By Mitch Westall
Being in a crosswalk on a bike is not a very safe place to be. Mitch Westall has had a bit of a nightmare after being hit in one and has learned a lot about the rules of a crosswalk. Bottom line, don’t assume anything.
On July 16th, 2019, while riding my bicycle over the crosswalk onto the Lone Tree C‐470 trail, I was hit by a car: a direct impact to my rear wheel. The driver had stopped with the front of her car in the middle of the crosswalk for eight seconds, before I cautiously rode in front of the car. I was slowly proceeding forward when the driver pulled forward and hit me. After being hit, the driver stopped, and I asked her why she hit me. The 68 year‐old driver responded that she had never seen me and was coming back from lunch. I called the police and awaited their help. Their response was to issue me a ticket and to wish the driver a safe passage home. A cyclist has absolutely no legal right to rise in a crosswalk; in essence, the oblivious driver had every right in the world to hit me.
Initially, after hearing my statement, the two Lone Tree police officers were unsure who was in the right and who was in the wrong. They didn’t know who had the right of way. I expected them to talk with the driver, to explain to her that there is a C‐470 trail crossing at Yosemite Street, to say she should have looked for non‐motorized traffic at this crosswalk ‐ no ticket necessary, just a verbal discussion. Imagine my surprise as a long term member of Denver’s Bicycle Advisory Commission to receive a ticket?
My ticket said I had made an illegal left‐hand turn to the C‐470 trail while riding my bicycle (Appendix C, Section 12‐4‐1412, section 8). Before being struck, I had turned left from northbound Yosemite, entered onto the crosswalk at the intersection. At the corner of the intersection, where the light pole is, I stopped and tried to look for the driver’s attention, as the front bumper of the car was in the middle of the crosswalk. As a parked car is usually a sign that the car is yielding the right of way, I proceeded forward in front of her car. I was almost completely across when I felt the rear wheel of my bicycle shoved sideways.
The officer said that the moment I got in the left‐hand turn lane, the only legal thing I could then do was to turn left onto the C‐470 highway on ramp, to continue with my bicycle on to the C‐470 highway, and then he would give me a ticket for riding my bicycle on the highway. Yes, you read that correctly, there was only one legal bicycle maneuver, but it would have gotten me only a different ticket. He said that, by changing direction and going onto the bike path, it is the same as me taking a car and driving recklessly onto the C‐470 trail. He said I did not clear the intersection until I was completely on the bike path. Consequently, he inferred that at the point I was hit I was still in the intersection. The officer thought I should have gotten off of my bike before approaching the intersection, walked across the first visible crosswalk on the right, walked across the Yosemite second crosswalk, and walked in front of the parked car. Then she would have been at fault for the accident.
My ticket also included that I had no legal right to ride my bicycle in a crosswalk (Appendix A, Section 42‐ 4‐801, section 1). I’m either a car or a person walking, there is no other legal distinction between the two, no mention of a bicyclist. The officer said, when I ride my bicycle, it is the same as me driving a car, further to be in a crosswalk, it is totally illegal for cars and bicycles to do so. So, the only legal connection of the bike path is walking across crosswalks while evading turning cars from three directions and two double‐turn lanes. Sure that sounds like a fun version of human Frogger, right?
The ticket also listed that I had no right to cross the crosswalk in front of a parked car (Appendix B, Section 42‐4‐803, section 3). He thought I should have ridden my bike around the back of the parked car, and yes, he meant going the wrong way up the street and around the back of the car. He believed I should have waited and insisted that the car proceed before going across the crosswalk… because we are now somehow supposed to talk?
