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Legally Speaking – with Bob Mionske: Minimum speeds?

Dear Bob,I live in Minnesota and am kind of new to cycling, so I read with great interest your article on impeding traffic. In your article, you mentioned a “minimum speed limit.” Are there roads in Minnesota where a minimum speed limit means “no bicycles allowed?” Can you point out some resources for me to learn about my rights and responsibilities?Thanks,D.Q.,Minnesota Dear D.Q.,That’s a great first question from a kind of new cyclist. As you recall, in Trotwood v. Selz (see "To impede or not to impede, that is the question"),an Ohio cyclist received a citation for impeding traffic while

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By Bob Mionske

Dear Bob,
I live in Minnesota and am kind of new to cycling, so I read with great interest your article on impeding traffic. In your article, you mentioned a “minimum speed limit.” Are there roads in Minnesota where a minimum speed limit means “no bicycles allowed?” Can you point out some resources for me to learn about my rights and responsibilities?
Thanks,
D.Q.,
Minnesota

Dear D.Q.,
That’s a great first question from a kind of new cyclist. As you recall, in Trotwood v. Selz (see “To impede or not to impede, that is the question“),an Ohio cyclist received a citation for impeding traffic while traveling in the right-hand lane of State Route 49. The cyclist’s attorney was interested in establishing that Selz, the cyclist who had been cited for impeding traffic, had actually been traveling at a reasonable speed for somebody operating a bicycle. To do that, one of the facts he established at trial was that there was no posted minimum speed on State Route 49. As you know, the Ohio Court of Appeals eventually decided that a bicyclist is not impeding traffic when he is traveling as fast as he reasonably can. However, you raise an interesting legal question: If a minimum speed is posted on a road, does that mean that bicycles would be violating the law if they can’t ride at that minimum speed?

Since Trotwood v. Selz was an Ohio case, let’s look at the Ohio statutes first. Section 4511.22(B) of the Ohio Traffic Laws states in part that

…The Director or such local authority may declare a minimum speed limit below which no person shall operate a motor vehicle, trackless trolley, or street car except when necessary for safe operation or in compliance with law.

Did you notice that the posted minimum speed limit only applies to motor vehicles, trackless trolleys, and street cars? This qualification means that even if Selz had been operating his bicycle on a road with a posted minimum speed limit, he would not have been in violation of this section of the Traffic Laws. However, the fact that State Route 49 did not have a posted minimum speed limit helped bolster Selz’ argument that he was not impeding traffic in violation of Trotwood Municipal Code Section 333.04(a). Regardless, the Ohio Court of Appeals did not depend upon the lack of a minimum posted speed limit when it held that

a bicyclist is not in violation of the ordinance when he is traveling as fast as he reasonably can.

So, in Ohio, a bicyclist can ride upon a road at “normal and reasonable” bicycle speeds even when that road has a posted minimum speed limit.

But that was an Ohio case—what about Minnesota? Let’s take a look at the Minnesota Traffic Regulations to see what they say; Section 169.14(8) provides that

On determining upon the basis of an engineering and traffic investigation that a speed at least as great as, or in excess of, a specified and determined minimum is necessary to the reasonable and safe use of any trunk highway or portion thereof, the commissioner may erect appropriate signs specifying the minimum speed on such highway or portion thereof. The minimum speed shall be effective when such signs are erected. Any speeds less than the posted minimum speeds shall be prima facie evidence that the speed is not reasonable or prudent and that it is unlawful.

Now let’s break this down into easy-to-understand components:The Minnesota D.O.T. may erect minimum speed limit signs on highwaysThe minimum speed limit is in effect when a sign is erectedSpeeds below the posted minimum speed limit are evidence that the speed is not reasonable or prudent and that it is unlawful, unless evidence to the contrary is produced. This is interesting, because although both Ohio and Minnesota have minimum speed statutes, the language of those statutes is significantly different. Thus, while the Ohio statute is not applicable to bicycles, the Minnesota statute applies to all vehicles, including bicycles.

As you may recall, I believe that the Minnesota courts would agree with the Ohio Court of Appeals that

a bicyclist is not [impeding traffic] when he is traveling as fast as he reasonably can.

And yet if a state highway has a minimum speed limit posted, cyclists will be in violation of that statute if they ride at speeds below the posted minimum. Therefore, I believe that the law in Minnesota can be stated thusly:A bicyclist is not impeding traffic when he is traveling as fast as he reasonably can. However, if the bicyclist is traveling upon a state highway at speeds below a posted minimum speed, the bicyclist’s speed is not reasonable or prudent and is unlawful, unless evidence to the contrary is produced. So, to answer your first question, “Are there roads in Minnesota where a minimum speed limit means “no bicycles allowed,” if a highway in Minnesota is posted with a minimum speed limit, then any vehicle that cannot meet that minimum speed limit—a bicycle, for example—will be in violation of the ordinance. That means that yes, there may be some roads in Minnesota where a minimum speed limit means “no bicycles allowed.”

Now, you also asked about resources for learning about your rights and responsibilities. Did you know that U.S. Representative Jim Oberstar is an avid cyclist, and often rides with his constituents? He is very interested in bicycling and bicycle advocacy, so you might contact his office to find out about his next Ride with Jim. Another resource is Minnesota’s Department of Transportation, which has a special webpage devoted to bicycle resources in the state; you can also link to the Department’s Minnesota Pocket Guide to Biking, which contains a summary of bicycle laws and information. Thanks for writing, D.Q., and welcome to cycling!
Bob


Now read the fine print:

Bob Mionske is a former competitive cyclist who representedthe U.S. at the 1988 Olympic games (where he finished fourth in the roadrace), the 1992 Olympics, as well as winning the 1990 national championshiproad race.After retiring from racing in 1993, he coached the Saturn Professional Cycling team for one year before heading off to law school. Mionske’s practice is now split between personal-injury work, representing professional athletes as an agent and other legal issues facing endurance athletes (traffic violations, contract, criminal charges, intellectual property, etc).If you have a cycling-related legal question, please send it to mionskelaw@hotmail.comBob will answer as many of these questions privately as he can. He willalso select a few questions each week to answer in this column. Generalbicycle-accident advice can be found at www.bicyclelaw.com.Important notice:
The information provided in the “Legally speaking”column is not legal advice. The information provided on this publicweb site is provided solely for the general interest of the visitors tothis web site. The information contained in the column applies to generalprinciples of American jurisprudence and may not reflect current legaldevelopments or statutory changes in the various jurisdictions and thereforeshould not be relied upon or interpreted as legal advice. Understand thatreading the information contained in this column does not mean youhave established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Bob Mionske.Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained inthe web site without first seeking the advice of legal counsel.