Rules of the Road: Understanging our shared responsibility to make biking safer in Minnesota

Training the next generation

Bike Biking Rules38

Photo by Daniel Murphy

For a group of Minnesota fifth graders, today is the day. After weeks of studying bike safety rules and practicing bike turns in the school parking lot, they get to take a spin on an actual road.

“We want our kids to be able to safely walk and bike in their communities,” says Mason, of the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota. “We know that if they do that when they’re young and learn those behaviors, that they’re going to be healthier, happier adults as well.”

A few years ago the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota set out to teach bike safety in schools with funding from MnDOT. In partnership with Blue Cross and Blue Shield, it developed a free curriculum called Bike! Walk! Fun! “When you build things for the schools, you end up building things for the whole community,” says Mason, who served as the staff lead on the project. “When you do things for the next generation you’re really setting about that bigger chain of impact.”

The curriculum is taught in physical education classes, and around 20,000 kids get some kind of access to the program annually. The Alliance hopes the program teaches a group of future motorists to be more savvy about how to share the roads by experiencing what it’s like behind a set of handlebars.

“We’re not going to change everyone now, but if we start in second and fifth grade, pretty soon we’ll reach just about everybody,” says Dorian Grilley, executive director of the Bicycle Alliance. “Someday many of those fifth graders are going to become car drivers. Hopefully they’ll have been out on their bicycles before they get their driver’s licenses so they’ve learned how to drive around bicyclists and how bicyclists like to be driven around.”

“We’re all just people operating these bikes or cars and we all make the same types of decisions, good or bad,” Barnes adds. “Unfortunately, I think the bicyclists often pay more dearly in crashes because they’re not protected by a metal structure.”

In May 2016, Minneapolis joined the rest of Hennepin County in adopting the Complete Streets policy—a commitment to reprioritize how roads are designed. Bicyclists, pedestrians, and city transit will now take top priority over vehicles. But while shifts in infrastructure and policy are important, it’s the community that ultimately needs to champion safety and sharing the road.

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Shaina Briscoe // Photo by Kevin Kramer

Mending the divided culture between bicyclists and motorists is an area where Shaina’s dad, David, thinks there’s still a long way to go. “You can be as hateful as you want, but when [a crash] happens to you or someone close to you, it changes your mind very quickly,” he says. “It becomes about empathy and community, instead of right or wrong.”

Outside on Shaina’s balcony, deep purple eggplants and small green bell peppers begin to take shape in her small potted garden—a new hobby she took up after the crash. But inside her bedroom, signs of the sport Shaina once spent much of her time participating in decorate the room. The familiar outline of a bicycle frame pops up on the throw pillow on her bed and the wooden sign hanging on her wall.

For Shaina, it comes down to one simple piece of advice: Don’t take unnecessary risks. Imagine how much safer our streets will be when the attitudes of all drivers—whether behind handlebars or a  steering wheel—catch up to the physical improvements already reshaping our roads.

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