It's a bit after 11 p.m. on Sunday, April 7. I’m on my bike in downtown Minneapolis behind a black Chevy SUV parked in the Third Avenue bike lane outside of Rick’s Cabaret, a strip club near the U.S. District Court. I toot the horn mounted on my handlebars a couple of times.
When the driver doesn’t move, I use my finger to write “I PARK IN BIKE LANES LIKE AN ASSHOLE” in the road salt on the Chevy’s back window. Provocative, yes. Also accurate.
The doorman from Rick’s comes out and pours a bucket of ice over my back in retaliation; I catch the blue of his shirt as I turn and he sprints behind the line of parked cars to my right. Then someone else tackles me to the ground from behind, and I hear my left shoulder crunch into the blacktop.
I stumble to my feet, untangling myself from my bicycle in front of 10 or 12 walking sacks of toxic masculinity who all want to watch me -- or make me – bleed. The usual group that lurks outside Rick's Cabaret most nights: bouncers, limo drivers, valet attendants, skin junkies.
A no-neck inebriate with 70 pounds on me picks up my bicycle and walks away. A few seconds later, he returns without my bike and sucker-punches me in the face while a limo driver sneaks up behind me to steal the folding baton I had whipped out to try to keep these assholes off me until the cops get here.
The cops show up. I explain to them exactly what happened. I wear an action camera on my helmet, so I take it off and show them as well (you can watch the vid, too, below). They let all the motherfuckers who tried to hurt me walk free. I walk home without the things they stole from me.
“I’m weirded out by how calm I was,” I tell my therapist later.
“Maybe,” she suggests, “it’s because you’ve been waiting for this to happen for a while?”
She’s got a point.
This whole situation with Rick’s has been simmering to a boil for nearly two years.
Here’s my routine: On my commute home from work, there’s almost always a car -- or three -- parked in the bike lanes on Third Avenue at Third Street. Most nights I stop to call them into the cops. While I’m on the phone, the man-gaggle outside Rick’s usually swarms around me, calling me a “faggot” and telling me what kind of damage they’d do to my body if I weren’t wearing a camera. I find new ways to tell them they’re shitty people. Then I go home.
Or, if I’m feeling sassy, I ride around the block again and, upon my return, another car will be parked in the bike lane. Rinse and repeat.
So yeah, Rick’s Cabaret is an ongoing problem.
The management there values profit over the safety of people in their community. Uber and limo drivers use the bike lanes for parking, forcing cyclists to go around them into traffic. Their valet service puts the lives of vulnerable road users at risk as a matter of daily routine. (Not to mention that the violent homophobes who work the door are a murder case waiting to happen.)
But really, Rick’s Cabaret is just one part of a much greater problem with the streets of Minneapolis. A systematic and complex problem: the problem of car violence.
Let’s use the Rick’s Cabaret situation to map out most of the main parts of this larger issue.
Leading up to night of the April 7, the Business Licensing department had issued Rick’s Cabaret warning after warning for bike lane violations. Only after they were sent video of my assault did they bother issuing a citation and a fine. Why did I have to get punched before anything happened?
Bike lanes are built to protect people; blocking bike lanes is literally a life-or-death issue. Businesses that endanger vulnerable road users should have their liquor licenses pulled. They should be wallpapered with citations, and if they still can't fall in line with community standards, they should be shut down.
The Minneapolis Police Department refuses to effectively enforce bike lanes laws across the city, to the point where many cyclists have stopped trying to get anything done through official channels and instead post photos of offenders on Twitter at @tcblockedlanes. The one time I called and the cops actually showed up to Rick's in time to speak to a driver, they told him to not spend so much time in the bike lane while dropping off passengers.
Even worse, those sworn to uphold the law and protect our lives do the opposite every day outside the courthouse, routinely using the Third Avenue bike lane as a parking lot themselves.
The MPD also has a bad habit of ignoring violence perpetrated against cyclists. A few years back I wrote a long and deeply researched article about the problem of under-enforcement when cyclists are victims of crimes. I spent several weeks trying to find even a single example of the police being moderately empathetic toward a cyclist victim, much less investigating effectively.
The City Council is part of the problem, too. In spring of 2016, City Council members Lisa Goodman, Abdi Warsame, Linea Palmisano, and Kevin Reich voted down a bike lane design on Third Avenue that would've lined the street with concrete planters – planters that would've prevented Rick's from using the bike lane as a parking lot. They also would’ve kept the driver of a U.S. Food truck from right-hooking a cyclist last Thursday, putting them in the hospital with what are reported to be "extremely critical injuries.”
Finally, even our own advocates helped create the situation outside Rick's. Our Streets, the largest cyclist and pedestrian advocacy organization in town, categorically refuses to call for more effective enforcement of laws designed to protect cyclists, including bike lane enforcement. They're content to focus on building more bike lanes for Uber drivers to use as unloading zones, content to play respectability politics.
Nearly four years ago, I got real fucking tired of being respectable, and real fucking tired of begging the individuals and institutions tasked with protecting our lives to do their jobs. So I founded MPLS Bike Wrath, a coordinated collective of cyclist-advocates organized around a central premise: We have a right to get angry about this shit.
Nowadays, we ride with cameras rolling, and we publish the footage. We call 911. We make a big public scene in front of FedEx trucks that park in the bike lane. We hold drivers, businesses, and institutions accountable. We demand, not beg, to have our lives and our safety respected and protected.
We are nonviolent and nondestructive, but we’ve got a lot of four-letter words for the motherfuckers who put us in danger every day.
I’ve been riding past Rick’s a lot the last three weeks. So have other members of the Wrath Pack. I haven’t seen a car in the bike lane yet, but I’m sure it will only take a couple more weeks before they get lazy about it again.
We’ll be there.