city unique.

I was pissed that the Riverfront Drive initiative lacks any meaningful cycling-friendly improvements, making it an instantly-outdated project.

I was pissed that local advocates seem more concerned with free bagel promotions than the safety of the “silent cyclists” that ride squeaky thirdhand MTBs the wrong way down the sidewalk because they think it’s safer than our unprotected, dooring-susceptible bike lanes. (Hint: it’s fucking not.)

I was pissed that none of this is going to change.

The only way for the Mankato police to start giving a shit about cyclist safety is to have them patrol on bikes themselves. But that would require them to leave their steel-and-glass cages and force them to actually interact with the community, and you can’t have that in a workforce culture that is predicated on quashing empathy and treating the citizenry as “the other.”

The only way that the powers that run this city would realize that their line of thinking is lagging behind the times would be to actively seek the input of those that have transformed their cities—look to Madison, hell, to Minneapolis—into safer, multimodal places. And they’re too clannish and myopic to do anything of the sort.

And we all know that our local media won’t hold anyone accountable.

Well, if you’re mad, get involved! Go to meetings, run for office, start a blog, write a magazine, get involved in the sceeene, man.

Nah.

Thing is, here in mid-September, I’m not mad anymore.

I don’t give enough of a shit about bluegrass, cover bands, regressive nu-metal nostalgia, and small pond poseurs to get riled up.

I’m just glad I’m alive.

And nothing’ll make you start a new chapter in life like getting engaged and getting it by a car on the same day, you know?

 

Mankato Has New Bike Lanes, But Don’t Worry, You Can Still Park In Them

As you may have noticed, Mankato laid down the first phase of downtown bike lanes in late autumn. Thus far, reviews have been mixed across the board.

A vocal minority of aggressive, uneducated motorists threw their usual shitfit via–what else–Facebook comment threads. (My favorite? A call for a petition to remove the bike lanes, as if the city hadn’t been planning this publicly for well over a year.)

Cyclists and motorists alike were confused by the Poplar Street modifications, which were eventually dissected by the Freep’s Ask Us column. Even so, citizens shouldn’t have to depend on a letter to an editor to learn to how use a slice of road properly.

And avid cyclists have felt a little squeezed by the Broad Street lanes’ proximity to parked cars. The risk of getting doored is high, especially in a town were drivers aren’t accustomed to looking behind them (or pocketing their cell phones) before flinging their doors into the street.

So there are flaws. But as a year-round commuter, it’s tough to see the lane installation as anything but a success, if only because it sends the strongest message possible that bikes belong on the road, not on sidewalks. Furthermore, prioritizing these routes shows some serious vision on the city’s part, as they connect to the off-street/multi-use trails around town with ease. I use them almost daily.

But there’s a problem: People keep parking in them. Especially on the weekends.

I tolerated it for a couple of weeks. This is a new thing for a lot of people–especially Buick drivers–so there was bound to be an adjustment period. Also, cramming driving lanes, bike lanes, and parking spots into the Broad and Cherry Street real estate was a difficult task. Some overhang was to be expected.

After a certain point, though, a keen eye can separate the clueless from the lazy. A full-sized sedan parked the bike lane in front of a church? Okay, you’re probably old as hell and don’t know any better. A glistening BMW parked in front of a law office, though?

r3opHZfg

Eat shit, pal.

Immediately after snapping this photo on Saturday, I rode over to the Mankato Public Safety Center, which is a taxpayer-friendly euphemism for POLICE STATION. Typically, I’m averse to contact with cops as they’re usually, you know, assholes.  Yet there was truly a matter of PUBLIC SAFETY that needed attention, and that’s what the front of the building advertises. Parking in bike lanes isn’t just a dick move, it’s a dangerous one:

So, upon arrival, I called dispatch via the telephone in the entryway, and approximately seven minutes later, an officer came down to talk to me. While he didn’t seem particularly interested in the plight of the cyclist, he did take down the information he required: My name and driver’s license number…but none of the identifying characteristics of the offending vehicle.

According to him, their procedure for dealing with this offense is merely to chalk the vehicle’s tires. If the chalked vehicle hasn’t moved in 24 hours, the driver is subjected to a $25 parking ticket.

This is the same penalty for leaving a car parked on the street anywhere in downtown Mankato.

