Word on the Streets

To Helmet or Not to Helmet

A woman working as a bicycle messenger was fatally struck by a delivery truck in San Francisco earlier this week. She was not wearing a helmet. This incident, according to the San Francisco Examiner, has opened up the bicycle helmet debate in that community on both mandatory and voluntary helmet use.

According to the story http://www.sfexaminer.com/local/2011/07/san-francisco-cyclists-death-rekindles-helmet-policy-debate, the advantage of bicycle helmet use is widely known and straight forward: bicycle helmets significantly reduce the rate of serious injury or death for those who wear them and are involved in a bicycle accident. The story also listed four reasons not to wear a bicycle helmet, and I must confess, some of these reasons are new to me.

1. Bicycle helmets provide a false sense of security and thereby encourages reckless bicycle riding.

2. Bicycle helmet wearers are passed more closely by motorists than non-helmet wearers.

3. If people are forced by law or custom to wear bicycle helmets, some potential cyclists will rebel and refuse to ride at all thereby depriving all bicyclists of numbers that would make it safer for all bicyclists on the road.

4. Bicycle helmet wearers look “dorky.”

In my opinion, as one who has been thrown from a bike with his head hitting the street wearing a helmet, the helmet use side of the equation is significantly more favorable than the non-helmet use side. But, I would be interested if others could list additional reasons for not wearing a helmet.

Regarding mandatory bicycle helmet laws, given the libertarian streak that appears to prevail in contemporary American society, I doubt if a mandatory helmet bill could be passed and/or signed by a governor in this state. However, I could see in the not too distant future, health insurance plans extracting a substantial deductible for their policyholders involved in a bicycle accident that requires emergency room medical attention or hospitalization where the policyholder was not wearing a bicycle helmet. What do others think?

These opinions are mine alone and do not represent any position of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition.


Mpls Park Board Questions Part 2: Seriously???

Did you get shouted off the West River Road parkway trail by MPRB maintenance staff this morning, too?

Around 8:00 this morning, half an hour into an lovely early morning ride, I was feeling calmed by the river views.  Without warning, around 24th St. East just south of Franklin Avenue, the trail was blocked by several MPRB trucks, a few cones, and some maintenance staff - one of whom was angrily yelling "Closed!  Closed!" at commuters and other riders.

It looked like they were pruning trees.

It was rush hour.  The trail was packed with commuters.  As was the parkway.  There was no warning at a point appropriate to detour off the trail.  And did I mention the heavy traffic on the parkway?  The MPRB trucks were parked making a blind spot on the trail - you couldn't see what was on the road or whether bikes were coming from the other direction.

Do you suppose MPRB would close down West River Road during rush hour to prune trees without marking a detour, or try to detour traffic by putting an angry dude in the middle of the street yelling, "Closed!  Closed!"  Does the Park Board really approve of its employees yelling angrily at park users? I'm guessing not on both accounts.  (Hmmm... and would staff be willing to follow those orders?)

This is not the first time I've found a major commuting route inadequately marked/detoured for pruning during rush hour; last time it was in Loring Park.

This experience was especially ironic given the blog post I put up early this morning, "Questions for the Park Board."  It led me to ruminate a bit more during the remainder of my ride, and I have a couple additional questions.

I love biking to Minneapolis beaches with kids - the one just south of the boathouse on Calhoun is perfect, with its playground.  However, once there, it's tough to get home.  I'm a fan of the one-way trails, but for my 7-year-old niece, biking all the way around the lake to get home is too far, hauling bikes up the steep stairs to ride on the busy parkway is beyond her, and I'm not a fan of biking on the pedestrian path or riding the wrong way on the bike path.  Got any suggestions?

Lastly, can you get some Nice Ride kiosks similar to these rentals found in Minnehaha Park?  I understand the Grand Rounds is on the National Historic Register, and there may be some concerns on that front, but I'm pretty sure the big parking lots aren't historic, and the razor wire around the lock and dam at the Stone Arch Bridge isn't historic, and the playgrounds aren't historic.  Anyone willing to make odds that Wheel Fun Rentals is?

This morning, I felt relief when I got off the West River Road trail and back onto Hennepin County's Cedar Lake Trail.  When I realized that, I felt very sad.  MPRB, please go out of your way to welcome cyclists.  Not just me, but also bicycle commuters, tourists and locals using Nice Ride, and my nieces who just want to swim.

Mpls Park Board: Thanks! Oh and I Have a Few Questions

One thing the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition hasn't focused on much is Minneapolis Park Board infrastructure. As I ride, I wonder why they make some of the choices they do - am I the only one?

Maybe the best place to start is to explain who builds/runs what. Riding around, I have a mental map of "Bike Routes," but it's not actually a unified whole. There are three different governments building and maintaining cycling infrastructure in Minneapolis:

I know I seldom go anywhere very far from home, either for errands and meetings or for pleasure rides, without spending at least some time on an MPRB trail.  It's a great street-separated system, and some have argued it's the reason Minneapolis has such high cycling rates, or that the ratio of women:men is more even than anywhere else in the US.

Although I love those trails, some things about them puzzle me.

First off, why is there a 10 mph speed limit on trails? My less-than-10 friend, Isaiah, rides 11-12 mph on average, so it can't be about kids.  I once heard an MPRB staffer acknowledge it was too slow, so why does it stay?

What's with marking hazards but not fixing them?  Anyone else seen the white/orange squiggly warnings of deep cracks around the Lake Calhoun trail?

I'm happy to see that they've shifted their bike rack standards to more modern, functional designs.  I hope they systematically switch out all the old, wheel-bender racks still found at beaches and rec centers around the system.

Hennepin County and the City seem to adopt traditional road design standards for striping and signing.  MPRB seems to have their own system - that I don't understand.

Why do they sometimes paint trails with green, sometimes with white, and once in a while with yellow?  (The yellow seems to be reserved for very special situations, like where they accidentally painted the trail so lampposts are in the middle of one lane, and they repainted striping in yellow to highlight the danger.)

Why do the width of cut-outs along the trails where they cross driveways or intersect with other trails vary in design?  Some are as wide as the path (ideal) and others throat down so narrowly that only half the width of the trail is usable at the intersection?  It's fine if you don't meet another cyclist, but when my 9-year-old niece met an adult at one today, the adult had to stop and wait.  When you meet someone hauling a trailer, it's best if you know how to hop a curb.

For an overly-specific gripe, but as an excuse to include a pretty picture, the planking by the Mill City Museum is downright irksome.  I noticed that it was annoying enough for drivers, they removed all but a crosswalks worth, though I find it worse on a bike than in a car.

In the winter, I puzzle about maintenance.  I usually commute through Loring Park.  Am I the only who has been trapped in three inches of crusty snow where the plow missed the trail?  And there is an incredible amount of gravel and sand and rocks on the path parallel to Lyndale (across from the Walker and Loring Park).  I don't think it's from winter, but I'm not sure.

Finally, something that seems small but I find big. Where are you supposed to report things that need fixing?  311 won't take park concerns.  I found this most frustrating last summer when construction equipment was parked - for weeks at a time - along the West River Road trail creating blind, forced, wrong-way riding in the street.  When I called 311 to report the danger, they told me to call the Park Board... which was closed.

I'm starting to feel like a whiner.  I guess when you have it as good as we do with the incredible MPRB trail system, it's easy to focus on the small things that could be better.

What do you wonder about when you ride the marvelous MPRB system?  Or, am I the only one?

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