Brent Boyer: It's a 2-way street

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Brent Boyer

Contact Editor Brent Boyer at 871-4221 or e-mail bboyer@SteamboatToday.com.

— I’m certainly no stranger to the ongoing struggle to establish peace and harmony between cyclists and motorists. During the past five years in particular, the pages of this newspaper have been filled with letters to the editor, news articles and op-eds from readers on both sides of the issue.

I drive a car, and I ride a bike. Often I do both on the same day. But the truth is, I’m behind the wheel much more than I’m in the saddle. It’s from the vantage point of the driver’s seat of my pickup that I’ve come to resent the cavalier approach of some cyclists to following the rules of the road. As a driver, I know it takes only a couple of bad experiences with a careless cyclist before you stereotype the whole lot of ’em.

It’s precisely those driving experiences that have motivated me to be a by-the-books cyclist. I guess my hope has been that my actions while on two wheels can influence others to follow suit — using hand signals to indicate turns, for example, or riding to the far right of the road, even when riding two abreast is both safe and legal. Similarly, I’ve always thought being a responsible cyclist can help change the perception — and sometimes outright resentment — some motorists have for their biking neighbors.

Just how far we still have to go as a community struck me like a slap across the face last week. I was riding my mountain bike back to the Mad Creek parking lot, having just completed the descent of the Red Dirt trail. A buddy and I were riding single file as far to the side of Elk River Road as possible; I was taking up the couple of narrow inches of pavement to the right of the white fog line, intentionally trying to stay out of the way of the occasional passing vehicle.

It’s barely a mile from the Red Dirt trailhead to the Mad Creek parking lot. There were probably a half-dozen southbound cars that passed us on that short stretch. All of them, save one, gave us the courtesy of moving a few extra feet to the left while they passed. Despite being on a straightaway, the driver of a large white pickup blew past us as close as possible without actually making contact — an impact that very well could have cost us our lives. The driver casually looked back at us through his rearview mirror after he passed. There was no doubt in my mind that his actions were intentional.

The incident was jarring, and a week later, I’m still struggling to comprehend the driver’s motivation. Was it to send a message? Was it the result of years of built-up anger from dealing with cyclists whose actions can add to the stress and challenges of driving our winding mountain roads?

The result of that chance encounter could have been tragic. I’m obviously thrilled it wasn’t. But I’m disappointed that in a community of residents with only one degree of separation from one another, we can’t figure out how to share our roads with the respect and safety of all users in mind. I shudder to think of the day when a road-rage incident between a cyclist and a motorist here in Routt County ends with life-changing repercussions for both.

Let’s not let it get to that point. Cyclists, follow the law when riding on roadways and be thoughtful of the drivers who use those roads to commute to and from work, haul horses and hay and who, like you, simply want to make it safely to their destination. Motorists, give a few extra feet to cyclists, and remember that hitting the brakes to wait for a better place to pass a short distance ahead always is OK if it means a safer outcome for you and your two-wheeled neighbors.

To reach Brent Boyer, call 970-871-4221 or email bboyer@SteamboatToday.com

Comments

Scott Wedel 2 years, 2 months ago

Brent, As you describe that incident that driver violated Colorado law.

Someone a few months ago posted a from his helmet cam of also being buzzed close and the police used it to track down and ticket the driver.

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Brian Kotowski 2 years, 2 months ago

Your onions are more robust than mine, Brent. You couldn't pay me to ride Elk River Road. Even without miscreants like the one you encountered, I've always felt I'm just a big rig/Winnebago/horse trailer away from becoming a stain on the pavement.

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Brent Boyer 2 years, 2 months ago

Scott, I remember reading/seeing a similar story a few weeks back.

Brian, You're absolutely right in that there is inherent risk when riding a bike on any road, not just Elk River Road. I guess I was naive in that I didn't anticipate a relatively flat and straight one-mile section of C.R. 129 to require "robust onions."

Brent

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Melanie Turek 2 years, 2 months ago

Yesterday I was riding on Twenty Mile, when a Routt County Sheriff's vehicle almost ran me off the road. He gave me maybe 6 inches of clearance, and I was already as far to the right as was possible without moving onto gravel or dirt. Since there was no oncoming traffic, I have no idea what the driver's motivation was, but I sure wish our law enforcement was up to speed on the law.

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jerry carlton 2 years, 2 months ago

Other side of coin. A few days ago in the construction zone on 129 I stopped at the stop sign to turn left from Downhill to 129 {part of our nifty detour}. That intersecton is temporarily a three way stop. The speed limit is temporarily 25 on 129 in theconstruction zone. I looked left and seeing no car at the stop sign or coming from the north. Just as I took my foot off the brake to proceed a female cyclist that I had not seen blew thru the stop sign doing 30 or 35. Even though I drive a Subaru, had she broadsided me she would have come up on the short end of the crash. Multiple fools like her are cruising the roads in town and in the county. Downtown my experience is it is a rarity to see a cyclist stop at a stop sign. I ride a bike too but I do not blow off stop signs in my car, truck or bike.

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Brent Boyer 2 years, 2 months ago

Jerry, These stories are all too common. So here's my question to everyone: What sort of steps could we take as a community to actually try to address the disrespect for one another and the disregard for the law shown by some cyclists and motorists? Maybe it's pie in the sky, but I'd sure like to be part of a solution.

Brent

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Brian Kotowski 2 years, 2 months ago

A good start would be more aggressive policing. The cops can no doubt use some help, along the lines of Scott's anecdote. Just about every cell phone these days is equipped with a camera; many with video capability. Documenting and reporting blatant infractions followed up by visits from law enforcement is probably the only way to encourage the disrespectful among us to become less so.