Let me be as plain as possible here: According to this police officer, there is absolutely ZERO penalty for parking a car in Mankato’s bike lanes. You can leave your vehicle in the middle of a bike lane for nearly an entire rotation of the Earth without repercussion.

This is perplexing, because a bill introduced in the Minnesota State Legislature in 2013–and subsequently passed–states that obstructing a bicycle lane with a parked car is prohibited.

Take a quick glance at Minnesota Statute 169.34, paying special attention to number 14:

169.34 PROHIBITIONS; STOPPING, PARKING
Subdivision 1.Prohibitions.

(a) No person shall stop, stand, or park a vehicle, except when necessary to avoid conflict with other traffic or in compliance with the directions of a police officer or traffic-control device, in any of the following places:

(1) on a sidewalk;

(2) in front of a public or private driveway;

(3) within an intersection;

(4) within ten feet of a fire hydrant;

(5) on a crosswalk;

(6) within 20 feet of a crosswalk at an intersection;

(7) within 30 feet upon the approach to any flashing beacon, stop sign, or traffic-control signal located at the side of a roadway;

(8) between a safety zone and the adjacent curb or within 30 feet of points on the curb immediately opposite the ends of a safety zone, unless a different length is indicated by signs or markings;

(9) within 50 feet of the nearest rail of a railroad crossing;

(10) within 20 feet of the driveway entrance to any fire station and on the side of a street opposite the entrance to any fire station within 75 feet of said entrance when properly signposted;

(11) alongside or opposite any street excavation or obstruction when such stopping, standing, or parking would obstruct traffic;

(12) on the roadway side of any vehicle stopped or parked at the edge or curb of a street;

(13) upon any bridge or other elevated structure upon a highway or within a highway tunnel, except as otherwise provided by ordinance;

(14) within a bicycle lane, except when posted signs permit parking; or

(15) at any place where official signs prohibit stopping.

 

In light of these developments, I’ll leave it to the City of Mankato to answer the following questions:

1) Why did you install bike lanes without implementing a plan to educate motorists about their use?

2) Why are public safety officials ill-equipped to enforce state laws in regards to bike lane blockage?

3) What steps will you take to rectify these oversights?

 

We’ll be waiting for the answers.

‘Merica, the Munger Trail, and Conor McGregor

conormcgregor879971916975

The past few weekends have been absolutely packed with patriotism, or at least what passes for it these days. It’s no secret that Americans love when entertainment and nationalism intertwine, and as of late, the two have been in jackbooted lockstep.

The festivities began in the final weekend of June. The Mankato Regional Airport played host to one of the biggest events to hit our region, in terms of sheer size and fossil fuel consumption: The Minnesota Air Spectacular. Lest you think this was just an excuse to perpetuate the unnecessary nouning of a verb, heavyweight sponsors / local pillars of goodwill Taylor Corp and the Tailwind Group (with additional support from….MONSANTO *gasp*) brought us a true spectacularity featuring the USAF Thunderbirds, which are basically the Burger King to the Blue Angels’ McDonalds.

Ideally, an air show is a kid-centric event. It’s an exploration of objects that are totally beyond their scope of comprehension, celebrating the marvels of engineering, speed, and sonics. When I was a tiny human, my dad took me to an airshow in Duluth, right at the peak of Top Gun‘s popularity.

(A phenomenon that, regrettably, compelled me to spend way too much time with this broken-ass NES game and a VHS dub of Cocktail.)

I was incredibly stoked, not only to see mechanical contraptions that were bigger than houses and could bomb the hell out of brown people, but also to score some killer merch: My dad bought me a rad “Airborne” pin with a sweet skull on it and an SR-71 Blackbird trucker hat that was twice the size of my pelvis.

These things were awesome. Because I was a kid.

Now that I’m an adult–with the wherewithal to read books not titled Daredevil, the Man Without Fear–I find it insulting that an attraction largely driven by American tax dollars costs $20+ for the privilege to attend. In fact, the entire enterprise is off-putting. When an AIR SPECTACULAR rolls into your town, it’s basically like the military-industrial complex is pulling its lobbyist-greased ballsack out of its Dockers, slapping it across our collective forehead, and then insisting that we jam fistfuls of cash into its puckered, festering asshole.

