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How to increase bike use if you don't actually want to use one

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A boy stops on his bike and watches traffic on 14th Street Northeast in Rochester last September. The road was repaved and restriped with a dedicated bike lane marked. (Post Bulletin file photo)

I’m not going to ask you to take up biking for transportation.

I admit to being a wimp this winter, but for more than half the year, I bike or walk most of the time I’m getting around town. It saves me money on fuel, gym membership and, likely, therapy.

Transportation is the biggest source of carbon emission in the U.S. A single passenger car emits 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide on average per year.

Despite these benefits to me personally, I generally don’t proselytize about biking as a choice mode of transportation. I understand many factors play into the decision to bike. Decades of city designs that accommodate only cars don't help, either.

The main reason I don’t push other people to choose biking is drivers’ behavior. I can come up with counterarguments for almost every excuse (even though I make many of those same excuses, too). Driver behavior around people on bikes is beyond my control and the most dangerous factor.

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I’ve watched people go from " interested but concerned " to hanging up their bikes except for recreational rides on designated trails due entirely to driver behavior on the roads.

So, as much as I’d like to advocate for biking, I think it’s better to address drivers than push for cycling.

Cars get you to places quickly; they can also kill instantly. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 66% of all "preventable" cycling deaths in 2017 involved motor vehicles.

However, most of the instructions we see about bike safety tend to focus on the vulnerable victim, not on drivers.

Several laws are on the books protecting cyclists, but most don’t appear on the Department of Motor Vehicles driver's test. Some highlights from Minnesota laws include:

  • Giving people on bikes a minimum of 3 feet distance when passing.
  • It is illegal to open a car door into the path of someone on a bike.
  • People on bikes (and motorcycles) go through red lights after coming to a stop if the light is triggered by a sensor.
  • It is illegal to drive or park a car in a designated bike lane.

Beyond the Minnesota statutes, there are practical things drivers should know about sharing roads with bikes:

  • The sidewalk isn’t safer. Riding a bike on a sidewalk can be hazardous to pedestrians and to the rider. In downtown, it’s actually prohibited.
  • People on bikes can sometimes proceed through a red light.
  • Bike lanes aren’t always safer. This time of year, especially, bike lanes can be full of sand and debris. Sometimes, too, it’s safer to be visible in the street than invisible in a bike lane.
  • People on bikes don’t want to be "treated like cars" — we want to be treated like humans. We want to be able to occupy space on the road without our lives being threatened.

Drivers learning bike-passing and road-sharing best practices can be the most effective change to help save lives, improve the comfort of cycling and encourage bike use.

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Greenspace — John Molseed column sig

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