Under the Guise Of Concern

I don’t know why I like the letter format so much for posting, but I do.

This letter below began life as a letter and not a blog post appearing to be a letter. It is about our friends at the one-car-fits-all agency pulling together like-minded people behind closed car doors to make a clever bicycle law decree that on its face sounds like it is a really good idea, but is not. In this case, their premise is that old laws need to be updated. Actually, once injected with a truth serum that would change to old laws that we never used because they made us do things we did not want to do….need to be eviscerated and set aside for the new model we have in mind. Yes, the shiny object approach!

Let’s see what my legislators respond with. They are great at sending a quick reply thanking me for whatever I’ve sent, but that’s typically where it stops. This letter was also sent to a number of people who are, or would appear to be, in positions or organizations  that might keep them from speaking up. I was hoping they might be able to help behind the scenes. Like the Legislators…let’s see what happens.

Dear Senator Chamberlain and Representative Dean,

A recent email blast to members from BikeMN tipped me off about the The Bicycle Law Advisory Task Force and their work to update key State bicycle laws.

Upon receiving this email I inquired about which laws and what changes were being suggested. BikeMN’s executive Director Dorian Grilley answered by email and forwarded to me the draft changes to 85.016 BICYCLE TRAIL PROGRAM and some other supporting information about the Task Force.The changes I read about would eliminate a key statute (160.265) and alter supporting rules (8810). Prior to receipt of the email I was unaware of the formation of the Task Force by MnDOT and its mission.

Having reviewed the Task Forces’ proposed changes and the language of the statues and rules being eliminated or altered, I am writing to ask that the State/Governor not accept these proposed bike law changes for several reasons.

1.The structure of the current Advisory Task Force does not adequately represent women / the female perspective on what makes bicycling safe and the related laws required. In short, the current advisory committee make-up, when compared to previous bicycling advisory committees, is going backward. For example:

Current Make-up of 2015 Task Force
18 Men
3 Women
0 Disabled, senior or people of color identified

1977 Advisory Committee for Bicycling
20 Men
9 Women
1 Disabled Person Identified
0 Seniors or people of color identified

I have to ask…how many of the people on the current Task Force are employees of MnDOT or are being compensated in some way by MnDOT?

2. There was a lack of transparency in the work of the Task Force. Minnesota Legislators have worked hard over the years to put on the books balanced laws to direct MnDOT and other agencies in the State’s pursuit to incrementally advance a more extensive alternative transportation infrastructure for everyone. These changes should be reflective of more public debate.

3. The Task Force is citing the age of the laws as a primary reason they need to be changed. It is difficult to trouble shoot or improve something that is not being used. Did MnDOT proactively apply 160.265 in 1977-78 when it became law? Did the agency integrate it into the planning of all of its projects? It would seem not. Because if it had, 39 years later we would be well on our way to a transportation system that routinely considered bicycles as an alternative means of transportation in its daily planning at the project level. The Human Element would have become part of the Transportation Department’s DNA decades ago starting the siphon ensuring consideration of non-motorized traffic in all state highway projects.

4. Regressive nature of the changes being suggested. Elimination of 160.265 and alteration of the 8810 rules erases huge strides made in State bicycling law and is actually counter productive to upholding and strengthening bike system development. Many of the Task Forces’ changes also do not not reflect the State of Minnesota’s values and mission of pursuing equal opportunity, open government, environmental stewardship and protection of vulnerable travelers in our state. Clearly, there is a reason that 160.265 is titled BIKEWAY PROGRAM. To remove this statute and substitute 160.266 MISSISSIPPI RIVER TRAIL is inconsistent with Complete Streets.

For the above reasons I ask that the State not pursue the current Task Force recommendations. If there is an argument for reviewing our current bicycles laws, do so with a new committee whose make-up reflects the demographics of the State and who are and are not current users of the bicycle system to better learn what is missing and how to build on successes. Measure the efficacy of the current laws against the needs in the market.

You may also wish to consider a different committee to take a different approach to the issue. A committee set up to review historical project records from the State Transportation Department detailing when and how the very laws cited for alteration or extinction were systematically integrated and applied to projects. From this data you should learn if the Task Forces’ suggestions are based on MnDOT’s experience and application of laws in question and why these laws are / are not accomplishing their objective of providing safe and more complete biking infrastructure in our increasingly diverse and very female state.

Respectfully,

Mike Brooks
NE Communities Bike Walk

PS A few links to background about the reality of bicycling.

Link: http://www.citylab.com/commute/2013/05/surprising-diversity-american-cycling-community/5737/

Excerpt: “We wanted to dispel one of the major misconceptions, which is that bicycling is just for young, white, urban professionals,” says Carolyn Szczepanski, director of communications at LAB. “This report starts to shift that general misconception of who is riding.” ( LAB = League of American Bicyclists)

Link: http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/jul/09/women-cycling-infrastructure-cyclists-killed-female

Excerpt: Gil Penalosa, who runs Toronto-based consultancy 8-80 Cities, describes women cyclists as the “indicator species” for how bike-friendly a city is. “If there aren’t at least as many women as men, then usually it’s because cycling is not safe enough. It’s an indicator that you do not have good enough cycling infrastructure.”

Link: http://www.aarp.org/livable-communities/getting-around/info-2015/bicycles-bike-riding-older-adults.html

Excerpt: Bicyclists age 50 and over pedaled an estimated 2.6 billion miles on 830 million rides in 2009 (the latest figures available), according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Household Travel Survey. That’s way up from 1995 when people in that age group covered less than 400 million miles on 175 million rides. Bicycle riders age 70 to 79 alone made 147 million trips in 2009; those 80 and over took 13 million trips by bike.