Okay, that’s kind of gross. If you’d prefer not to worry about the $400 billion we’re spending on fighter jets (remember those epic dogfights with Al Qaeda and whoever the hell we were actually fighting in Iraq?) instead of things like education, transit, and health care, by all means, watch the big things go fast. After all, this is the time of year that we should be eating hot dogs, slamming domestic macrobrews, and bitching about real problems, like the 1.3% of food stamps lost to underground trafficking.

This is what we do on our…Independence Day.

(I saw Independence Day–affectionately referred to as ID4 by absolutely no one–on the day of its release in 1996. My friend Nathan and I promptly sold it to his family BBQ as “the greatest movie of all time.” Looking back, it’s definitely on the cusp of the Top Ten Films Featuring Judd Hirsch Playing a Caricature of Judd Hirsch.)

But even the most cynical critics of American excess can’t resist the charms of the Fourth of July. The lure of relaxing on the Northland’s freshwater shores with family and friends is simply too strong. What are we if we cannot break whiskey and hops with our loved ones? Life is too short to deprive ourselves of the most humanizing experiences, is it not?

So, in the interest of being a human, I set out to visit my people in Duluth–aunts, uncles, cousins, sisters, moms, dads–on July 3rd. Mostly by bicycle. Because what’s more American than riding a bike 110 miles from Hinckley to Island Lake for the opportunity to sip scotch and spew anarcho-communist rhetoric?

(Besides, well, everything.)

Thus, my life partner Toyota Corolla’d me to the Willard Munger trailhead in Hinckley–which is a WAY shittier town than the Grand Casino and Tobies billboards would have you believe–and I set about my journey.

I had eyes on trekking up the Willard Munger Trail for some time now, less as a recreational expedition and more of a way to haul ass to D-town without straining on our single-car household. My Duluthian obligations are running unusually high this summer, and not only would I like to avoid leaving Mean Gene carless for an entire weekend, but I hate driving because it is bad and terrible.

Thanks for the ride to Parts Unknown, G.

Thanks for the ride into Parts Unknown, G.

Anyway, here’s the thing about the Munger Trail: as a recreational expedition, it ain’t much of a conquest.

It’s bookended by a pair of 15-mile-ish stretches that are gorgeous for different reasons. The Hinckley-to-Rutledge portion alternates between treelined canopies and wide-open, untouched prairie views, while the final stretch from Carlton to not-quite Duluth (more on that later) runs alongside / through Jay Cooke State Park, where the views range from breathtaking to intimidating.

But that 40+ mile midsection that runs parallel to Highway 61? It’s just a straight. goddamn. line. If you don’t have friends or whiskey to keep you occupied, it’s…well, let’s take a look at some of the riveting terrain…

finlayson

…from Finlayson…

groningen

…to Groningen…

...to Willow River...

…to Willow River…

...to Moose Lake...

…to Moose Lake…

...through Carlton...

…through Carlton…

...and, finally, into the gates of Valhalla.

…and, finally, into the gates of Valhalla.

Getting a sense of the theme, here?

All of this banality makes the long-awaited, ever-so-slight descent from Jay Cooke into Duluth a hellacious reward. But once that rollercoaster of wilderness was complete, rather than being greeted with a warm welcome into my hometown–something like the beautiful crest into the harbor that glass-cagers are privileged when rolling in from Spirit Mountain–I was crushed by the encompassing maw of construction season.

The last 9 miles of the trail were closed. I had to hike up a staircase and plant myself on something called “Becks Road.”

On the wrong side of Spirit Mountain.

Next to a sign screaming, “DEMOLITION LANDFILL.”

Near 108th Avenue West.

In Gary / New Duluth.

Which any Duluthian knows isn’t actually Duluth, much less New Duluth. It’s the Pluto to Morgan Park’s Siberia.

Thus, after a maddening 75-mile trek, I was forced to cross the entire city. My only respite(s) were stopping at the mighty A & Dubs for replenishment…

IMG_20150703_172359230_HDR

…and pausing for photos with Hairball fans…

…before finally touching down in East Duluth to settle down with family and crush Bent Paddle by the pint.

