Rob Douglas: We must work it out

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Rob Douglas

Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Douglas here.

The consensus among the more than two dozen folks who gathered at the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s monthly Coffee and a Newspaper community forum Wednesday was summed up best by lifelong rancher Marsha Daughenbaugh when she said, “We’d better work this thing out before someone gets hurt.”

What “thing” was Daughenbaugh referencing? The ongoing — many would say growing — conflict between bicyclists and motorists, ranchers and pedestrians on the roads and trails of Northwest Colorado.

In recent years, local biking enthusiasts, businesses and governments have spearheaded a public-private campaign designed to entice cyclists from across the globe to come sample the roads and trails of the Yampa Valley. That effort has benefited local businesses as a growing number of summer visitors means increased revenue and seasonal balance for Steamboat’s shops, restaurants and lodging facilities as Ski Town USA doubles as Bike Town USA.

Arguably, a byproduct of increased bicycle tourism — combined with growing cycling enthusiasm by those who call Routt County home — has been an increase in the number of potentially dangerous interactions between bicyclists and motorists, pedestrians, horseback riders and agricultural workers using the roads and trails across a county that is larger than the state of Rhode Island. The increase in conflicts has brought a palpable belief that it is only a matter of time until someone is killed in a collision that would have been avoided had common sense, patience and respect prevailed.

At Wednesday’s forum, the call for the increased use of common sense, patience and respect — by cyclists and motorists alike — was championed by Steamboat Springs Police Department Chief Joel Rae. As is appropriate — particularly in a resort community with many visitors who are unfamiliar with applicable Colorado bicycling laws — Rae is disinclined to direct his officers to start writing tickets for cyclists who commit minor infractions. Rae, along with several others in the room Wednesday, thinks more education and outreach to the cycling public is needed.

At the same time, Rae left the forum having heard from community leaders, motorists, ranchers, homeowners, horseback riders, pedestrians and seasoned cyclists who all want the police to focus on the cyclists who flagrantly violate Colorado’s traffic laws. And, especially because of the concerns of ranchers about interactions between livestock handlers and cyclists on county roads, Rae will be briefing Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins about Wednesday’s forum.

In a follow-up conversation Thursday, Rae stated that his officers have been directed to focus on bicyclists riding at night without lights. Additionally, Rae made clear that his officers have a range of enforcement actions they can and will employ when cyclists violate traffic laws, including verbal or written warnings, tickets and arrest.

Appropriately, the focus of Wednesday’s forum was not just bicyclists. Just as there are scofflaw bicyclists, there are motorists who behave irresponsibly — even illegally — when interacting with cyclists. Any cyclist who has spent more than a few hours on local roads can recite hair-raising experiences that left them shaken. The reality is that far too many motorists are far too cavalier when approaching cyclists on narrow mountain roads.

At the end of the day, if we draw on the common sense that Chief Rae thinks can go a long way toward reducing the number of potentially dangerous incidents between cyclists and motorists, there is a stark reality that should guide anyone behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. The driver of any motor vehicle must operate that vehicle in a manner that precludes any chance of striking a cyclist or forcing a cyclist off the road — even if the cyclist is breaking the law, impeding traffic or creating any other hazard.

Any motorist who thinks otherwise should take a moment and contemplate the guilt and psychological agony they will experience for the rest of their life having maimed or killed a cyclist because they let anger or frustration overcome common sense, patience and respect.

Since 1998, Steamboat resident Rob Douglas has been a commentator on local, state and national politics in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Colorado. To reach Douglas, email rdouglas

@SteamboatToday.com.

Comments

Brian Kotowski 1 year, 11 months ago

I think the last graph of Rob's piece would more appropriately have read: "Any motorist or cyclist who thinks otherwise..."

It's a very small percentage, I think, of those behind the wheel & in the saddle who are the problem. Appeals to common sense will be ignored by those people. At the end of the day, it'll boil down to enforcement.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 11 months ago

There is nothing to be worked out. Competent drivers and competent cyclists have no problems sharing the road.

It is the idiots that cause the problems and not much can be done about them because they don;t understand they are the issue.

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walt jones 1 year, 11 months ago

And to think it will only get worse if this becomes officially "Biketown USA"

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 11 months ago

The reason I say the issue are idiot drivers and idiot cyclists is that there are no roads here where competent cyclists and competent drivers are going to have issues. We do not have too narrow heavily traveled roads. Sure, there are a few spots where a driver will have to wait a few seconds to get around a corner before passing a cyclist, but there are not long sections where it is unsafe to pass a competent cyclist.

