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Chief Ross Tiegs: Pedestrians and bicyclists

MORRIS – College is back in session and the fall sports season has begun, with elementary and high school students soon joining their college counterparts. This is also the start of the season of questions and complaints to the police department about the increased number of people out walking, running, and riding bikes. Officers often receive inquiries, and more often complaints, of people walking on the streets or of bicyclists nearly being hit by vehicles. I want to address some of those issues without taking a “Big Brother” approach, but by way of pointing out statutes and ordinances that are meant to help keep people safe. All it takes is for people to acknowledge their personal responsibility in these matters for a safer community.

Bicyclists are by far the largest group of complaints we receive that we do not retain statistical data on. Typically, if we get a driving complaint on a motor vehicle, we are able to get some kind of identifiable information that allows us quantify those complaints. The same is not true with bicyclist complaints. Often the complaint is generic like a guy (or gal) on a bicycle failed to stop at a sign or was interfering with traffic. Often the person talking to the officer gives no more information than this and commonly, the complaint is an afterthought a few days or weeks after the event when talking to an officer about another event.

Officer Jared Dittbenner recently conducted a bike rodeo for the newer and younger operators of bicycles in our community. One of the important points to his program is teaching kids that all the traffic signs and rules apply to them on their bikes, the same as the cars they share the road with. Minnesota Statutes chapter 169.222 is titled “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.

This particular part of statute does go on to define more closely some of the other rules of the road apply to cyclists, but if each rider would just remember that simple subdivision, and do their best to follow that rule, complaints would diminish greatly for us.

The other area of concern often expressed to the police department is pedestrians. All of us that live in the great white way are eager to capitalize on those times of the year when the outdoors is especially inviting. Only the most hardcore of us will go for a walk or jog when we have heat advisories, rain, or dare I say snow; but many of us are eager to do so when we have the moderate days often encountered in the spring and fall. I have noticed the increase in runners in the past week or so as we get into the fall sports season. Many of these people like to run out in Pomme de Terre Park where there is a bike/walking path to get them into nature a little bit more or out to the beautiful gardens maintained by the WCROC by their research farm on Highway 329, but this can also include foot time where there is no place to run except on the roadway. I want to remind those people of MSS 169.21 “PEDESTRIAN” –

Subd. 5. Walk on left side of roadway. Pedestrians when walking or moving in a wheelchair along a roadway shall, when practicable, walk or move on the left side of the roadway or its shoulder giving way to oncoming traffic. Where sidewalks are provided and are accessible and usable it shall be unlawful for any pedestrian to walk or move in a wheelchair along and upon an adjacent roadway.

This is one of those laws that have nothing but safety in mind. In short, this says to face the traffic that approaches you. It is not uncommon for runners to listen to music through headsets or even just entering that “runner’s high” that may reduce their ability to react to outside stimulus. If you face traffic, you can see potential danger. We unfortunately hear on the news, all too often, of runners who are struck and killed by a vehicle coming up from behind them and not knowing they are in danger.

The statute also addresses another issue: if there are sidewalks use them. City Manager Blaine Hill utilized an intern from UMM this past summer to study sidewalks in the city of Morris. Due to this study, many sidewalks that may not have been ideal have been improved and/or replaced. Additionally, the study identified areas where there are no sidewalks that truly need them, an issue the city intends to address in the future.

The point of this article is to be informative to the citizenry about laws they may not be aware of or may not think about. We all want a safe community and just thinking about the impact your actions may have on other Morris“ites” can go far in making the community safer and a more pleasant place to live.