It was a good–if brief–weekend, but the return journey wasn’t much better than the ride northward. Again, it’s more of a lets-get-from-point-A-to-point-B ride, best split by a night in this shelter 20 miles from the Hinckley trailhead…

IMG_20150703_123841705_HDR

…and best spent with other humans.

(Wannabe racers would hate this thing, too, because despite the straightaways, the asphalt is in relatively sketchy condition. My 32mm Panaracers roll over just about anything, but skinny-tire carbonites would torque their aerobars with impotent rage at having their taints battered by bumps.)

The lone oasis on this arduous trek was this country store in Mahtowa….

IMG_20150703_144702992_HDR

…which transforms into something of a bratwurst-fueled flea market on Sundays.

Needless to say, it was nice to land back in Mankato, but the weekend following the 4th was filled with a bit of trepidation. There was an inkling that my town / glorified neighborhood of North Mankato, in the throes of the Fun Days parade and festivities, would succumb to the kind of backwoods racism that emerged from Facebook commenters in the wake of that Albert Lea Confederate’s dick-waving cluelessness.

I was half-afraid that the people that pissed all over this since-scrubbed KEYC comment section (including a City of Mankato employee that was posting blatantly-racist memes) would descend upon Benderz and resurrect the Klan while middle-aged women got falling-down-drunk in front of Scrambler-sick children.

So, I kept my never-been-to-Fun-Days streak alive, and retreated indoors to watch a cocky Irishman TKO an all-American boy in the main event of what was possibly the greatest card in UFC history.

conor

Keep up the good work, America.

 

 

 

“Point” / Counterpoint: Mankato’s New Bike Lanes

mankatobike

Last week, the Mankato Free Press announced that the city was diving headfirst into bringing their cycling infrastructure into the 21st century. Predictably, comments on their Facebook page ranged from the ignorant to the willfully obtuse. Let’s take a look at a couple of the “best” offerings, shall we?

Hopefully the bicyclist [sic] start obeying traffic laws as well

This is a loaded-ass statement, and we’ll whittle it down to its essence in a few grafs. But for now, let’s take it at face value.

In bigger cities, a comment like this is typically in reference to bike messengers, a breed somehow mythologized as counter-cultural gods by the cycling community, despite a job description consisting of shuttling documents and food to usurious leeches. (I guess risking life and limb for the white-collar elite is the upper echelon of non-doping cycling careers.)

But in a town like Mankato, door-handle skitchers and reckless lane-splitters are as rare as nuanced opinions on institutionalized racism. More common? Cyclists that are forced to shift between vehicular rules and pedestrian rules on the fly. Despite what some may think, this annoys cyclists as much as it annoys drivers.

Without proper infrastructure, there are two ways to minimize this dance of duality:

1) Ride your bike on the sidewalk

This is not recommended, because a) it’s WAY more dangerous than you realize, b) it’s a dick move to pedestrians, c) it’s actually illegal in most business districts according to Minnesota state law, and d) it makes you look like you either have eight DUIs or are celebrating your eighth birthday. Please, please, please don’t do this.

2) Ride on the street, with traffic, at all times

This is recommended. But what about those instances where designated, off-street paved paths for pedestrians and cyclists are available for use? Why wouldn’t you want to use those? (I mean, aside from the fact[s] that the pavement is poorly-maintained and peppered with earbudded power-walkers, tiny dogs, and curious toddlers.) Any respite you can get from boorish, speeding drivers is welcome, right?

Trouble is, if you’re going to use these paths in Mankato, you’ll also have utilize that reviled vehicle law / pedestrian law juke.

Example: On my commute home from work in upper North Mankato, there’s a paved path on Carlson Drive that runs adjacent to Benson Park. I can ride it against traffic, until I get to my right turn on Lor Ray. Then, I’ll have to acknowledge the stop sign on the opposite side of the street and pretend I’m a pedestrian while using the crosswalk, only to ride that path on Lor Ray for a mere two blocks before I have to jump over the curb and get back into the street when the path comes to a halt.

If your eyes just glazed over, that’s fine. All you need to know is that in the span of six blocks, I’ve just annoyed both myself and anyone operating a vehicle around me while attempting to use a path that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars per mile. (And don’t get me started on trying to jump onto the Lee Boulevard bike path from the left-turn lane on Lor Ray. Just try it yourself sometime. But watch out for those SUVs that reeeeeeeally don’t want to come to a complete stop at the top of the hill when they get spanked with that red light.)

