Ditch the Windshield this Summer!
Now that summer has officially arrived in Minnesota, it's time to tune up your fishing boats and - if you're like me - your bicycles. I am lucky to live and work in bike-friendly Alexandria where there are designated bike routes, ample shoulders, and the always-pleasant Central Lakes Trail. Even so, I see drivers and cyclists making dangerous mistakes on the roads. So before pedaling off, I'm stepping on my soapbox to lecture cyclists and drivers alike. Stay tuned to the end for my recommendations for spring and summer rides.
Wear a Helmet!
Wear a helmet. Enough said.
A Little Local Knowledge Goes a Long Way
If you are riding a bike, it is safer to ride in the street than it is on the sidewalk. Sidewalks are for pedestrians who move slower than bikes, are more unpredictable than bikes, and have a bad habit of meandering in front of you when you are in a hurry. Minnesota state statutes allow riding on the sidewalks if it is allowed by the local government in charge of that sidewalk.
In Alexandria, your biggest worry in this regard is downtown. Bicycles cannot be ridden on the sidewalks in a "box" bordered by Elm Street on the west side, Third Avenue on the north, Irving on the east, and 8th Avenue on the south side. If on the sidewalks, bikes must be walked. For everybody's sake, just ride in the streets, and use Fillmore and Hawthorne (which are wide and painted to warn drivers of bikes on the roadway) instead of Broadway.
Cyclists may ride no more than two abreast, must travel as far to the right as is safe within a single lane of the roadway, and must not impede traffic on the roadway. When passing a bicycle, drivers are required to leave at least three feet of space between their vehicle and the cyclist. Drivers can cross the centerline-if it is safe to do so-in order to leave sufficient room to pass the bike. However, drivers cannot pass a bike that is making a left turn or signaling an intent to make a left turn. Cyclists must signal turning or lane changes with hand signals at least 100 feet before turning unless the arm is needed to control the bicycle. Be aware that many bike accidents involve striking doors on parked cars as they open, so cyclists should give parked cars a wide berth and drivers should expect bikes to ride out in the lane where cars are parallel parked.
Bikes are Cars, Not Pedestrians
Under Minnesota law, bikes on the roadway are treated the same as cars. Bikes must yield to pedestrians that are in crosswalks just like cars. Cyclists also are required to obey red lights, stop signs, and school bus stop arms. Cyclists can proceed through a red light if their bike fails to trip the sensor to change the light, but only if they have first come to a complete stop, the signal has remained red for an unreasonable time, and there is no motor vehicle or person approaching on the street to be crossed or entered. Most of the time, I find it's easier to jump off the bike, hit the pedestrian crossing button, and just walk the bike across in the crosswalk at the appropriate time.
And now what you've all been waiting for, my list of best places to ride in and around Alexandria:
· Central Lakes Trail - From Fergus Falls to Osakis, the views along this trail are unbeatable.
· Beaches - Lake Le Homme Dieu, Lake Latoka, and Lake Henry all have public swim beaches that are located on bicycle routes and just a short jaunt from the Central Lakes Trail.
· Local Parks - Big Ole was recently outfitted with a new pier (thanks to the Alexandria Rotary Club) and some swanky new bathrroms.The bathrooms are great, especially if - like me - you are often pulling a trailer with two small kids and proportionately-sized bladders. Alexandria's City Park with its swim beach, grills, fishing pier, and playground is a favorite place to visit, and Douglas County's new Lake Brophy Park promises to have a ton of biking and hiking trails. All are right on the Central Lakes Trail.
· Lake Carlos State Park - I was surprised to find that it takes only a little more time to ride my bike to the park than it takes me to drive there. As an added bonus, the friendly staff have assured me that I do not need a vehicle permit when I'm on my bicycle. I am planning to cycle out to Inspiration Peak this summer which will be one of my farthest rides yet but should be a lot of fun.
· Treats - There are too many establishments to list off along the Central Lakes Trail, but there are plenty of restaurants, ice cream shops, and bars to stop and refill or replace some of those calories you've burned off on the way.
Fishing - If you are a fishing nut like me, you're not going far without a rod and some tackle (why yes, that is a rod holder mounted to my bicycle). When I leave work at the Swenson Lervick Law Firm I can hit any one of 13 lakes by cycling no more than 5 miles from the office door.
See you on the trail!