Megan Hottman of www.TheCyclist-Lawyer.com
Authored by: Megan Hottman, lawyer with Hottman Law Office
Last night I attended the second of three meetings hosted by Commissioner Rosier and Amy Pamperien, with presentations by Lt. James Lucas, Jeffco Sheriff, and representative of Jeffco Transportation and Engineering Division, concerning Jeffco cyclists and homeowners and motorists. These meetings were initiated as informational meetings to share Jeffco's proposed bike/road plans, as well as for the Sheriff's office to review the laws regarding cyclists and also to receive comments from both sides on the issues that are causing the tension between cyclists and motorists and homeowners.
Commissioner Rosier began by going through the attached powerpoint presentation (I apologize they are out of order in this file but you get the gist) - see attached.
Then Lt. Lucas took over in discussing the primary statute applicable to cyclists. He also fielded questions regarding the 3-feet passing rule.
We briefly heard from a representative of the Transportation and Engineering Division - he discussed the "Jefferson County Bicycle Plan." The important thing to note is that no funding currently exists or is set aside for this plan. However we were informed that the reason a plan is presented even in the absence of funding, is that funding could become available at any time, and a county with a plan can receive those funds, whereas a county without a plan would not have the opportunity to receive funds. It was also emphasized that the improvements to roads as part of this plan -whether paving wider shoulders for cyclists or adding bike lanes - would always be a matter of priority, with one section done at a time, based on use, traffic flows, etc. The plan is very thorough and I can only hope that funding does become available for these improvements at some point soon.
After the informational presentation, the session was opened to comments. Individuals in attendance were asked to sign up and were given 5 minutes to speak their mind. 19 people signed up to talk.
While it seemed that most in attendance were cyclists, there were also several homeowners from the Deer Creek canyon area, as well as general "community activists" who came to voice their comments.
The main comments/issues that were raised :
1. The desire by non-cyclists to impose a license and/or tax requirement on cyclists - because cyclists use the roads and need to license/pay taxes to ride bikes on those roads.
2. The desire by non-cyclists to impose a license plate requirement on cyclists - to discourage cyclists from poor behavior as a result of riding "anonymously" because cyclists do not have identifying information on that allows a motorist to call and report poor behavior. A license plate would bring a sense of responsibility and the threat of punishment by authorities and the thought is that if bikes have license plates, cyclists will conduct themselves more appropriately.
3. An overwhelming theme was that everyone agrees certain canyons are simply too full of cycling and motor traffic -- namely, Deer Creek and Lookout Mtn. These are very popular roads for cyclists but do not have shoulders in most areas. One easy solution to reduce this traffic is to encourage cyclists to ride other canyons, such as Coal Creek canyon or Golden Gate canyon. Of course the problem with those roads is that they are not safe for cycling on most days and so cyclists tend to avoid them.
So funding and feasibility of adding shoulders on those other canyons to disburse cycling traffic was discussed. A suggestion was made that if cyclists do have to pay annual fees or have to get a license plate, that those revenues be devoted to cycling-related road improvements.
4. A general theme among the cyclists there was that we all need to be responsible for our own safe riding, and we need to "call out" other cyclists that we see misbehaving. Don't ride 2-3-4 abreast when you're backing up traffic behind you. Demonstrate exemplary behavior, both to other cyclists as well as to motorists.
5. One comment related to saying thank you or acknowledging proper/positive behavior. I.e. -as a cyclist, when a car waits behind you until it is safe to pass (ie once through a blind turn), give them a way of acknowledgment, or if their windows are down, holler "thank you." The motorists there said they intended to do the same -to thank cyclists who ride single file and who make a point to allow traffic to flow properly. The idea being - instead of laying on the horns, or holding up the middle finger, and always focusing on the negative, to also pay tribute to proper conduct on both sides.
6. Along those lines, cyclists asked motorists/homeowners to use the friendly "toot toot" on the car horn to notify a cyclist they were behind them in a car, versus the "HOOOONNNNNK" that typically frightens a cyclist and often leads to the return of a middle finger or other gesture. Motorists/homeowners did not seem to realize that a cyclist cruising along with wind blowing in their ears often cannot hear a car approach behind them.
7. A major fear expressed among drivers is having to pass cyclists by crossing over the center line to get around. Crossing into the oncoming traffic lane is terrifying. They asked us to please stay over to the right on tight roads especially with blind turns, and to please ride single file so they can get around us safely.
8. A suggestion by a cyclist was made to other cyclists to start riding with helmet cams so that we can catch more motorist behavior and get it reported to authorities.
9. A theme emerged that one negative cyclist experience for a motorist can color their interactions with all cyclists in the future. Such that one poorly-behaving cycling may cause a motorist to take it out on some unsuspecting, law-abiding cyclist later on.
I found it amazing that the meeting took every bit of the three hours.
I found it reassuring that the majority seemed to be cyclists/pro-bike vs the angry motorist/homeowner crowd. I was proud of the cyclists for filling the room and representing us in such a strong positive showing.
The meeting had a positive tone most of the night. Even the homeowners from Deer Creek admitted that they had come to "vent" about the cyclists that ride 6 abreast and prevent them from getting to/from their homes in the canyon ... but after hearing some cyclists speak about our fears and our desires to be cooperative, the homeowners stated they were glad they had attended and believed we could all work together to reach the proper resolutions. I realized that the homeowners and motorists took on a new appreciation for the exposure and risk cyclists encounter on every ride - when they saw us as people, and not in our "battle gear" -ie spandex and helmets -they realized we were people too.
Towards the end though, I felt we were left with a room primarily full of cyclists trying to sway other cyclists. Preaching to the choir! I wasn't sure that it was all that constructive at that point.
The thought I had as I left the meeting was: as a cyclist, we need to be responsible for our own conduct. We can be "in the right" but be "dead wrong" in an interaction with a vehicle because the vehicle ALWAYS WINS.
We can't change everyone's behavior overnight, and yes, there will always be cyclists that will break the laws and create a bad impression that the rest of us have to work twice as hard to overcome within the community. But. We can teach new cyclists how to safely ride in traffic, and we can be helpful out on the roads giving tips to other cyclists and generally raise the level of our riding to be law-compliant and still get our needs met by using the roads and riding where we please.
We do have rights to the road, no one disputes our right to be there. But I think if we can each strive to be safer "vehicle operators" out on the roads, it will have a very positive overall effect in the bigger scheme of this issue.
I'd encourage Jeffco cyclists (and those that ride roads in Jeffco) to attend Wednesday night's meeting, August 22nd, at the Lookout Mountain Nature Center, 6-9pm.