Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.
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During the first several seasons, the opening scene of every weekly episode of “Hill Street Blues” — a popular 1980s TV police drama – invariably centered on Sgt. Phil Esterhaus conducting roll call. Esterhaus, played by the late Michael Conrad, always concluded roll call with the same command to his police officers before they hit the streets: “Let’s be careful out there.”
As we kick off Memorial Day weekend — with a segment of our summer visitors preparing to cross Rabbit Ears Pass in the coming months to join local bikers who ride the roads of Bike Town USA — those words should come to mind every time we climb behind the wheel or clip into pedals. Realistically, given the too-frequent clashes between motor vehicle drivers and road biking enthusiasts, that sage reminder could save a life.
As existing summer tourism is augmented by bicycle tourism here in the ’Boat, common sense dictates that the growing number of drivers and cyclists on our roads will increase the risk of potentially deadly accidents. For that reason, Steamboat must encourage a culture where drivers and riders respect one another on the roads we share.
And it’s the sharing part we must focus on if we’re all going to safely coexist on roads that leave little room for error.
My column last week about Michel Van Duym — a bicyclist who was hit and killed in Lyons by an SUV driven by Patrick Ward, a resident of Lyons who was strident in his opinions that cyclists don’t belong on the roads of his town — garnered illuminating comments as it circulated nationally on Twitter and Facebook.
It won’t come as a shock to road bikers who’ve had confrontations with motor vehicle drivers that several individuals wrote comments indicating they think roads are the exclusive domain of motorists. Evidently, like male dogs and fire hydrants, some drivers think roads are their marked territory.
Here’s what one person wrote after correctly calling Ward a name not suitable for print for driving under the influence of alcohol when he hit Van Duym.
“However, living in a place that is full of roadies that ride on roads they have no business on I can understand where [Ward’s] statements come from … No vehicle that is not capable of achieving the posted speed limit belongs on some roads. For instance, my mother-in-law lives off a road that is quite often full of bicyclists who frankly do not belong. The road is very twisty and hilly, the speed limit is relatively slow, 45 mph. However, I have seen a large number of near accidents when a driver, who is not breaking the speed limit, comes around a turn and has to slam on the brakes because someone on a bike is slowed way down as they climb the hill. There is no bicycle lane or shoulder on this road. That bicycle has no business on that road. If a driver were to hit and kill that bicyclist it would be a tragic accident and the person on the bicycle would be more at fault than the driver in my opinion.”
Think about the roads this individual describes. They are the majority of roads in America — especially in rural America where millions of cyclists ride every day.
But let’s be clear, the quoted opinion — while common when you read blog posts across the country — is incorrect and demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of the legal responsibility drivers have to control their vehicle under all road conditions.
Bicyclists can ride America’s rural roads — no matter the speed limit — as long as they follow traffic laws that apply to cyclists. Most important, drivers are legally obligated to drive at speeds that enable them to stop their vehicle within the distance they can see down the road at any given moment.
While smart and courteous bikers will avoid circumstances that endanger themselves and others, drivers have the responsibility to be able to stop on “twisty and hilly” roads in time to avoid hitting the bikers, horseback riders, livestock, and farm equipment operators who also use America’s rural roads.
So let’s be careful out there as we enjoy another spectacular summer in the Yampa Valley.
To reach Rob Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com