Cyclist-motorist harmony sought through education, enforcement
June 7, 2012
Steamboat Springs — It's not a war or even a battle. The ongoing effort to create a peace between cyclists and motorists is more of a mop-up operation, say those on the front lines who are advocating for more cooperation and a crackdown on what they say are relatively few offenders.
"A lot of cyclists and a lot of cars are getting along just fine," Routt County Riders' Robin Craigen said Thursday. "We are working on the less than 5 percent of people, because the majority of people are doing a great job."
All involved say promoting safety is their primary objective, but finding the right way to do that — to get the message to sink in for the 95 percent and the 5 percent — hasn't always been easy.
Much of the effort has been and continues to be focused on education, both for cyclists and motorists.
That's where officials from the Steamboat Springs Police Department would like to see problems headed off.
Scott Schaffer, a community service officer with the department, said he and his co-workers often log long hours at youth bike rodeos and other events, trying in instill in riders what is and is not OK.
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"We do a lot of trying to educate, especially kindergartners to fifth-graders, about the laws of the road and how bikes are supposed to behave," Schaffer said. "When a bicycle is on the road, it needs to be following the model traffic code, which is the same rules vehicles follow."
That means stopping at stop signs, signaling when turning and staying off sidewalks.
It's not as easy as writing a ticket for every offense, however. Schaffer said a certain amount of discretion always is involved in enforcement.
He said officers don't necessarily look on even something as straightforward as stopping at a stop sign the same way every time. Slow down to a crawl, look both ways and cross an abandoned intersection while on a bicycle? Not a problem, he said. Fly through Third Street and Lincoln Avenue, bobbing around traffic and dodging cars in the left-turn lane? That is a problem, he said, and it's a time when a full unclip-from-the-pedals stop is warranted. It's a scenario that is likely to attract a ticket.
"A 2-year-old child riding on the sidewalk on Lincoln likely won't get a ticket," Schaffer said. "We would explain the laws and ask, 'Can you push your bike?' If I see someone riding as fast as they can and jumping in and out of traffic and onto the sidewalk, they'd get a ticket.
"To some extent, it's really a matter of whether the person creates a public safety hazard or not. … A lot of it is about public information and getting the word out."
That fits in fine with what Routt County Riders, the local bicycling club, has in mind. The organization has dedicated much of its focus to educating riders on the rules of the road. When that fails, even Steamboat Springs' primary cycling advocacy group isn't opposed to enforcement.
"It's a small number, but they make a big impression," Routt County Riders President Janet Hruby said about the number of cyclists and motorists who have complained about conflicts. "We want to be good stewards to the community, and that means following the rules. Sometimes, that might mean ticketing. We'd prefer education to work, but it's not doing everything we were hoping it would."
By all accounts, there aren't all that many problems. For every problem Craigen said he hears of, he is passed 100 times by a vehicle on the highway and given at least the required 3-foot buffer, and often more.
"We've seen a tremendous increase in the number of people riding," Craigen said. "If you go back five years, there were nowhere near the number of cyclists out on, to take one road, River Road. Now, probably 95 percent or higher follow the rules of the road and the traffic. A huge majority of motorists have more than enough patience."
He said it's a few bad apples that make the problems, and he and others had the same message to those riders and motorists: Don't be the bad apple.
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com
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