The following day, I thought that, realistically, the police had made a mistake. There was neither damage to the car, nor damage to my bicycle. The safest way for me to get to the bike path was where they installed the entry, access only through the crosswalk at the intersection. Surely someone made a mistake and they would likely dismiss the ticket if I talked with them! I rode my bike to the new Lone Tree City Hall, as no bicycle rack exists, and I locked my bike to a sign post and asked for “My” officers. I asked for clarification of the Uniform Traffic Code cited on my ticket. The younger officer didn’t know and had me sit down with an older, plain‐clothes officer. I again explained what happened to me. The more experienced officer explained the sections of the Uniform Traffic Code used to enforce Lone Tree’s laws. He also told me how he was personally accosted by a bicyclist on Yosemite: on a warm summer day, he was driving along, saw a bicyclist weaving along with no hands on the handlebars, veering into his lane. He honked his horn to let the bicyclist know he was there. The bicyclist rolled up on him and yelled profanities at him through his open window. I was flabbergasted that he was telling me this story. It was obvious to me that the Lone Tree Duty Sergeant, the guy who informs the other officers on what sections of the traffic code to write, dislikes cyclists!
I revisited the crosswalk where I was hit / ticketed, (see attached pic). It was obvious that the crosswalk is missing much of its painted surface. I was told by the Judge it was gone due to the C‐470 construction but he thought it was clearly visible. You can judge for yourselves. The Lone Tree Public Works department said the crosswalk belongs to C‐470. C‐470 says it belongs to Lone Tree. Apparently no entity governs it?!
( I was hit on my bicycle as I was centered over the red rumble strips, majority of my bike was off the road and onto the C‐470 path.)
In court, the City Attorney wouldn’t discuss the case with me. I stated that it was a reasonable expectation for me to be able to make a left‐hand turn at a light onto the C‐470 trail, using the turn lane. The only connecting method to said trail is via streets and getting off my bike to walk on crosswalks is not a reasonable accommodation ‐ it puts me at further risk of being hit by cars. As cars turn right on green and think they have the right‐of‐way, this places the timing in which I cross at the exact same time as the cars turning.
Down‐Town Denver has its crosswalks timed differently for this reason. During court, the City Attorney didn’t say a word, the Judge agreed with the ticket. I paid the $135 court‐mandated fine.
I used to feel like laws applied to all equally. Now, I feel very differently about police and the legal system as a bicyclist. The current laws don’t uphold cyclists’ rights and we are viewed as law‐breakers. I feel I was victimized by many: the driver, the Police Officers, their Sergeant, the City Attorney, the Judge, the Uniform Traffic Code, my democratic representatives, all of whom, felt the car had a right to hit me and that I have no right to cross the crosswalk at a slow speed while riding my bicycle.
You may think that there are no consequences to this and, thus, no action is necessary. This incident made me feel it is safer to ride on the streets. Three weeks later, while avoiding bicycle trails, I was hit from behind at 45mph. These collisions happen to many more cyclists than just me; change needs to happen to protect all cyclists!
The City of Lakewood passed the rule that a bicycle does have a right to slowly ride through a crosswalk. Lone Tree and Douglas County need to adopt similar code amendments as that of Lakewood. I hope to see the Uniform Traffic Code amended or to see our government jurisdictions amend their adoption to make reasonable exceptions to allow bicyclists to ride at a slow speed across a crosswalk. In the meantime, I encourage all cyclists to look both ways, to dismount, and to walk in crosswalks. You might be slower, unintentionally hold up traffic, increasing your risk and likelihood of being hit, but at least you’ll have legal protection.
If you feel similarly, please contact Lone Tree and request they amend their City Ordinances to allow a cyclist to ride slowly in a crosswalk… three are up for re‐election in May, 2020.
City Council members:
Mayor Jackie Millet, 303‐748‐2383, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mayor Pro Tem Cathie Brunnick, 303‐909‐7939, email@example.com Council Member Mike Anderson, 303‐495‐8231, Mike.Anderson@cityoflonetree.com Council Member Jay Carpenter, 720‐840‐4286, firstname.lastname@example.org Council Member Wynne Shaw, 720‐456‐8613, email@example.com
Police Chief Wilson, 303‐339‐8150 , firstname.lastname@example.org Sincerely,