Bill to give cyclists more room on the road nears final votes
Proposal would allow bikes two abreast, in the middle of mountain roads
By Heath Urie (Contact)
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
The Bicycle Safety Bill - A bill that would modify Colorado’s bicycle laws is nearing final votes in both chambers of the state Legislature. If it passes, Senate Bill 148 would:
Require drivers to give cyclists at least three feet of space when passing
Allow vehicles to cross double-yellow lines to pass riders safely
Allow cyclists to ride two abreast in most situations
Prohibit cyclists from riding two abreast on highways with lanes less than 12-feet wide
Specifically prohibit the harassment of cyclists
Increase the penalty for throwing objects at cyclists
Allow cyclists to ride on the left side of one-way streets
Allow cyclists to cruise in the center of lanes when riding on the shoulder isn’t safe
DENVER — In the eight years that Boulder resident Chuck Coyle has been riding his bicycle professionally, he’s been nearly hit by cars, screamed at by drivers, “brake checked” along the edge of the highway and had objects thrown at him from passing vehicles.
“It’s a lot more dangerous than people think it is,” Coyle said of the sport. “You feel like you’re in danger of getting run off the road and being seriously injured.”
Those dangers, Coyle said, have the cycling community excited that a bill aimed at clarifying cyclists’ rights and better protecting riders from aggressive drivers could reach Gov. Bill Ritter’s desk within the next month.
Lawmakers in both chambers of the Colorado Legislature have approved versions of Senate Bill 148, but are working to hammer out final details. Known as the Bicycle Safety Bill, the measure would make major changes to how drivers and riders interact on the road.
Provisions of the bill would require drivers to give cyclists at least three feet of space when passing; allow vehicles to cross double-yellow lines to pass riders safely; allow cyclists to ride two abreast in most situations and specifically prohibit swerving at or otherwise harassing cyclists.
Coyle said the changes would give clarity to “a lot of confusion about the laws.”
“I think people don’t get it,” he said. “We’re out there trying to work and get fit, not to cause problems.”
The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, said the changes would make common courtesy into law.
“It really is a big leap forward in safety and common sense,” Brophy said.
He said some of the biggest changes would be requiring drivers to give cyclists a wide berth on the road, and make “very, very clear that you can ride two abreast as long as you’re not impeding traffic.”
Another change affecting mountain roads in particular, he said, would be to allow riders going as fast as traffic to ride in the middle of the lane — rather than navigate gravel and other obstacles on the shoulders.
“For the cyclist coming down Boulder Canyon ... right now they’re supposed to ride as far to the right as they can,” Brophy said. “That might not be the safest place in the road at 50 mph.”
For cyclists like Teresa Foley, 27, of Boulder, knowing she could ride on safer parts of the road is particularly appealing.
“I would love it,” Foley said, “especially being able to ride in the middle of the road.”
But the proposal has its detractors.
“It’s going to be terrible,” said James Healy, 23, who recently moved to Denver from Boulder. “They’re all over the roads now.”
Healy, who was enjoying a beer on the Pearl Street Mall next to a group of bicycle taxi operators Tuesday, said he thinks most drivers would agree with him, unless they’re cyclists too.
Robert Shires, 37, of Boulder, said he rides frequently but understands the frustration of some drivers.
“I see a lot of cyclists break the law,” he said. “They give the rest of us a bad name.”
Dan Grunig, executive director of Bicycle Colorado, said the rules are designed to temper emotions on the road.
“The goal is to create a safe environment,” he said. “These are pretty simple changes that improve everybody’s safety.”
Grunig said his advocacy group is asking each of its 7,000 members to call their local legislators and urge them to approve the bill.