Rob Douglas: ‘Let’s be careful out there’

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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.

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

Comments

Pat West 1 year, 7 months ago

Right on Rob! The speed limit is the FASTEST you can operate a vehicle, not the speed at which you are required to drive. Everyone feel free to drive slower. Give the required 3 feet when passing cyclists, even if you need to cross a double yellow to do so, it's allowed. If you see a cyclist being overtaken in the other lane, slow down and give the other driver room in your lane. Drive Friendly, and enjoy the view.

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jerry carlton 1 year, 7 months ago

Pat I agree with all you say and I ride a bike mostly on the core trail as I am old. You could also have mentioned to the bicyclists to start obeying stop signs and stop lights particularly in the downtown area. THEY ARE NOT OPTIONAL! I almost pulled in front of a bicyclist on Elk River Road who ran a stop sign at a four way stop during the construction period last summer. She was rolling along at probably 25 to 30 and would not have looked good flying over the top of my Subaru had she broadsided me.

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Stuart Orzach 1 year, 7 months ago

 Drivers should always operate their vehicles in a manner such that they can come to a full stop within their sight distance.  This may require driving below the posted speed limit.  It depends upon the condition of the road, the prevailing weather, the condition of their vehicle, the skill and experience of the driver, and the drivers physical and mental state at the time.  That slow moving object on the road may not be a cyclist.  It could be a deer, a fallen rock, or something that fell off someone's roof or the back of a  pickup.  Who do you blame if you hit one of those?
 When I want to pass a cyclist, I wait until my sight distance is sufficient for me to pull entirely into the opposite lane.  This may be more than is legally required but it keeps me from rushing and cheating and possibly putting myself and others in danger.  It is exactly what you would do if passing another motor vehicle   It also extends courtesy and respect to the cyclist, which often does more for the giver than the receiver.
 Still, there is an irrational aspect of the anger vented at cyclists, by not only the operators of motor vehicles, but also the passengers, that I have yet to comprehend.  It is remarkable how often I am riding my bike in Steamboat Springs, and a passenger will roll down the window and yell something abusive at me for no reason whatsoever..  Due to the Doppler Effect, I sometimes don't hear everything clearly.  But I particularly enjoy when I can catch up to them at a red light and ask them if they would please repeat what they said.  It is more often than not a young person who is doing this.  Can someone explain this phenomenon?
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rhys jones 1 year, 7 months ago

Wow... how did you do that? Not the recommended way I presume.

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Chris Hadlock 1 year, 7 months ago

So, two days ago I am driving south on 129 when I encounter 2 HWP vehicles that were finishing up a traffic stop. As I approached the area in my vehicle one of the officers managed to pull out in front of me and one of them a couple of cars behind.

As we proceeded in a miniature caravan down 129 we passed two groups of cyclists in the northbound land enjoying their ride. No problem right?

Those two groups of cyclists included a three person, and a four person group of riders. In each case the entire group was all bunched together and riding in a pack that covered almost the entire northbound lane.

My question is: Why did the Highway Patrol ignore that violation not once but twice. I have no problems with the cyclists on our roads and will never be the one pushing them with my vehicle or threatening their space. However, I expect that they will follow the rules of the road just like everyone else and I expect that out local police will enforce those regulations instead of ignoring those violations the way I observed the Highway Patrol doing this week on 129.

I wish there was a way to get this information to those officers management so that they could receive training in the area of bicycle rules and regulations. They clearly need some reminders about what rules the cyclists should be observing.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 7 months ago

Chris,

Well obviously the Highway Patrol officer did not share your assessment that the riders were taking up most of the lane and were a hazard.

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bill schurman 1 year, 7 months ago

Nearly hit a bicyclist as I was on 5th street going to Lincoln Ave when a bicyclist in the alley going East never looked and just sailed through the intersection. You CANNOT compete with vehicles. Stop as required by law and look both ways. Also wear reflective clothing at night and have lights or at least reflectors on your bikes. Don't just trust that you'll be seen. Way too many bicyclists riding at night with dark clothing and no illumination whatsoever.

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john bailey 1 year, 7 months ago

they teach em young, last year by the main post office, dad blows the stop sign and the little daughter follows. well at least she had a HELMET on. unfreeking believable. now fellas remember rcr 14 to the lake is narrow and twisty. single file please. the conspiracy is falling apart. hard to resist though. ~:0) good hula weather today, anybody ready?

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