Coffee Talk Tuesday - Our Safety on the Road, Preception vs. Reality.

Tuesday Coffee Talk is where you the reader gets to participate in the topic completing and enriching the discussion with your opinion and knowledge

Are we safe on the the open road? According to a recent poll we took on 303Cycling on Are our roads more dangerous now than 10 years ago or are incidents being reported more often and the majority believe we are not. Why is that?

First I'll start off with that I am of the minority, I DO believe we are safer than we were 10-ish years ago but that is just my perception The reason is, shoulders. Not mine but the ones on the roadway. Every time I ride on a road that does not have a shoulder and that is rare these days I can't wait to get to the other end. This is why I refuse to ride the popular Carter Lake route. All of the road rage I have experienced in the past 10-15 years have always taken place on shoulder-less roads. Now road rage does not equal safety issue but we are talking about perception vs. reality and for me personally I feel safer on a road that has a shoulder. That is part of the reason why Boulder County has invested so much in shoulders on the roadway because I recall at one point hearing one of the officials saying that adding shoulders is the easiest way to resolve and reduce cyclists vs. car tensions.

Just recently there was accident with a cyclists at Carter Lake on their shoulder-less road. Here it is very possible that a shoulder could have prevented such accident. Then back to the most tense route in Colorado, Deer Creek Canyon, this route does not have shoulders all the way up the canyon, wonder what it might feel like it they did?

But that is just my preception, what about reality.
My memory tells me that the fatalities in the Boulder area has experienced in the past 24 months have been left turn collisions. 2 happened at Hwy 36 and Violet and one at Lefthand and Old stage and one on Valmont. Luckily the more recent sort of left turn accident in Lefthand did not end up in a fatality. All of these happened on roads that have shoulders and it does not appear given the information available that any of these were tension/rage related.

So while those shoulders may give me the sense of safety on the roads they might not. What do you think? I can say personally, safe or not I do not want to return to the days of shoulder-less riding, I did my time on those roads in my early days and never want to return.

I'll finish with a bumper sticker I saw the other day and is what gave me the idea behind this Coffee Talk post, it said, "Perception is Reality". I interpret that as, doesn't matter what is real sometimes, it is your perception that defines your thoughts on reality.

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12 Comments

I agree that roads with

I agree that roads with shoulders and bike lanes make it much safer to bike on those roads. I do a lot of riding in East Douglas County and there are hardly any roads with shoulders. This has caused cycling on those roads to become more dangerous over the years due to an increase in automobiles on those roads. I've tried to get more shoulders or bike lanes installed on those roads but nothing has occurred yet.

roads have improved but drivers are worse

10 years not every other person was talking or texting on their phones like they are today. They are a lot more people living in CO too, which adds to more people driving on the roads. My encounters have involved people who have cut me off because they we in a hurry to get to the next stop light or fiddling with their cell phone. So , yes the roads have improved tremendously, but this is negated by the increased number of inattentive drivers.
It is still a lot better than every other place in the country though.....

Bike Safety

It's an interesting question... I came to Boulder from rural NH where there are few shoulders and very twisty back roads. I always felt safe there but that's b/c there were fewer drivers and less bikers so the cars were not annoyed by us.

I do think that drivers are more distracted and that certainly contributes to an increase in accidents, but overall I think it's society in general that is less patient, less forgiving and doesn't care about other users--whether it's cyclists or drivers. We're all at fault for not giving the benefit of the doubt and slowing down just a bit.

Either way, ride safe and smart--don't bunch up in packs giving drivers a reason to be annoyed.

Feeling safe vs. actually safer

I think it bares mention that I regard drivers who harass cyclists as somewhat less of a danger than those who are not paying attention. When they are buzzing by, or shouting/honking/blowing exhaust, at least you know they see you. I also think that cyclists are generally supported in this town. Most drivers are quite accommodating and friendly.

Boulder county has made excellent progress with adapting roads so that cyclists and cars can co-exist more safely. For instance, it's a highway of cyclists on lefthand canyon on the weekends, likely with cyclists far outnumbering cars, but the shoulder is good. I have been riding in Boulder since the late 80's and there used to be many stretches all over the county that didn't have so much room and felt very dangerous. That said, I remember that car/bike fatalities seems less frequent, though there were notable exceptions (thinking of John Stenner, but he was hit outside of the county). It would be good to know statistically if we have less accidents now, taking into account how many more cyclists are on the road. Then we're not depending upon personal perception. I really enjoy seeing so many cyclists out there, both for fun and commuting. Improving the roads and paths helps create that opening. As others have mentioned, distracted driving is much more of an issue now. Additionally, driving while impaired on pain relief medications seems on the rise. It might be worthwhile for Boulder as a city to publicize an anti-distracted driving or while medicated sort of campaign. Maybe we need the same social stigma change that happened with drunk driving. That's good for everyone, not just cyclists.

