On February 18, 1963, an episode of "The Andy Griffith Show" centered around Opie's new friend Arnold, a rich kid with an expensive bike and a penchant for riding it on the sidewalk in bustling downtown Mayberry.
After Arnold has near-misses with several business owners and shoppers -- including Aunt Bee -- Sheriff Taylor is forced to take action. He confiscates the brat's bike, and in the process Opie learns important lessons about respect for the law, the value of a dollar and the futility of throwing temper tantrums.
Fifty-four years later, we're dealing with the same issue in downtown Rochester -- and perhaps the good sheriff of Mayberry was onto something.
There's little gray area in Minnesota state law. Bicyclists are prohibited from using sidewalks in business districts because they present a real hazard to pedestrians and anyone stepping out of a street-level business.
One could argue that this is especially true in Rochester, where downtown sidewalks are used by hundreds of thousands of out-of-towners every year. People in an unfamiliar city are more likely to be checking their phones or make unexpected changes in direction as they attempt to navigate, so the last thing they need is to be sharing the sidewalk with bicyclists.
The state law, however, is almost never enforced in Rochester. That needs to change.
That's why we strongly support an effort by Rochester Public Works to raise awareness among bicyclists that downtown sidewalks are off-limits. That department is working with the city's Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee to determine the best way to spread the message, which could include street signs and/or stencils on the very sidewalks that bicyclists are supposed to avoid.
The goal of this campaign would be to gently nudge bicyclists off the sidewalks and onto the streets where they belong, but we also have no problem with the idea that once awareness of the law has been achieved, chronic offenders should be subject to some form of penalty -- perhaps even confiscation of their bicycles. That would be the consequence of last resort, but human nature tells us that without the possibility of consequences, some people will ignore even the most well-meaning laws.
Make no mistake -- we like the fact that Rochester is becoming more bicycle-friendly. As more and more people work downtown in the coming decade, we hope to see a big increase in the need for bike racks, which cost a lot less than parking ramps.
But the sidewalks must be safe for pedestrians, whether they're moms pushing strollers or clinic patients taking a stroll between appointments.
Keep in mind that bicyclists who commute three or four miles to the downtown area, then feel unsafe on Broadway or Second Street, have an easy option: Get off the bikes and walk them down the sidewalk to reach their destinations.
The bottom line is that bicycles are vehicles. Their operators have rights, but they also have responsibilities to operate those vehicles safely and within the law.