Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Bike Law

Yesterday was kind of a big day for bike news here in Colorado.

The first item was that an ordinance in the casino town of Black Hawk from 2009, which banned bicycles from most (all?) city streets was overturned by the Colorado Supreme Court. Cycling was declared a "matter of state and local concern" which couldn't be arbitrarily restricted. The state law says that roads may be barred from bicycle traffic only if there is a reasonable alternative route within 450 feet (137 meters).

I will concede that there are probably very few cyclists who, while pedaling through town, will stop to play the slots at Harrah's (or whatever it is they have there). But Black Hawk is along one of the more obvious routes for riders going from Nederland to Golden. So it's nice that Clear Creek Canyon (Hwy 6) will again be an alternative to Coal Creek Canyon (Hwy 72) when riding down Peak-to-Peak Highway.

There is enough bike traffic in that area that towns along the way should be able to capitalize on the passers-through. The revenue may be dwarfed by that brought by gambling, but it's better than alienating the outdoor-recreational demographic.

The second piece of news was that the city of Aspen is considering a law which would allow cyclists to treat stop signs as a yield. There are already places that do this in other states (e.g. Idaho), also downgrading red lights to the equivalent of stop signs for bicycles.

This mostly makes a lot of sense. The article discusses several of the reasons such a change may be a good idea. I can say from personal experience that stop signs are often a source of confusion for both cyclists and motorists. And when the only traffic at an intersection is behind me, coming to a full stop does nothing but slow everyone down. I do the best I can to obey stop signs and red lights, but from the standpoint of courtesy, I think the best thing I can do when I'm riding on the road is to get out of people's way as quickly as possible.

However, I believe (without any real data to support it) that much of the tension between drivers and riders is the perceived sense of entitlement that bicyclists have when it comes to ignoring the rules of the road. Much of the frustration associated with driving comes from needless delays. If a red light has stopped traffic when there is nobody coming from the other direction, it can be really annoying. If a biker can ignore the law with impunity while drivers have to sit and wait, it isn't really fair.

Traffic laws are problematic because the primary directives should be 1) safety for everyone on the road; and 2) getting everyone where they need to go efficiently. But the infrastructure we have in place doesn't always do a very good job of supporting those goals. I'd like to see the whole system get much smarter.

In the meantime, small changes like this one proposed in Aspen could be beneficial on both counts - safety and efficiency. But I wouldn't want to see it become a cause for increased friction between users of the roads. They say that in Idaho it's just accepted as the way things work. Hopefully Aspen's proposed measure will pass into law and will turn out to be effective for everyone.

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