Note that when I say ‘interpreted,’ I mean like an interpretive dance. I am not an attorney. If you get into a pickle, you are going to be best off consulting an attorney with expertise in either injury law or traffic law.
What I am doing is applying interpretation based on common sense and training in vehicular cycling to Minnesota code for purposes of provoking thought and raising awareness of the actual text of statues.
Minnesota Statutes for Cyclists
The core statues for Minnesota bicyclists can be found in 169.222 Minnesota Statutes. However, as I will shortly discuss, to use those as your sole guiding star is to blind yourself to the full extent of rules that apply to bicycle riders in Minnesota.
169.222 OPERATION OF BICYCLE.
Subdivision 1. Traffic laws apply. Every person operating a bicycle shall have all of the rights and duties applicable to the driver of any other vehicle by this chapter, except in respect to those provisions in this chapter relating expressly to bicycles and in respect to those provisions of this chapter which by their nature cannot reasonably be applied to bicycles.
Traffic laws are found throughout chapter 169 and several other chapters – not just in section 169.222! Subdivision 1 both defines this fact, and applies a little bit of good sense to it — when this chapter (or other sections of 169) create exceptions, or when it’s just clearly ridiculous to apply a statute to a bicycle, those rules won’t be applied.
Of course, the common sense doctrine can be dependent on both law enforcement and on judicial precedent.
Subd. 2. Manner and number riding. No bicycle shall be used to carry more persons at one time than the number for which it is designed and equipped, except (1) on a baby seat attached to the bicycle, provided that the baby seat is equipped with a harness to hold the child securely in the seat and that protection is provided against the child’s feet hitting the spokes of the wheel or (2) in a seat attached to the bicycle operator.
This rule is legislated common sense. This would apply to trail-a-bikes and Burleys, as the riders of such conveyances are not the bicycle operator. They’re passengers.
Kids ignore this one all the time, though. Handlebar trips, riding on stunt bars on dirt bikes, and the like are extremely common in every neighborhood of children.
Subd. 3. Clinging to vehicle. Persons riding upon any bicycle, coaster, roller skates, toboggan, sled, skateboard, or toy vehicle shall not attach the same or themselves to any street car or vehicle upon a roadway.
Legislation that says a bad idea is a bad idea.
Subd. 4. Riding on roadway or shoulder. (a) Every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except under any of the following situations:
(1) when overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction;
(2) when preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway;
(3) when reasonably necessary to avoid conditions, including fixed or moving objects, vehicles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or narrow width lanes, that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge.
Subdivision 4 is, in many respects, the centerpiece of 169.222.
Section (a) is really the ‘ride as far right as practicable’ rule. Some bicycle advocates claim this kind of rule to be discriminatory. However, by having subsections, I think the Minnesota setup for this rule is pretty reasonable.
One of the fundamentals of traffic is that you put slower moving traffic to the right. This is why merges into left lanes of interstates suck – you’re coming off a ramp, probably not at speed, into people driving like mad beings. Yowch.
In general, in most cases, a cyclist will be the slowest vehicle on the road. Thus, the bicycle belongs to the right of other traffic. The exceptions to the rule also demonstrate the rule: if you’re overtaking traffic, you are moving faster than they are, so move to the left of them. If you are left-turning, you need to move to the right-hand side of the right-most lane going in the direction you are going. This is consistent with rules described by John Forester in his book, Effective Cycling.
Part 3, which indicates that moving left when reasonably necessary to avoid hazards, is the common-sense failsafe to the right-to-the-right rule. Glass, potholes, crummy shoulder? All covered in this section.
(b) If a bicycle is traveling on a shoulder of a roadway, the bicycle shall travel in the same direction as adjacent vehicular traffic.
Once we get out of section 4(a), we find that section 4(b) applies a sensible law of physics to bicycling in a shoulder or on a roadway: Go in the direction of traffic. This rule is good, because bicyclists are traffic. More than that, however, is the sheer lunatic hazard of a head-on collision between bicyclist and motorist. Physics says that because the two objects are approaching one another, the collision force will be greater. This is true car-to-car, it’s true bike-to-car.
