Last week, police pulled a bicyclist off I-694 in the northern Twin Cities. You know, for biking on the interstate.
According to a report, the 50-something man — "just a nice guy out riding his bike" who didn't know the law, according to police — had started out on the right lane during his early morning spin, then moved to an inside lane before getting pulled over.
I've included a traffic cam image of the stunt because I realize some readers thought this is what it meant for me to ride my bike on North Broadway, as I did last month, then complain about the infrastructurewhen I rode into a vertical storm grate and got thrown to the sidewalk.
After making my feelings known on the battered stagecoach trail that bisects our urban core, I received many expressions of kindness and support, more than I am used to as a child who grew up one of seven. (For the record, I'm all better now, though check back with my cognitive function in 20 years.)
But the presence of a robust blamey streak in the online feedback piqued my curiosity. In so many words, several readers said it was foolhardy to ride on that road, that it was obviously a road for cars and cars alone, so I deserved what I got.
I guess it comes down to whether you believe people ought to be able to bike safely in the heart of a thriving metropolis for a six block trip, taking the shortest legal distance between two points. Which in this case was Broadway.
Calling to account
One caller said I shouldn't have advised bicyclists to ride on the sidewalk, because it's dangerous to pedestrians. He's right, of course, but if the roads aren't safe for bicyclists, this is what we are going to get.
One reader asked if I was wearing a helmet, and if not, what business I had writing a health column. Her intel was correct: I was not wearing a helmet, and am back on my bike today without a helmet, though I do wear them if I bike in the woods.
While I make my kids wear helmets, I ride the way I did in the 1970s because the data regarding the effectiveness of helmets in real-world settings is not very strong. (In my case, landing curb to the cheek, a helmet wouldn't have helped.)
I am also of the mind that our helmet culture reduces cycling. Helmets tell us bicycling is a dangerous affair that requires advanced technology and gear. The bike-sharing program under consideration for Rochester will presume a lot of no-helmet riders. Helmets also mess up your hair.
I guess that makes me shallow. If these positions disqualify me to write about health, I will just clarify that I am a health reporter, but not an evangelist or role model for health, because that's too heavy a burden for a man who likes the kind of peanut butter you do not have to stir.
Finally, one reader suggested I read a bicyclist's handbook, the part where it says I should have stayed out of the gutter. I appreciate these efforts to organize human behavior for more safety, but I'd rather we organize the roads for more safety. Cities should be safe as the default option, because a lot of people will never read the handbook for getting down the street in one piece. Good design should make it hard to get hurt.
Which is what Rochester Public Works is trying to do with Broadway, starting along the very stretch where I crashed. Broadway was given to the city two years ago from its previous owner, the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
MnDOT handed Rochester the roadway and $26 million, then wished us well. Last week Dillon Dombrovski, construction manager for Rochester Public Works, presented a proposed redesign of the road from WalMart South to 37th Street North, excluding the urban center between U.S. 14 and Civic Center Drive.
The plan would bring the road into alignment with the city's Complete Streets policy, making it safer for cars, bikes, users of transit and pedestrians. It would add cycle tracks, wider sidewalks, better bus stops, fewer left turns, landscaped medians and better lighting. Public Works presented the plan last week to CUDE, the Committee on Urban Design and the Environment. Public Works expects to present the plan to the city council for an adoption vote in late September or October.
The 15- or 30-year project, estimated to cost $87 million or $102 million, would take place in segments and be funded using the MnDOT money, state gas tax funds and assessments of property owners. I have seen the plans and they are inspiring. They would raise the property value of nearby businesses and protect the health of all who use them.
'Like a highway in spots'
"It really is kind of like a highway in spots," Dombrovski said regarding Broadway. "We asked how could it transition into an aesthetically pleasing corridor that will help us meet the needs of all users, not just vehicles."
The storm grate that got me, Dombrovski said, is an outdated model, but too prevalent to swap out without spending a lot of money.
"That was a pretty common style back in the day. People weren't talking about bike-friendly roads," he said. LIke many others, Dombrovski was sympathetic to my tale, but saw me as being on the same level as that guy with a bike on 694. "Yeah, I'm surprised you were on Broadway," he said.
"I ride my bike to work every day from north of Silver Lake, but I don't travel it."