How can cyclists and motorists safely share the roads?
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Cyclists and motorists sharing the roads in Routt County can be a contentious issue, and there’s a serious price to pay by not understanding the laws that govern road cycling.
The most common points in question involve whether cyclists can use a full lane and ride abreast.
“Under the law, cyclists are allowed to ride in the lane, not the shoulder,” Ian London of Steamboat Lawyers Group said. “We’re a vehicle like any other, that being said, I still often ride in the shoulder being safe as a courtesy to cars.
“I want to encourage motorists to view cyclists riding in the shoulder as a courtesy — the cyclist doesn’t have to do that for them,” London added.
London also points out that if a shoulder is wide enough and safe enough, it might also be painted to mark it as a safe bike lane. While a safe option, cyclists aren’t required by law to use that shoulder even if painted.
The second point of contention is when cyclists ride two abreast, or next to each other, in a single lane. The phrase, “reasonable movement of traffic” is vague to drivers.
According to Amy Charity, a partner of Steamboat’s upcoming gravel cycling race, SBT GRVL, it should be obvious that when traffic starts to accumulate behind cyclists they should move to a single file line.
London said if a car has to simply slow down behind cyclists, that’s not considered impeding traffic. Otherwise, cyclists could not ride two abreast at all.
1. Cyclists are considered vehicles on the road with a few exceptions.
2. Cyclists must ride in the right-hand lane. If being passed by a car, the cyclist must ride as close to the right side as possible. Cyclists being passed by cars are advised to use the paved right shoulder unless it poses hazardous conditions.
3. Cyclists on roadways can ride two abreast as long as they don’t impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic but must stay in a single lane.
4. Cyclists must signal with their hands for at least 100 feet when they plan to turn. To turn left, stop out of the way of traffic, yield to the appropriate traffic control device or police officer regulating traffic before changing direction.
Source: Colorado Department of Transportation
This extends to county roads like Twenty Mile Road, where drivers actually have the ability to pass cyclists as long as there is good visibility.
“The double yellow line versus dashes are not really relevant (to pass cyclists),” London said. “That doesn’t come into play for slower moving vehicles. If you can get around safely, you can do it over a double yellow line.”
Being able to pass over a double yellow line is something not all drivers know, and the same applies to passing slow-moving agricultural vehicles. London hopes that Routt County increases signage to make drivers aware of the option. He notes there is currently one such sign on Elk River Road.
Sometimes, this option isn’t safe for the driver or cyclist, like when driving on narrow canyon roads where the visibility is low. In this case, cyclists can claim the lane for safety reasons. This can happen on River Road’s sharp turns where the speed limit is 30 miles per hour.
Charity adds that cyclists should also show courtesy on county roads to not frighten animals or their riders.
“When approaching farm animals like horses on the road, really slow down and decide if you need to get off your bike,” Charity said. “So, if you’re around Sydney Peak Ranch and there’s a person on the horse, don’t just ride 25 mph passed them. Say, ‘Hello,’ and warn that other cyclists are coming.”
Like yielding to a pedestrian crossing a crosswalk on Oak Street, it’s better to slow down for someone’s safety.
Cyclists know the risks they take riding on the roads, not being covered by a body of armor with deployable airbags.
“SBT GRVL is bringing a bunch of riders into town for August, and we’re leading group rides on Saturday morning,” Charity said. “As a cycling business, our ultimate goal is that everyone is safe out there. We are filming cycling safety videos on gravel roads, and as ride leaders, we’re telling people these are the Colorado rules of the road.”
It’s an incentive to follow the rules appropriately, but if they don’t, they’re more at risk of an accident.
“The interesting thing about it is how much more upsetting for some reason cycling lawlessness is compared to motorists,” London said. “Nobody yells at anybody for speeding. We’ve got it a little bit backwards — people most likely to survive we don’t get upset about.”
Everyone drives a car but not everyone rides a bike on the road, which is why not everyone will go to the trouble to read the laws.
To help foster productive conversation about sharing the road, Old Town Hot Springs will host a bicycle-friendly driver course at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, June 18.
“We can reduce animosity by reminding motorists we are a vehicle,” London said. “And because we are a cyclist on the road, you have to respect us like any other.”
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I have been skiing about 15 years now, learning to Nordic ski in gym class in elementary school and grew up Alpine skiing at Okemo Mountain in my home state of Vermont. I’m by no means a daredevil but I am comfortable on Alpine skis and my ability to get around in them.