The point is this: Put the proper infrastructure in place, and people will obey the laws and proceed in an orderly fashion. In this spirit, the commenter is correct; with painted bike lanes in place, cyclists will be more likely to obey traffic laws, because the traffic laws are actually taking them into account.

Now, as I alluded above, that’s not the true context of this comment. Thinly veiled, this comment is basically “get on the sidewalk, idiot! If you can’t obey the rules, get off the road!

This sentiment ignores the fact(s) that, honestly, everyone sucks at following traffic laws to the letter. But when people in 2,000-pound steel death machines break ’em, the consequences are a little more dire. Let’s check these stats from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, shall we?

Minnesota Motor Vehicle Crash Facts 2013 Highlights:

The state’s 2013 fatality rate is .68 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled.

The 387 fatalities involve motorists (269); motorcyclists (60); pedestrians (35); bicyclists (6); ATV riders (7); farm equipment occupants (5); snowmobile riders (2) and three unknown vehicle types.

Of the 387 fatalities, 81 (21%) were known to be drunk-driving related.

Of the 387 fatalities, 76 (20%) were known to be speed related.

Of the 387 fatalities, 68 (18%) were known to be distracted driving related.

In 2013, there were 30,653 people injured in traffic crashes, of which 1,216 were severe and life altering.

If you’re really concerned with people obeying traffic laws, cyclists shouldn’t be of primary concern. Drunk driving, texting behind the wheel, and negligence of speed limits are far more damaging to public health, so maybe start with your fellow motorists before throwing shade at the commuters that barely break 12 mph.

Instead of holding motor vehicle operators more accountable, some commenters had other ideas:

I wonder how the bikers are going to pay their fair share of taxes for these lanes? Maybe a fee on bike licenses may help pay the bill?

picard

*deep breaths*

Okay, setting aside the obvious hypocrisy in this statement–as it’s usually lobbed by small-government conservatives that loathe public projects and taxation in general–there’s only one point you need to make in arguing against bike licenses:

Riding a bike on pavement is not an inherently dangerous activity, and a bicycle does not require a specialized set of skills to operate.

License requirements are rooted in public safety. While an 80-year-old grandma probably shouldn’t get getting behind the wheel of her Buick crossover, she can do it. However, there’s no way in hell she’ll pass a test to operate a cube van or an 18-wheeler.

Anyone can get a job at a warehouse, but the weird kid that wears Jeff Hardy arm-warmers and eats cat food probably isn’t going to be allowed on a forklift.

And any anti-intellectual jackwagon can comment on a news article via Facebook, but they don’t just let any asshole have their own blog. (Wait…)

I digress.

But you get what I’m chasing after, right? The more skill and risk involved in operating a certain piece of equipment, the more stringent the regulations for operation.

This commenter doesn’t want to license cyclists due to safety concerns, but as a way to generate revenue, a floodgate that was opened by politicians too cowardly to raise taxes.

See, the “logic” is, cars pay their way on the roads through gas taxes, registration fees, and license renewals…

except they don’t, and it’s not even close.

So anyone that thinks that bicycles should have to “pay for bike lanes”–the way safer, way cheaper alternative to off-road pathways–should chill out and be thankful that there’s one less car on the road that will create potholes, burn gas, and delay your trip to Taco John’s for 3.5 seconds.

And, you know, realize that cyclists pay sales taxes, income taxes, and property taxes just like everyone else. Most of them even own cars. They’re people. Just like you.

But probably in better shape.

A College Town Comes of Age: Mankato’s New Bike Lanes

bike lane sm

For a city that likes to refer to itself as a “biking destination,” Mankato–in its current incarnation–is woefully behind the times in regards to cycling infrastructure. Most mocked the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the two-block bike lane in Lower North, but that baby step turned out to be just that. According to the Mankato Free Press, the city is going all-in on two-wheel transport:

By the end of 2016, bikers will have a nearly unbroken route of dedicated bike lanes stretching the length of the city within the Minnesota River Valley — from Highway 14 to West High School.

And within five years, 40 miles of bike lanes covering 20 miles of streets will tie virtually every corner of the city to the system or to bike trails connected to the system.

