Steamboat City Council moves forward with bicycle safety initiative, officially changing rule at intersections

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Springs City Council agreed at Tuesday’s meeting to move forward on a bicycle safety initiative that would allow bicyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs and stop lights as stop signs when there are no cars in an intersection, a maneuver known as a “safety stop.”

Under the proposed ordinance, bicyclists could conduct a “rolling stop” at a stop light and move at no faster than 15 mph through a stop sign.

“Everybody benefits, including people in cars,” said Ian London, a member of the Routt County Riders board of directors.

Routt County Riders has been trying to implement such a measure in Steamboat for years, London said, but COVID-19 has brought the topic to the forefront of many people’s minds.

“Biking has absolutely boomed in the past year,” said Jack Todd, director of communications and policy at Bicycle Colorado. “People in the pandemic have rediscovered biking like it’s nobody’s business.”

The state legislature passed a bill in 2018 allowing municipalities to enact bicycle stop ordinances specific to their communities. Since the bill’s passage, Aspen, Breckenridge, Dillon and Summit County have passed ordinances similar to the one council is moving forward on.

“Breckenridge and Aspen adopted the safety stop to attract tourists and free up law enforcement resources,” Todd added. “The research also shows there are a lot fewer bike crashes and increased safety that comes with the safety stop.”

While council members ultimately agreed to move forward with an ordinance, some believed Steamboat did not have a bicycle safety problem, and council should focus on more pressing issues.

“I feel like our focus needs to be on higher level issues right now,” said council member Sonja Macys.

Steamboat Springs Police Department Chief Cory Christensen said he believed the research, presented by Todd and London showing how such a measure increases safety, was a convincing reason to move forward.

“The data says this is safer, that’s the bottom line,” Christensen said. “It’s dangerous for our bicyclists when they’re in the intersections waiting for cars.”

Todd also told council his organization is pushing the legislature to adopt a statewide ordinance, rather than simply leaving it up to municipalities, which some council members pointed to as a reason to focus their efforts on other matters and wait for the state to approve something.

“Let the state do it. If the state does it, then we’ll follow suit,” said council member Robin Crossan. “I don’t think we have the time or ability to do this work in the coming year.”

Other council members said enacting the ordinance on a local level would encourage the state to take action.

“A lot of state legislation actually starts at local levels,” said council member Lisel Petis. “When the state sees that a lot of municipalities are doing something, they see that it’s something a lot of people want to do.”

City staff said putting an official law on the books could free up law enforcement resources and clarify any confusion.

“If you have a law on the books that adapts to common behaviors and it eliminates calls to police, I’m in favor of that,” said City Manager Gary Suiter.

Suiter said if council chooses to keep the 15 mph limit, the city would not be required to add signage, and there would be no financial impact. But that would change if the city opted for 10 or 20 mph instead.

Other council members were concerned over how to educate the public, but Routt County Riders said it planned to launch an informational campaign should the ordinance pass through first and second readings.

“We look forward to this type of outreach campaign,” said Laraine Martin, executive director of Routt County Riders. “Whatever we can do, we’re here.”

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