Some cyclists feel safer facing cars because then “they can see them!” They may feel safer, but in truth they are not. Bicyclists fare best when they behave as vehicles, and driving against traffic flow is illegal in a car, too. Helmet mirrors are just one tool that can help to reassure these riders, as can more experience and advancing their riding skills.
(c) Persons riding bicycles upon a roadway or shoulder shall not ride more than two abreast and shall not impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic and, on a laned roadway, shall ride within a single lane.
(d) A person operating a bicycle upon a sidewalk, or across a roadway or shoulder on a crosswalk, shall yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian and shall give an audible signal when
necessary before overtaking and passing any pedestrian. No person shall ride a bicycle upon a
sidewalk within a business district unless permitted by local authorities. Local authorities may prohibit the operation of bicycles on any sidewalk or crosswalk under their jurisdiction.
(e) An individual operating a bicycle or other vehicle on a bikeway shall leave a safe distance when overtaking a bicycle or individual proceeding in the same direction on the bikeway, and shall maintain clearance until safely past the overtaken bicycle or individual.
(f) A person lawfully operating a bicycle on a sidewalk, or across a roadway or shoulder on a crosswalk, shall have all the rights and duties applicable to a pedestrian under the same circumstances.
I like to call sections 4(c) and 4(e) “don’t be a jerk” rules. Don’t block traffic any more than necessary. If you are taking up part of a lane, that’s ok per 4(a), but don’t ride multiply abreast in those situations. When passing another rider or individual, leave appropriate room.
Sections 4(d) and 4(f) confuse many. They state that you can ride on the sidewalk, yielding to pedestrians, or in a crosswalk, again yielding to pedestrians, unless you can’t. If allowed, on a sidewalk, a bicyclist becomes a special pedestrian, and NOT a vehicle under vehicle code.
Local statute can dictate if a cyclist can use sidewalk and crosswalk facilities. Many places don’t sign their rules well, which can make the rules difficult to follow. Bizarre local authority behavior can also make things baffling. The full application of this extends into rules surrounding crosswalks, which are fully detailed over in another piece of chapter 169, and which I’ll review at another time.
Subd. 5. Carrying articles. No person operating a bicycle shall carry any package, bundle, or article which prevents the driver from keeping at least one hand upon the handle bars or from properly operating the brakes of the bicycle.
This is still another legislated piece of sense. You must retain the ability to control your vehicle.
Subd. 6. Bicycle equipment. (a) No person shall operate a bicycle at nighttime unless the bicycle or its operator is equipped with a lamp which shall emit a white light visible from a distance of at least 500 feet to the front and with a red reflector of a type approved by the Department of Public Safety which is visible from all distances from 100 feet to 600 feet to the rear when directly in front of lawful lower beams of headlamps on a motor vehicle. No person may operate a bicycle at any time when there is not sufficient light to render persons and vehicles on the highway clearly discernible at a distance of 500 feet ahead unless the bicycle or its operator is equipped with reflective surfaces that shall be visible during the hours of darkness from 600 feet when viewed in front of lawful lower beams of headlamps on a motor vehicle. The reflective surfaces shall include reflective materials on each side of each pedal to indicate their presence from the front or the rear and with a minimum of 20 square inches of reflective material on each side of the bicycle or its operator. Any bicycle equipped with side reflectors as required by regulations for new bicycles prescribed by the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission shall be considered to meet the requirements for side reflectorization contained in this subdivision. A bicycle may be equipped with a rear lamp that emits a red flashing signal.
Hey, at night, you should light up! This statute gives specific guidelines as to minimum requirements for visibility and reflectiveness. It also demonstrates that a red ‘blinky’ is considered an adequate substitute for a red rear reflector so long as said blinky meets the line-of-sight requirements outlined previously.