And there was much rejoicing. Well, mostly. (More on that later.)

But, seriously, this is monumental. To date, the biggest hindrance facing Mankato’s relevance to greater Minnesota has been its outmoded ambition for suburban sprawl. Since I moved here nearly eight years ago, most of this city’s investments have been focused on outward expansion, creating venues for box stores and strip malls connected by miniature highways.

This is symptomatic of a generational defect, a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses thirst for consumption and one-upsmanship. Similar to the weirdly unquenchable thirst for a 2.5-kid family complete with a quarter-million-dollar McMansion, a pair of bank-owned SUVs, and the latest array of home theater equipment purchased via Capital One, Mankato has been little-sistering itself against the likes of Rochester and Bloomington, leaking out from its core instead of embracing the renaissance of downtown revitalization.

Now, many of you SUV-owning, Jimmy-John’s-and-Five-Guys-devouring citizens might be asking yourselves:

What’s wrong with that, you hipster prick?

Well, nothing, I guess, other than the fact(s) that it’s a vaguely depressing and blatantly homogenous. existence. When you force conformity upon a populace under the guise of economic development, an absence of culture becomes the status quo, and local businesses suffer. And then? People leave. (Minneapolis isn’t that far away, right?)

Case in point: Until very recently, I kept one foot out of Mankato’s door at all times, because I was blinded to what made this city special.

(Obviously, I hadn't been to CherryBerry yet.)

(Obviously, I hadn’t been to CherryBerry yet.)

The revelation was slow, but it was significant: I didn’t truly enjoy living in Mankato until I started commuting by bicycle daily. Eleven months ago. That means I basically just survived in this town for the better part of a decade. But you know what? I’m glad I did. Because once I got out and experienced the best this town had to offer from beyond the confines of a glass n’ steel cage, I fell in love.

Well, at least like. Let’s go with “like.”

Thing is, it’s impossible fall in like with a city’s quirks when you’re merely shuttling yourself from chain store to chain store. But when you can chain together visits to locally-owned establishments on Front Street, Old Town, and Lower North? It actually feels like you’re part of something greater than yourself.

It’s easier said than done, though. For a small city, Mankato is curiously disjointed. There are thriving businesses in the Front Street “entertainment district,” Old Town is looking the best it has in years–with the advent of Mom & Pop’s and Friesen’s, coupled with the city council’s subtle-ish whip-cracking upon Midtown and the Ole–and Lower North continues to be the most charming corner of the city. Yet, they remain islands unto themselves. These areas are too spread out to comfortably traverse by foot (at least in the midst of winter), and driving to each region is not only a wasteful pain in the ass, but parking is a major issue.

Bike lanes are a perfect, too-obvious solution. Hopefully, this marks a sea change in Mankato’s development style, and local businesses and loyal residents can reap the benefits of the taxes generated by chain restaurants and out-of-town shoppers over the past decade or so.

In the short term, at least, this rollout gives the impression that the “Complete Streets Plan” is on the right track; following the successful Front Street re-vamp, the city’s seemingly scored two victories in a row.

Now if only its citizens would realize it.

[Coming soon! In-depth rebuttals to asinine, unoriginal comments on the Free Press’ Facebook page regarding bicycles. Stay tuned!

‘Til then, go see Nato Coles and the Blue Diamond Band at the NaKato on Saturday and buy me a beer.]

Springtime in Kato, Part Two: Strava and Scotch Eggs

weightlossbiking_2

It happens every year. EVERY. YEAR.

There’s this fleeting rush of springtime warmth in March, a brief period where we Minnesotans can bask in sixty-degree weather for a couple days like normal humans. We’re lulled into a false sense of comfort, only to get smacked in the coccyx by more ice and more snow and more cold and more bullshit.

But that springwave could’ve been for good this year, right? Right? I mean, most people that aren’t chairmen of United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works yet funded by British Petroleum are kinda resigned to the fact that the planet is basically melting. It was at least feasible that we could’ve been gifted with an early spring. (And, yes, I know that climate and weather aren’t the same thing, but hope is blind. And deaf. And dumb. Very, very dumb.)

