In the wake of Downtown demonstration, city bike ordinance repealed

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June 18, 2002 // UPDATED 1:25 pm - April 30, 2007
By: Kevin Featherly
Kevin Featherly

For years, Minneapolis has been the only Minnesota city to make it a criminal offense not to register bicycles -- a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and a $105 fine. However, on June 21, the Minneapolis City Council voted 11-2 to repeal the law, meaning unregistered bikes can cruise city streets without giving the police pretext to confiscate them.

The repeal gained momentum after demonstrators from the pro-biking-rights group Critical Mass (Skyway News, April 8-14) had their bikes confiscated during a March ride. Police determined that bikers were intentionally blocking traffic, then confiscated and impounded unregistered bicycles under the city law.

Councilmembers, including Paul Zerby (2nd Ward), said the Critical Mass takings were instrumental in focusing attention on the ordinance. However, Councilmember Barb Johnson (4th Ward) indicated little sympathy for the protestors.

"If people have an issue with bicycles being impounded when they are not doing anything else except riding an unregistered bicycle, then they have a problem with the police department," said Johnson, who voted against the repeal. "They need to report it through the regular channels."

Repeal supporter Councilmember Barrett Lane (13th Ward) made clear that his vote was no thumbs-up to Critical Mass. "I don't support their aims," he said, "I don't support their tactics. I don't support what they do."

Stephen Eisenmenger, a leader of Minnesota's Critical Mass chapter, is glad to see the city ditch mandatory registrations.

"If you want help in recovering your stolen bike, it makes perfect sense to get your bike registered," he said. "However, I don't think that giving police officers the right to pull bikes from people who do not have them licensed is fair or just, and I'm glad to see the City Council has taken that power away."

Other councilmembers cited broader concerns. Councilmember Dan Niziolek (10th Ward) noted that only 14,000 of the estimated 200,000 bikes in the city are legally registered. However, Minneapolis' registered bikes account for 60 percent of those licensed statewide.

"It's not a good system," he said. "It's a state-level program that needs to be fixed at the state level."

Mandatory licensing could reappear later. The Council asked its Bicycle Advisory Committee to return with a recommendation for instituting a less thorny version of the ordinance that wouldn't criminalize failure to comply.