Red reflectors are generally NOT the most powerful reflectors available. However, because the statute dictates their use, I typically recommend that riders have a blinky or a red reflector… and then go get a great amber reflector from an auto parts or marine supply store. Marine-grade reflective tape has greater adhesive qualities and greater visibility than that usually found in your local bicycle shop, as it must meet much more stringent Coast Guard standards.
(b) No person shall operate a bicycle unless it is equipped with a brake which will enable the operator to make the braked wheels skid on dry, level, clean pavement.
Be able to stop. Track bicycles do not have brakes, but track bicycles belong on tracks, not on roads, so no worries there. Given how expensive track bikes are, whyever would one ride one on-road, anyway? I would be baffled.
(c) No person shall operate upon a highway any bicycle equipped with handlebars so raised that the operator must elevate the hands above the level of the shoulders in order to grasp the normal steering grip area.
This is another rule about control. In most cases, a position that requires reaching up above the shoulders is going to limit control. Obviously, control is essential to behaving as a good user of the road!
(d) No person shall operate upon a highway any bicycle which is of such a size as to prevent the operator from stopping the bicycle, supporting it with at least one foot on the highway surface and restarting in a safe manner.
Once again, this is about equipment control. If you cannot stop, start, and support your bicycle, it does not fit and is not road-worthy. This should be self-evident.
Subd. 7. Sale with reflectors and other equipment. No person shall sell or offer for sale any new bicycle unless it is equipped with reflectors and other equipment as required by subdivision 6, clauses (a) and (b) and by the regulations for new bicycles prescribed by the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission.
When a shop or other dealer sells a new bike, it needs to comply with subdivision 6’s rules of reflectors, and any applicable federal rules. Straightforward.
Subd. 8. Turning, lane change. An arm signal to turn right or left shall be given continuously during the last 100 feet traveled by the bicycle before turning, unless the arm is needed to control the bicycle, and shall be given while the bicycle is stopped waiting to turn.
Cars have little blinky turn signals. Bicycles do not. Bicyclists, however, have arms. This statute demands their use to signal intention to other users of the road, with the common-sense clause that you can cease the signal to control your vehicle.
Subd. 9. Bicycle parking. (a) A person may park a bicycle on a sidewalk unless prohibited or restricted by local authorities. A bicycle parked on a sidewalk shall not impede the normal and reasonable movement of pedestrian or other traffic.
(b) A bicycle may be parked on a roadway at any location where parking is allowed if it is parked in such a manner that it does not obstruct the movement of a legally parked motor vehicle.
Once again, this statute makes specific rules for bicycles. Other vehicles are not generally allowed to park on sidewalks; the size of a bicycle makes this possible. However, care needs to be taken not to impede movement on the sidewalk by others. Bicycles can also park on the roadway with other vehicles, but should not impede movement by other parked vehicles. This is both a “don’t be a jerk” rule as well as a good protective manuever for your equipment.
Subd. 10. Bicycle events. (a) Bicycle events, parades, contests, or racing on a highway shall not be unlawful when approved by state or local authorities having jurisdiction over that highway. Approval shall be granted only under conditions which assure reasonable safety for all participants, spectators and other highway users, and which prevent unreasonable interference with traffic flow which would seriously inconvenience other highway users.
(b) By agreement with the approving authority, participants in an approved bicycle highway event may be exempted from compliance with any traffic laws otherwise applicable thereto, provided that traffic control is adequate to assure the safety of all highway users.
This part of the chapter allows for big cycling events and races via agreement and cooperation with local authorities.
Subd. 11. Peace officer operating bicycle. The provisions of this section governing operation of bicycles do not apply to bicycles operated by peace officers while performing their duties.
Bike cops can violate these rules as necessary. Bike cops can be pretty tough. They learn, among other things, how to ride up stairs, how to ride at very slow speeds, how to throw their bikes at perps (!), and how to accurately shoot people while pedaling really fast. Do not mess with bike cops!
Watch for a future episode of statute interpretation in the rest of chapter 169.