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Colorado cyclists and drivers try to make canyons safer

BikeRadar: Colorado cyclists and drivers try to make canyons safer

By Bruce Hildenbrand

When Colorado enacted a comprehensive "cyclist rights" bill this summer many people thought it would lead to a major improvement in the relationship between bike riders and car drivers. Instead, the new laws have exacerbated the problem.

In response to the increase in tension, Boulder County’s transportation department has convened a working group which includes both drivers and cyclists.

While initial meetings were productive with some good ideas put forward, when the group held a public forum, residents made it clear they didn’t want their tax dollars spent on "rich folks at play",

The new legislation sets a specific distance – 3ft – that cars must give cyclists when passing. It also gives cyclists the right to ride two or more abreast and use the middle of the road if the shoulder is deemed unsafe. And it allows motorists to cross double yellow lines (no-passing zones in the US) to pass cyclists.

While these rules seem reasonable, many drivers say they make it almost impossible to pass cyclists on the twisty mountain roads around bike-crazy Boulder.

At the first session of the Boulder County Mountain Canyon Cyclist Motorist Working Group, people said they were worried about driving behind or overtaking cyclists for fear of not being able to stop in time if the riders crashed.

They also asked why cyclists can’t ride on the shoulder while descending. Riders explained the dangers of gusty canyon winds and the need to keep a safe distance from cliff edges.

One of the most interesting points of discussion was how to make the roads safer for all concerned. Ideas ranged from adding laybys (pull-outs) on the side of the road where cyclists could congregate to increased signage and more regular road cleaning.

While it was agreed that all these steps could lead to a safer environment, one long-time Left Hand Canyon resident worried that creating a safer place to ride would lead to an increase in the number of cyclists – something bike riders didn’t see as a problem. One thing both sides did agree on is that responsible riding and driving is key to a safer environment.

While the three closed meetings of the working group were productive and both sides seemed to respect the other’s views, the public hearing to comment on the group’s recommendations was markedly different.

Long-time cyclist and bike industry leader Ray Keener, who is part of the working group, reported that a lot more anti-bike sentiments were expressed at this second meeting by the canyon residents.

Keener said: "They don’t want their tax dollars spent to do anything to make things safer for the ’biker fringe element’. It would just encourage us to ride more.

"More than one of them said, ’If we hit a cyclist, they are headed for the ER or worse, but we drivers are just as traumatised as they are.’ [The way they see it] they use the canyons to go to work, while cyclists are just rich folks at play who don’t really need to be there."

For now the onset of winter has eliminated the problem. Whether some sort of solution can be found in spring remains to be seen, and the working group is still meeting.

One thing that is clear is that cyclists need to behave responsibly when riding in the canyons, whether or not the new law gives them the right to do otherwise. Tensions are high and there is no need to add fuel to the fire.