Anyway, this is the second (and final) post with the word “springtime” in the title, yet this morning’s commute was punctuated by mashing up an ice-glazed Lee Boulevard only to get freeze-spanked by a 17-degree windchill administered at 35 mph.

Want proof? Check my Strava profile, BRO.

For the uninitiated, Strava is basically the last.fm of cycling. Some people claim it’s the Facebook of cycling, but until it becomes the pulpit of choice for turncoat Gen X-ers with strident, not-really-racist-but-totally-racist opinions on Kanye West and state-deployed revenue generators, the last.fm comparison stands.

It works like this: Before you head out on a ride, you fire up the app (using One Tap Record, if you know what’s up) and your sweatshop-forged intelligent device will track your route, distance, and other precious statistics. Like how long it takes to get a six-pack of Lagunitas when you’re waiting for your girlfriend to finish an episode of the X-Files featuring Agent Doggett.

For some people, these things really matter. Personally, I find the idea of techifying an outdoor activity…gross-ish, at best

However, I’m a novice. I’ve only been pedaling daily for about 10 months. I ride a hybrid. And I try my damnedest to float in the neutral zone between insufferable hipster and insufferable Lycra sausage. I’m not the target market.

Put simply, I’m just a dude that rides a bike, same as I’m a dude that listens to grindcore and black metal. It’s just a thing that I like to do, not something that consumes my identity.

Strava is optimized for people that make cycling their identity. Take these nerds, for instance:

strava2

You know who owns Lycra, dudes? The Koch brothers. I wonder how they feel about progressive infrastructure…?

They’re like a two-wheeled brutal death metal band. Clones to the bone.

So, while the majority of Strava users are wannabe racers and amateur triathletes puffed up with the baffling competitiveness of an “elite” beer-league softball squad, I’m using Strava solely to track my commuting mileage. I’ve been car-free for a few months now, and as we’re approaching bearable weather, my numbers are going to be skewed a bit with recreational rides. Thus, now is a good time to take a snapshot of practical mileage.

Including a small handful of 20 and 30 mile weekend excursions, my commuting numbers since late January look something like this:

Year-to-Date
Distance 579.5 mi
Time 54h 33m
Elev Gain 16,020 ft
Rides 112

 

Instead of being shocked at how much money I’m saving in gasoline expenses, the biggest revelation is how little time and distance is actually required to travel to crucial destinations in the Mankato area. While eliminating fossil fuel consumption is a huge bonus, in reality, the biggest money-dumps in Mankato car ownership are 1) monthly insurance payments, and 2) the inevitable yearly maintenance, regardless of your vehicle’s age.

Obviously, what is ideal for one individual isn’t universal. But is individual car ownership really worth the cost of convenience in a town that’s so accessible?

Until you detach yourself from the cultural norm of one-person-one-car culture (and this is a relatively new phenomenon, remember), it’s difficult to view this city’s adherence to car-centric transit as anything other than normal. But there’s nowhere in this town that can’t be accessed by bicycle in roughly half an hour.

Sure, you could save 10-ish minutes traveling by car. But you’ll spend that 20 bitching about other drivers and suffering through A Prairie Home Companion. It’ll suck.

"On the shores of the Minnesota River, Mankatooooooooozzzzzzzzzzzzzeeeee............"

“On the shores of the Minnesota-urm River-er-hm, Mankatooooooooozzzzzzzzzzzzz…………”

As I screamed previously, if our city’s leaders are going to field practical, forward-thinking approaches to infrastructure, they’re going to place a premium on data over anecdotes.

Thus, I’ll keep tracking my progress via Strava throughout 2015, plugging along at 12 mph in digital “competition” with people that insist on turning serene country roads into midlife-crisis racetracks.

That calorie-burn tracker will come in handy, though, ’cause at long last…THE SCOTCH EGG HAS RETURNED TO MANKATO.

bicker

Now, this town lacks a lot of things: Tolerance. A dedicated music venue. Bike lanes. Italians that can cook. Criticism of our elected officials by the local press. But most egregiously, we couldn’t get a scotch egg around here for the better part of a decade.

Until now.

Nestled into a prime location behind Number 4 (which, despite an earlier observation, now sucks at brunch, too) and adjacent to a strip club, The Bicker Inn fills the glaring Irish pub void in Mankato’s bar/grill landscape.

