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?
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
(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.