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.
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.
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.]