Not only do they serve a pretty wicked scotch egg (though a tad lean on the sausage), but they also tap into an inexplicably ignored arena in Kato-area pub grub: The hot dog.

Every half-and-whole-assed kitchen in this town serves some combination of burgers, wings, chicken, burgers, and wings, yet somehow goes out of its way to avoid tubed meat. Not the Bicker Inn. Here, each specialty burger is also served as BACON-WRAPPED HOT DOG. And yes, you can get a scotch egg ON your bacon-wrapped hot dog, too.

Really, the only thing missing in this place is a shrine to “The Notorious” Conor McGregor, but I’m sure that’ll be on tap once he starches the heretofore unbeatable Jose Aldo and snatches the UFC featherweight championship.

".....aaaaaand NEW..."

“…..aaaaaand NEW…”

But I digress. Go to the Bicker Inn, and go there often. Sure, drink prices are semi-astronomical, but dammit, building a bar from scratch is tough business, and the BACON-WRAPPED HOT DOGS are only like eight bucks, side included.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to attempt to stave off this heart attack by riding my bicycle. See you in the streets, Mankato.

Merry springtime.

Nicollet Bike Shop’s Big Strava Experiment

nicbike

For someone that enjoys cycling yet keeps considerable distance from its “culture” and/or anything resembling “sport,” Strava is inherently gross. Riding a bike is fun. You know what kills a hobby’s fun factor? Adding numbers and a sense of obligation.

And while Nicollet Bike Shop is my nearest LBS, the super-shiny, polo-shirtedness of the place lends it all the cozy hometown feel of a Honda dealership. (My allegiance belongs to Flying Penguin, where fluorescent lights with wonky ballasts shine lovingly upon a crooked Glen Plake poster from 1993.)

Thus, diving into a stat-tracking app at the behest of the local Fred Haven isn’t really something that I found initially appealing, but under the surface, the 2015 Nicollet Bike Miles Challenge seems like a pretty rad undertaking.

At first glance, the description of this challenge might not make it enticing to someone that wouldn’t be caught dead on a group ride.

Via Facebook:

Starting January 1 2015 through December 31, 2015 Nicollet Bike Shop will track and reward area riders for their outdoor cycling efforts. At the end of 2015 riders will be rewarded based on mileage thresholds they achieve. Levels of recognition will be 1000+ miles, 2000+, 3000+, and 5000+ miles. Awards to be announced will be given out at the end of 2015 based on miles ridden in 2015.

The act of riding is rewarding enough in and of itself, and I’m not keen on twisting my daily commute into a competition. But the full press release makes a compelling case for participation, despite using two spaces after each period.

From the Mankato Times:

Our suspicion is that there are a lot more active riders and cycling miles than we think out there.  By coming together through the bike shop space and online social network technologies like: Strava, Instagram, Facebook etc., we can celebrate and showcase the wonderful active outdoor community we have.  We can’t wait to see how BIG this number will get; we think we can really put Mankato on the map by giving the community a chance with events like the 2015 Nicollet Bike Miles Challenge.

It’s been said that the most effective form of cycling advocacy is simply riding your bike; being seen by other humans while using the roads. (Though the”being seen” part can be something of a struggle, especially when encountering Buick operators.) But in a town like Mankato, creating a social media database of riders and their mileage could have practical implications.

Our town’s infrastructure is in flux (or should we say…caught in a Tailwind?), but city management is placing little importance becoming more bike-friendly. The recent Front Street renovation was a largely wonderful thing for storefronts, but unless riders start making themselves visible, every new street in Mankato is going to be modeled after the half-assed sharrows on that block.

If Mankato is to grow into the cycling-friendly city it pretends to want to be, we’re going to have to do everything we can to make potential investment seem worthwhile. When the city’s travel guide prominently features someone salmoning the freaking sidewalk, peacocking ourselves to old people in SUVs is the bare minimum. Setting up an “athlete profile” (ha!) and hitting a button on your phone could help raise awareness. Keeping future city projects in mind, it’s best to recognize that the political-corporate engine loves proposals backed by numbers.

Sometimes, you just have to play ball.

The club page can be found here. Give it a shot. But please: If you’re currently indifferent about your times, keep it that way. Competition is lame.