When I was living in town and used Spring Creek more often than I do now, I recall that Animal Control would randomly patrol the trail specifically to bust leash law violators. Law enforcement might consider a similar strategy along our more popular bike-use areas.

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jerry carlton 2 years, 2 months ago

I agree with Brian about policing. In 15 years here I have passed by numerous traffic stops. Never yet have seen an officer talking to a bicyclist. If they have no fear of getting a ticket why stop? Oh yeah they might get killed but that does not seem to register. My heart was racing after I nearly pulled in front of that foolish woman.

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 2 months ago

Bicyclists that ignore stop signs are mostly putting themselves at risk. Bicyclists lose when there is a collision with another vehicle.

It is hardly equitable for then drivers to then convert that lack of respect for traffic laws into closely buzzing bicyclists that puts the bicyclist's life at risk.

Unless moving over to avoid oncoming traffic over the yellow line, there is no reason for a vehicle to closely buzz bicyclists. It is also against the law and thus if a bicyclist were to be hit then the driver would face the legal consequences.

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jerry carlton 2 years, 2 months ago

Scott I am assuming that you are not responding to my posts. If you are I have a response for you.

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Melanie Turek 2 years, 2 months ago

Brian, in my case it WAS a police officer who nearly ran me off the road... so what happens then?

Jerry, I'm curious to hear your response to Scott's post, which is simply stating the obvious. In the same way that it's not OK for an angry driver to chase down the idiot driver who ran a stop sign ahead of him, or cur him off on the highway, it's not OK for angry drivers to buzz cyclists to send some kind of message. One of these days, someone's going to get killed... and that will have repercussions for the cyclist AND the driver. (And if the cyclist happens to be a completely law-abiding rider, too bad for him?)

I just don't understand all the anger toward cyclists. Yes, a lot of clueless riders in town run stop signs and, less often, red lights. A lot of clueless pedestrians do, too, but you don't hear too many complaints about them. On the roads outside town, what is the big deal here? You have to wait 5 seconds to pass someone? Why is that such a huge problem? I ride alone, so I am always single file, and I ride as far to the right as is safe without getting too close to the gravel and dirt. And yet, once a ride at least, someone decides it's fun to pass me with inches to spare. Why is that OK?

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Brian Kotowski 2 years, 2 months ago

Melanie

Re: the police officer - you report him. And if you think anyone is defending drivers like the one Brent describes in his piece, then you haven't been paying attention. You seem little more than a shill with an axe to grind.

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jerry carlton 2 years, 2 months ago

Melanie I will not respond to Scotts post since I do not know if it was directed at me or not. I will respond to yours. Where did I say that it is OK to buzz riders? Did I not also state that I also ride a bike and obey traffic laws in my car, truck, and bike? Why am I angry at that the idiot woman that could have very well broadsided me? I am angry at that idiot woman because she was doing 35 miles an hour in a construction zone where the speed limit was 25 and she blew thru a stop sign not even slowing down. You are right, she came very close to altering her life in a very ugly way that day and she would have also altered my life through no fault of my own. You stated yourself why some people do not like cyclists in the very next sentence. Go back and read your own post. I have never had a pedestrian almost run into me at 35 mph while jay walking or crossing against a light. I will continue to ride my bike but I will stay off 129 and 20 mile road.

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 2 months ago

Jerry, My comment was not in response to yours, but to the general subtext of Brent's column and other responses that if cyclists were violating traffic laws in town then it was justified to buzz them on county roads.

I think Melanie's and even Brent's experience suggests there is a lot of assumed motives. Even if a police passed her closer than she liked, it takes a leap of bad intent to presume it was intentional. Officer may have moved over some, but not enough for Melanie. Or any other of possibilities of what happened without there being any intent. The risk of intent is that when it is the intent to come very close to something also moving then it does not take much before there is miscalculation and the driver hits a cyclist.

Cyclists assume they are seen well in advance by drivers. Accident investigations all too often find a distracted driver that was just trying to keep their vehicle in the lane and never saw the cyclists. Some years ago there was a horrific accident in SJ when on a straight wide section of a country road a teenage girl driver drifted over and killed 4 cyclists while trying to find a song she liked. Analysis showed that the cyclists were clearly visible from her car for over a minute and yet she never saw them.

I used to bike commute to work when I lived in San Jose area. Far more traffic than here. I think most cars that came uncomfortably close was simply weak driver skills that never realized what they were doing or were distracted. The rare few that intentionally buzzed close were pretty obvious because they wanted to make it clear that it was intentional. For those of that mindset, it defeats the purpose of buzzing a cyclist if it the cyclist thinks it might have been driver incompetence. They'll give a finger or yell something or otherwise make it clear that buzzing the cyclist was no accident.

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jerry carlton 2 years, 2 months ago

Scott Thanks for clarification. I will throw a new fish in the kettle. How many of these vehicles that buzz Melanie are talking on cell phones? I have even seen bicyclists talking on their precious cells while riding.

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Richard Hagins 2 years, 2 months ago

Every bicyclist and motorist needs to read: CRS 42-4-1412 at http://colobikelaw.com/law.php As a former bicyclist from Boulder turned biker (motorcyclist) that knows the laws, there needs to be a state requirement showing that bicyclists understand the rules.. I have stories about arrogant bicyclists and oblivious motorists while riding the highways on my Harley.

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Brian Kotowski 2 years, 2 months ago

"...there needs to be a state requirement showing that bicyclists understand the rules."

Pie in the sky, my friend. Every speeder "understand(s) the rules" before he's pulled over & written up. So does every burglar, shoplifter, and armed robber. You can't legislate common sense. You can penalize its opposite, however. Consistently citing the violators is the most expedient way to alter their behavior, in my opinion.

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