"All of these happened on

"All of these happened on roads that have shoulders and it does not appear given the information available that any of these were tension/rage related. "

Ummm ... no but they aren't exactly true accidents. For instance, Loven had multiple encounters with cyclist BEFORE he turned in front of one and killed him. The question is, was it one of those screw you, I am going to TAKE the right-of-way and you just have to stoppppp oops moments. In other words, was a poor decision spurred by years of building frustration against cyclists?

Shoulders in suburbs

It's nice the author of this post lives and bikes in Boulder County with shoulders on most roads. I live and work on the southeast side of the Denver metro area, in the Centennial/Aurora/Parker area, and there are a lot of roads without shoulders, including many new roads. All possible routes to my work take me on shoulder-less roads in multiple places. For how great Denver and Boulder is for cycling Centennial is surprisingly bad. They recently removed a bike lane along a residential 30 mph road that gets very little traffic because of too many complaints from the residents. I have no idea why they would complain about a bike lane like that, other than just not liking cyclists. They didn't add an extra car lane.

I think there are a lot of

I think there are a lot of factors and it maybe difficult to tease out what is reality from perception. All these factors and variables add up to a pretty complex calculus.

Social media and traditional media have raised visibility of driver/cyclist conflicts to a degree where I wonder if some of this perception isn't merely confirmation bias. After all, practically no one ever goes out of their way to post about having a "great commute, NO ONE tried to kill me today!!" on Facebook.

Drivers now seem to be far more distracted than they were ten years ago (texting, mobile phones, etc.) - there are more cars, and bigger cars, along with more acceptance of what I'll call an adversarial mindset while driving. Whether this is projected by media bias or is a result of more people listening to things like hatespeech radio stations while driving and projecting their angst, again I'm not sure you can separate fact from bias here.

Infrastructure in the area has been rapidly improving for bike transit. This adds safety in general, but it also introduces different risks and psychological factors. Adding bike lanes segregates riders, and doing this provides a space for them to ride. However, by doing this you can also create both a sense of entitlement and disengagement on the part of drivers. It removes cyclists from direct traffic which on the surface is a good thing (and particularly on the part of more casual riders who cannot match the pace of traffic; bike shoulders lower the perceived barriers to cycle commuting, which on balance is a net win). However this lack of visibility also introduces other risks like right hook, being doored, adds complexity to making a left turn, and reduces rider visibility from cars entering on side streets, as a bike in a gutter lane is more likely to be obscured by parked cars, landscaping, etc... If any of you ride in denser areas downtown (Denver or Boulder) notice how upset drivers will get should you ever have to signal and move over out of the bike shoulder in busy traffic in order to skirt around a storm grate, pothole, tree branches, poorly removed snow/ice, illegally parked cars or broken glass. In the eyes of drivers, if you have the bike lane, you should NEVER be in traffic, regardless of what the law or reasonable safety considerations dictate. So in some regards, then, bike lanes can create a "ghetto" situation of separate-but-not-equal.

Multi use trails create more and different problems, and I have become so disenchanted with the selfishness and lack of situational awareness by the majority of users (including cyclists) in this region that I avoid them whenever possible and just use surface streets.

I think the ultimate answer is with user education. In my area one of the biggest offender groups in minor traffic incidents are students, both for driving and cycling. I submit it should be mandatory for incoming / new college students to receive an introductory course in both local vehicular laws and cycling safety. CU especially trumpets all the percs of their outdoor culture; were they actually responsible stewards of their resource area they'd work with groups like the local PD, Bicycle Colorado and IMBA, etc.

I ride with a friend who is a bike patroller out on our local trails. I would say easily 75% of the riders we stop to talk to about trail etiquette issues like yielding, not riding off-trail, hiker courtesy, etc... have literally no clue there are any sorts of rules or standards. They have never heard of IMBA and don't bother reading trail use signs. Many if not most are either students or locals on low-end or department store level bikes, who seem to genuinely want to do right, but aren't connected in any way with the knowledgeable user base you'd see on a site like 303, or with the local bike shop, so they're essentially operating in a vacuum.

I also wish it were general policy to require drivers to retake their drivers' tests any time you move states and/or have to renew your license, since laws change, drivers' physical / mental capacities are not static, and even the cops aren't always well informed on state & local vehicular codes.

I feel safe riding in Boulder

I feel safe riding in Boulder County and Colorado more generally, and I can say that I have had only a couple of unfortunate encounters with rude or aggressive motorists. As a rule, I find drivers to be more courteous when I am on the bike than when stuck in traffic in my vehicle. At the same time, distracted driving is always a risk and, when it comes down to a cyclist or pedestrian versus a car, the car is going to win. With that in mind, I choose my training routes with care and I pay close attention to the vehicles around me. If I come to an intersection, I will wait until I know the driver has seen me before pulling out in front of the car. I recognize that bikes are less visible, and I also recognize that cars routinely miscalculate the speed at which a bicycle is traveling.

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