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Minneapolis cops to cyclists: It's 'not smart' to ride in snow and ice

Anthony Souffle, Star Tribune

Anthony Souffle, Star Tribune

Sunday evening was cold, but not an altogether unpleasant time to be out on a bike.

Roads were slick, and plenty of bike lanes had gotten only a cursory plow. But if you're prepared—outfitted with lights and layers and studded tires, like Risa Hustad and Ward Rubrecht were on their way home from Blue Door Pub in Longfellow—it was an okay night for a ride.

That is, until around 9:45 p.m., as the two waited at a red light heading west on 35th Street in south Minneapolis. That's when Hustad says a Minneapolis Police car pulled up and stopped in the oncoming traffic lane to the riders' left, and an officer rolled down a window to tell them: "It's not smart to be out for a ride tonight."

"I told them that it was a perfectly safe night to be riding a bike, but not a safe night for driving a car," recalls Rubrecht, who says the cops replied that it's "a lot safer" to be in a car.

"We had just come from pulling somebody out of a snow bank in their car," Hustad laughs. "We knew firsthand that people were sliding all over the road in their cars."

Rubrecht (who has worked and written for City Pages) and Hustad tried asking officers for their badge numbers, but they drove off after the light turned green.

When Hustad shared their story on Facebook, other cyclists reacted with similar experiences from over the years. One recalled being shamed by an officer after a driver rear-ended their bike. Another, Christof Mitchell, said a warning about riding conditions was the kicker after cops pulled them over as they biked down Nicollet Avenue last winter. 

"They asked me what I was doing," Mitchell says. "I told them I was working. They asked if they could look in my bag."

Mitchell, a bike messenger, agreed, so long as it was quick—they were in the middle of a run. And then, "[The officers] said it's too dangerous to be biking out here. And told me to go home." Mitchell just nodded and continued with the trip.

"Bicyclists are welcome to operate their bicycles anywhere in accordance with State Statute and City Ordinance," Minneapolis Police Department spokesman John Elder wrote in an email to City Pages. Per that ordinance (available in full here): "As vehicle operators, bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as operators of any other vehicle on the road with certain exceptions."

Riding in icy conditions isn't one of them.

In fact, "Bikes are the only vehicles that are allowed to be on Minnesotan roads with studs on them," says Hustad, who plans on following up with Minneapolis' third police precinct about their encounter. "We have the best stopping power of any vehicle legal on the roads."

Rubrecht said the interaction left him with a lot of feelings: anger with police for buying into the idea that the safest transit option is to surround ourselves with "4,000-pound rolling sledgehammers of death," and frustration with their dissuading two law-abiding road users from exercising their rights, "rather than spending that time and energy ticketing drivers for failure to drive at an appropriate speed for the conditions."

"[It] makes me angry and scared for my fellow cyclists and pedestrians who are less privileged than myself or who were not riding in a pair," he adds, "who may have been much more frightened in these sort of interactions than my cismale, white, straight-presenting self."