Steamboat Springs A rash of accidents involving bicyclists and cars has city, county and state officials urging residents to be aware of their surroundings when driving and cycling.
Three separate accidents sent three female cyclists to the hospital during the past week. The most serious was that involving 16-year-old Katherine Ingalls, who was flown to Denver with a broken pelvis and leg after colliding with a semitrailer on Routt County Road 129.
Officials say accidents such as Ingalls' serve as reminders that while some collisions are inevitable, many can be avoided with awareness and mutual respect.
"This is a society that thrives on mutual respect," said George Krawzoff, the city's director of transportation. "Whether you're a cyclist and a car is in your way, or you're a driver and a bicyclist is in your way, we have to show respect, patience and, frankly, be responsible for our actions."
Krawzoff, an avid cyclist and proponent of making Steamboat Springs a bicycle-friendly community, said as cycling continues to gain in popularity, it is important for motorists and bicyclists to be patient.
"I'm living proof that you can ride your bike in Colorado for 35 years safely on virtually any road," he said.
Making roads safer
As a means to make Steamboat Springs roads a little safer for users, officials are in the process of implementing the Bicycle Friendly Community Initiative, which would designate the city as bicycle-friendly.
As part of the initiative, city officials are working to notify the public about the creation of designated bike routes and specific bike lanes, which would be designated by white road stripes on streets designated for bicycle use.
"We have the (Yampa River) Core Trail to fulfill all the needs it does right now, but we also need bike routes on the streets, which is what we're doing right now," Krawzoff said.
Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said county officials always have been active in making county roads safer for all users, including motorists, bicyclists, walkers and runners.
A capital infrastructure plan to improve some county roads is being developed right now, she said.
"Basically, what we do when we've identified a county road that is heavily used (is) we put up additional 'Share the road' signs," she said. "That's our way of notifying people that they are going to be on a road with a variety of mixed users."
Conversations about improving shoulders and widening River Road and Routt County roads 129 and 14 are ongoing, she said.
"The challenge with implementing any road improvement or infrastructure is where we get the money to do that," she said.
Financing for such improvement projects could come from county resources as well as putting a mill levy before the voters, she said.
In the meantime, Stahoviak said she hopes all road users will be cautious and aware of each other to prevent further accidents.
"We as Routt County commissioners will do what we can to improve the safety of some of our roads, recognizing that there will be some roads we can't do that for," she said. "The bottom line is that we have to share to road. That's the reality in Routt County."
While motorists and bicyclists have rights to use public roads and highways, they also have the shared responsibility of respecting each other while using those roads.
"Hopefully these events have woken a few people up," said Brad Cusenbary, president of Routt County Riders, a local bicycle club. "It's unfortunate we've had the rash of accidents we've had, but there's no magic solution to this. There's no pill we can all take or something that we can do next week that will alleviate accidents 100 percent."
Instead, education and public awareness is the most effective way to stress the importance of safety for all road users, he said.
"I think we as a community are going in the right direction with what we're trying to do," he said. "We've been trying to reach out to both bicyclists and motorists in promoting awareness. My only message would be to please share the road. It goes both ways."
Colorado State Patrol Trooper Gilbert Mares said accidents involving bicyclists and motorists increase in spring and summer.
"We always see an increase in pedestrian or bicycle-related and vehicle accidents as we come into the warmer months," he said. "Motorists should always be aware of anything on the roadway, whether it's bicycles, pedestrians or animals. Likewise, bicyclists should be aware of what is going on around them. It should run hand in hand."
Mares said there only has been one cyclist fatality in Colorado since Jan. 1. There were nine cyclist deaths in 2006, and eight in 2005, he said.
Dan Grunig, executive director of Denver-based Bicycle Colorado, agreed that educating the public is a key component to prevent accidents.
"To reduce crashes we have to modify the behavior of the bicyclist, modify the behavior of the motorist and improve the design of our roads," he said. "With good training and teaching we can prevent crashes."