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No Boulder County tickets yet under new bike law

The Daily Camera: No Boulder County tickets yet under new bike law

Advocates say raising awareness among drivers, cyclists a long-term project

By John Aguilar Camera Staff Writer
Posted: 09/23/2009 09:06:29 PM MDT

Boulder County authorities have sent five warning letters to motorists under Colorado’s bicycle safety law enacted seven weeks ago, but they have issued no tickets.

Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said the letters were sent to drivers suspected of not leaving enough room for cyclists as they passed them on the road. He said the warnings were the result of residents calling in with a license plate number of a supposed offending driver.

But Pelle said it’s too early to tell if the legislation has significantly raised awareness among cyclists or motorists about how to legally share the road.

"I have not noticed an increase or decrease in complaints," he said Wednesday.

That will likely change, he said, as his office works with the transportation department to make road improvements, add signage and educate the public about the new regulations.

Lawmakers passed Senate Bill 148 in the spring, which requires that drivers give cyclists at least 3 feet of space when passing or risk a $110 ticket. The law also punishes anyone who throws an object at a cyclist with a fine of between $250 and $1,000 and a possible sentence of three to 12 months in jail.

The law -- dubbed the Bicycle Safety Bill -- went into effect Aug. 5.

So far, said a spokesman for the Colorado State Court Administrator’s Office, only four tickets statewide appear to have been issued to drivers under the new law. None of those was in Boulder County.

Tensions between motorists and cyclists have escalated over the years -- particularly in the mountainous areas of Boulder County -- with drivers accusing cyclists of blocking the road and cyclists responding that motorists leave them so little room while passing that they are nearly run off the road.

There have been at least three bicycle-vehicle fatalities in Boulder County this year, with the latest coming Sunday when police say a motorist turned in front of Boulder resident Casey Najera as he rode his bicycle southbound on 28th Street at Violet Avenue.

Najera, 60, collided with the Toyota Corolla and was thrown from his bike. The driver, Karlin Bruegel, 25, was cited for careless driving resulting in death.

Dan Grunig, executive director of Bicycle Colorado, said awareness about cyclist safety hasn’t increased as quickly as he would like because the Bicycle Safety Bill was passed without an educational funding component.

He said he and other bicycle advocates are trying to pick up the slack.

"We’ve been working on getting the word out at large cycling events and bike shops," he said.

Grunig said the state has already updated the Colorado drivers’ manual online with information about the new law.

Anna Marie Berger, of Boulder, said she has seen virtually no change in cyclist behavior.

"I really think that bicyclists should have licenses because they need to learn the rules of the road," she said.

Berger said that on Wednesday alone she saw three cyclists blaze past a stop sign without halting.

Linzi Najera, Casey Najera’s daughter, said her father’s death was the result of a tragic accident and not any tension between the driver and her father. But she hopes, at the very least, that drivers will use Casey Najera’s death as a reminder of how important it is to pay close attention to the road and everyone on it.

"I hope the accident makes people more aware of how they’re driving," she said.