Biketown USA does not necessarily make the problem worse because it may not attract more inept cyclists or inept drivers.

Tom, I'd guess that every time you mention Obama that another undecided voter is so repelled by your viewpoints that they'd rather support Obama than your candidate.

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jerry carlton 1 year, 11 months ago

Scott Have you ever driven up Elk River road? Do you think that is a good road for cyclists and vehicles? As I remember a teenage girl tangled with a dump truck or something like that a few years ago. She survived. Do you ride a bike? I do and I stay off Elk river Road!

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 11 months ago

I've ridden Elk River Road. There are sections with no shoulders, but the lanes are normal width and most of it has decent visibility. The traffic is modest and cars can usually pass without much problem.

I would tend to avoid it on the weekends when there are too many idiots with boats and RVs Easily the local road with the most traffic and the smallest shoulders, but no worse than biking in an urban area.

A difference here is that cyclists get used to riding on isolated roads and fail to learn or develop the bike handling skills that are important to deal with cars. Such as being able to ride on the white line and look behind while staying on the white line.

I've seen groups of cyclists here have riders drift 3 or 4 feet into the lane when looking back. Looked to me like RCR group ride with no one telling others to learn how to handle a bike.

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kyle pietras 1 year, 11 months ago

This is a hot topic, thank you Rob for addressing it. Patience and common sense is rare in a driver around here. I pushed a lady and her car out of the middle lane of 40 yesterday and almost got run over by three people as they needed to swerve around me. We are in Steamboat, not the fast paced city.....hello! Enjoy the view and slow down! I don't like bikers hogging the road, 100 cows in the road, trackers what ever....but they are there and we need to deal! Enjoy the view and slow down!!!!!!!

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rhys jones 1 year, 11 months ago

If more people KNEW they were idiots -- like your humble commenter -- that would go a long way to forestall the problem. How would one know? I seek investors for the "Idiot" app I am developing.

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Melanie Turek 1 year, 11 months ago

I know I'm gonna get hated on here for posting this, but it is a perspective, certainly, and apparently not terribly far from where the SS police fit in: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/05/opinion/sunday/if-kant-were-a-new-york-cyclist.html?_r=1&hp

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Anne Dawson 1 year, 11 months ago

I think Scott is right. It's the poor/selfish drivers AND riders who create the problems. We'll never resolve the problem completely as long as human beings populate our roads.

I've ridden through central London (England) to work and I think Steamboat resident drivers and riders just need to come to terms with the fact that we will always have non-Steamboat drivers and riders on our roads. It's how we make our $ here, so we have to go with what we know and remember that not everyone is as familiar with our roads as we are. Locals need to keep aware of the local risks, like the junction of Lincoln and Pine Grove Rd - I saw a 3-car bump-shunt there just this week.

Just stay calm, and try not to use a phone while driving (I'm English, and it's a $45 fine to use your cell as a driver) then we'll all get what we want out of the road system.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 11 months ago

Tom, You are free to criticize Obama.

But if you want to connect your bizarre idea of requiring cyclists to get licenses with opposing Obama and thus suggest that only people like Obama support the idea that bicycling should not require licenses then a whole lot of people think more like Obama than you.

And you mean that Stop sign which you just did a rolling stop, checking for cross traffic as you approached while slowing down and went through without coming to a complete stop when there was no other traffic? Why does it so bother you when I do the same on bike as you and I do while driving?

I am not an idiot of bike or vehicle that blows through stop signs hoping that cross traffic will stop. I see those people of bike and vehicle all the time. Vehicle bothers me more since when they are wrong then that can more easily seriously hurt others.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 11 months ago

Tom, Considering the amount of money spent on roads in urban areas to relieve congestion, the "fair share" for bicyclists in urban areas would actually be payments. Nor are cyclists heavy enough to wear out streets by causing potholes and so on.

The primary purpose of roads having shoulders are not for bicyclists, but vehicle safety to allow vehicles to safely pull over. Which is why freeways and expressways that prohibit bicyclists still have ample shoulders.

Well, an idea that makes no policy sense and is not implemented anywhere seems bizarre to me. But maybe bizarre probably is not the best descriptive word since your intent is to be vindictive against bicyclists.

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