Welcome to Bicycle Freedom Week

Well, it took a while. After years of riding a bicycle around this city, I finally got a ticket from the Minneapolis Police Department for running a red light / stop sign. One morning a few months back, I was bicycling to work down SE Como  Avenue. I was a bit zoned out from my long bike trip the day before (to the far side of Lake Minnetonka and back), and do be honest, I’d forgotten that people even enforced laws about stoplights at sparsely populated intersections. And I certainly didn’t notice the police car sitting right in front of me at the intersection.

I proceeded as I normally do on a when trying to ride a bicycle to get from place to place. I came to a stop at a red light at a calm untrafficked intersection, looked to see if there was any traffic coming on the cross street (there wasn’t). And I went slowly through the intersection.

A flash of lights and a quick breeeep from the siren. Uttering the words "you have to stop just like everyone else," a police officer gave me a $120 white piece of thin paper.

A lot was running through my head. First I cursed. I thought about how stupid it was that this cop was giving me a ticket for something that endangered precisely zero people. Didn't he have anything better to do? I felt myself wanting to get upset, but I said nothing. The only thing I did was to take this photograph.

[Nothing says "USA #1" like a flag license plate on a police car giving a ticket to a bicyclist.]

A lot of people have reacted to this story with schadenfreude. “Well, you got what you deserve,” or “That’s what you get for bicycling like that.”

I guess that’s one opinion. I don't want to start a fight. And I really don't want to starting an endless asinine “cars vs. bikes: who are bigger scofflaws” argument. That’s a discussion for another day, and for the Pioneer Press comment section. 

What I want to do is declare this week to be the inaugural Bicycle Freedom Week.

In case you're not familiar with it, Bicycle Freedom Week is an age-old celebration of the freedom of being on a bicycle.  This week, more than all other weeks, we celebrate the freedoms that come with riding a bicycle. This week we will ride bicycles through crowds of cars stuck in traffic to attend fireworks displays. This week we will ride bicycles to the beach. This week (just like all other weeks) we will not stop at every stop sign. This week we will ponder the inevitable civil disobedience that comes with riding bicycles in cities that don’t have them in mind.

(Civil disobedience?! Are you declaring the velo-revolution? Are you a bicycle anarchist?)

Thankfully no. What I mean by civil disobedience isn’t precisely the sort of resistance to government that Thoreau intended while getting pissed about the Mexican-American War. Rather, it’s the idea that the architecture of our public spaces – the streets, lines, laws, regulations, etc. – aren’t set up for bicycles. They’re overwhelmingly intended to support and maintain the movement of cars. This system makes it very difficult to efficiently and comfortably ride a bicycle from place to place.  Until it changes, most cyclists find themselves continually making personal choices about which sorts of rules to accept and which sorts of rules to reject.

These "rules of the bicycling road" differ depending on the individual and the situation. For example, the % of cyclists who actually come to a complete stop at every stop sign must be asymptotically close to zero. (Some, yes; others, no; many are in between.)

On the other hand, the percent of cyclists who would proceed without stopping through an intersection like the Lyndale-Hennepin bottleneck is similarly microscopic. (This is a good example of a self-fulfilling prophecy, as doing so would be suicidal.) Though precious few will admit it, some degree of civil disobedience is an inevitable part of riding a bicycle through the city.

[Suffrage activists on bicycles, c. 1915.]
Bicycles have long been a tool of liberation. They’re a way for people to break free from spatial constraints. Whether you're a little kid just learning to balance, a teenager traveling the city without the yoke of parents, a 19th century woman moving unescorted through the city for the first time, or someone who has lost 320 lbs through the joy of bicycling, bicycles can set you free. They free up all sorts of capabilities that many of us never thought we had. They free your mind from worry and let you feel the city in a new way. They free your senses from claustrophobia and let you smell the air, hear the birds, and get that good feeling in your legs when you really get them moving. They free you from being a selfish individualist and the tyranny of parking tickets and traffic jams and gas pumps.

Happy Bicycle Freedom Week!

Forthcoming posts:

Potential Defenses for Challenging a Red Light Ticket Bicycle Ticket
How to Contest Your Bicycle Citation in Hennepin County Court in Three Easy Steps
DIY Bicycle Infrastructure: A User's Guide

Stay tuned. This time (unlike my future Trader Joe’s series) I’m actually going to follow through.


pedro said...

Love the idea of bicycle freedom week, although it seems a bit redundant. As you point out, every day spent on a bicycle celebrates freedom. Still, I'll be celebrating my freedom on Independence day by riding out to Delano for what I hear is a spectacular small town 4th of July. I just hope there's a piece of apple pie waiting for me.

Reuben Collins said...

The take home message here (other than don't run reds when police are around) is that our signals need to be smarter. The technology for signals to be able to accurately detect motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists, and adjust timings accordingly exists, we just haven't deployed it.

pedro said...

Good point Reuben. sounds like someone needs to take this to the BAC (cough, cough - Bill)

Unknown said...

Couldn't you have waited until next week when the temps won't be in the high 90's?

Andrew Balfour said...

I thought stopping at a red light and then proceeding was totally fine for non-cars? http://www.rideboldly.org/2010/05/13/unchanging-red-light-rule-now-law-in-minnesota/

Mike Hicks said...

That's all dependent on being stuck at a stop light for "an unreasonable time" (like, minutes).

Alex said...

I can't imagine that the "unreasonable time" provision is at all enforceable. There is a light by my house that only changes when it detects a motor vehicle. I know that is the case because it has a countdown timer, and if there is no car there, after counting down on the flashing hand it just changes back to the walk sign. If, as I approach, I saw the light do that, wouldn't that be a reasonable amount of time to determine that the light will not change without the presence of a car? In other words, does "reasonable" refer to the amount of time it takes for you to know that the lights not going to change for you, or does it refer to some arbitrary amount of time that people need to wait at the light?

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