Cyclists and Dodge City
By Sheriff Jim Alderden
Don’t you just love this time of year, when the birds, boats and cyclists come out? Well, two out of three ain’t bad.
Tis the time of year for countless walking, running and cycling events that positively or negatively affect each of us. Then there’s the inevitable conflict between the motorists and cyclists using roads that are in disrepair and aren’t fit for either. The Sheriff’s Office and other law enforcement agencies are tasked with keeping the peace and enforcing the laws. The end result is that nobody is happy with us.
First, let me address the numerous events that impact traffic flow and raise the ire of the affected neighborhoods. All of these events require a permit. There are several stages of review. Many of these cross jurisdictional lines and require approval from the municipalities that they traverse, the county and the state. In the case of the county permits, they are NOT issued by the Sheriff’s Office but from the Commissioners. In addition to the Sheriff’s Office reviewing the plans for the events, the Health Department, Road and Bridge, Parks Department, Engineering and the appropriate ambulance, hospital and fire departments all review the plans and either approve or impose conditions. In the case of the Sheriff’s Office, we REQUIRE notification of affected residents, a traffic plan, certified traffic control personnel at key intersections, and volunteers at other locations. If the event is a race, we require either full or rolling road closures. Again, we are charged with making the event as safe as possible, but can’t deny a permit just because it inconveniences people. That’s a balancing act for the County Commissioners.
The Sheriff’s Office no longer assigns personnel to these events except in the most extreme circumstances due to staffing shortages, other high priority events that dictate deputies be assigned to work overtime, and the liability associated with these events. When we do, the event must pay the costs associated with the services provided. I don’t remember the last time we assisted with one of these due to the volume of other off-duty work where the services of a sworn deputy are needed. (As an aside, to the person who groused on the Reporter Herald RH line about the Sheriff’s Office escorting a group of cyclists on Glade Road on Saturday, May 10, the Sheriff’s Office was NOT involved in this event and we definitely did NOT have a car escorting the cyclists either on duty or on overtime. This event was a collegiate event hosted by Colorado State University, so I suspect that the lead car may have been a CSUPD car.)
Second, let me address the issue of cyclists in general and our enforcement practice. I’ve recently received a deluge of e-mails from the cycling community of Boulder after a group of them encountered a deputy who gave then the “don’t let the sun set on your behind in my county” speech or something akin to that. What the rider claimed was that the deputy offered the option of either returning to Boulder County or receiving a ticket for the alleged violation (more on that in a moment). That may be what they heard, but the deputy is adamant that isn’t exactly what was said. Apparently there was some dialogue (argument) about the interpretation of the applicable statute and the cyclists were advised that we were going to enforce the law regarding impeding the traffic flow in our county. The deputy continued by stating that perhaps they should return to Boulder County where they indicated they could ride two abreast, or be cited if they continued to do so here. It really wasn’t a “get out of Dodge” ultimatum but “if you stay in Dodge, be prepared to follow the rules or suffer the consequences.” Perhaps he could have been more tactful, but anytime you get to even suggest something to deal with Dodge City, its okay in my book.
Actually, we have a bonus point system when ticketing individuals from Boulder. So far, the deputy in question has won a toaster oven and is close to earning a rod and reel combination. (Just kidding!)
Now to the real issue and the reason for the contact in the first place. We have been receiving complaints about cyclists hogging the road in the southern part of the county so we have stepped up our presence. Not surprisingly, many of these cyclists cop an attitude when stopped. Also not surprising, many of the cyclists with attitudes are part of the Boulder cycling community. Now, I’ve had some fun making fun of Boulder in the past (all warranted by the way) and some will say this is just another attempt to bash Boulder, but this is what has been reported to me. Many have taken to not carrying identification, so when asked to identify themselves for purposes of determining if there are any outstanding warrants (which we always check), it isn’t unreasonable to determine their county of residence. (Another warning – When issuing a citation for a violation, if we can’t verify the identification of the cyclist, they WILL be taken to jail pending identification and their bicycles impounded. This isn’t a threat. Its the way we operate.)
The dispute is over interpretation of C.R.S. 42-4-1412(5): “Any person riding a bicycle shall ride in the right hand lane. When being overtaken by another vehicle, such person shall ride as close to the right-hand side as practicable. Where a paved shoulder suitable for bicycle riding is present, persons operating bicycles shall ride on the paved shoulder….” Also at issue section (6)(a) “Persons operating bicycles on roadways shall ride single file: except that riding no more than two abreast is permitted in the following circumstances: (I) When riding two abreast will not impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic…” Many feel that they can ride two abreast as long as vehicle approaching from the rear can get around them, even if the motorist has to go into the oncoming lane of traffic. Our reading of the statute doesn’t require that traffic actually be impeded, only that it the cyclists riding two abreast would impede the normal flow of traffic if vehicles had to swerve into the oncoming lane, especially when there is a double yellow line as is the case in many of the winding roads favored by the cyclists. Further, section 6 doesn’t negate the requirement of section 5 to ride on the paved shoulder or as far to the right as feasible when being overtaken. While riding two abreast, one of the pair isn’t as far to the right as possible. When being overtaken, in order to get as far to the right as possible, they must ride single file if there is only one lane in that direction. If there is a paved shoulder, they should be riding on the shoulder, not in the traffic lane, regardless of whether or not they are impeding traffic.
The arguments offered by the cyclists are similar to those made by many motorists when blowing stop signs. “There were no other cars coming, so why should I have to stop?” - “They could still get around us, so what difference does it make?”
I believe in minimal enforcement to achieve the desired result. Our deputies have been giving verbal warnings, as was done to the Boulder cyclists. The warnings haven’t been heeded. I don’t expect my deputies to have to debate the point any further. We will begin issuing tickets for these violations, whether the offender lives in Larimer County, Boulder, or Dodge City.
To the motoring public, this does not mean its open season on cyclists. We also have received some complaints about motorists throwing objects at cyclists or harassing them. We will be equally aggressive in defending the rights of the cyclists to share the road as long as done legally and responsibly.
May 20, 2008