It’s time to think about sharing the road
SUMMIT COUNTY – It’s the time of year for wet and sandy shoulders, but with the warming temperatures, bicyclists are back on the roads.
Especially this time of year, when roads might be gravelly and slick, both cyclists and motorists need to be cognizant of sharing the roads.
Keystone resident and mountain bike instructor Annie Black was recently riding her road bike on the Dam Road between Frisco and Dillon, when a van passed her very closely, and a man leaned halfway out of it and screamed at her to get off the road. This is not an uncommon scenario, but one that carries huge potential for serious injury, most likely to the cyclist.
“You almost topple over when someone surprises you like that,” Black said. “The guy was hanging halfway out trying to reach me, he was yelling, “Get off the damn road.’ It took a minute to hit me that I was on the Dam Road. I tried to stay in the bike path as far as I could, even though there was a bunch of sand there in that stretch by the lake. I guess I could have gotten off and walked the bike through that sand and gravel, but I’m on a time constraint, just like everyone else. I could get really angry here, but these guys were just clowning around. Still, I could have really gotten hurt.”
Cyclists are allowed to ride on every road in Summit County. This means that motorists have to be prepared to share the road. Both cyclists and motorists must follow the same rules.
“Obviously, any time cyclists come out of the woodwork – as they are any time we get a nice day – there’s opportunity for more and more conflict,” said Cpt. Derek Woodmen of the Summit County Sheriff’s Office. “Those individuals who choose to ride have all the rights in the world to do so. Motorists need to be aware of cyclists. Everybody needs to yield to whatever obstacle is present. (Colorado) State law states that (cyclists) must stay as far to the right as possible. If a bicycle and vehicle are coming down the road and a vehicle turns right, the vehicle has the right of way. On most of the roads that are marked, bicyclists have a space. This space isn’t always a lot. On Swan Mountain (Rd.) there is six inches of pavement at best between the road and the dirt. I have rode Swan Mountain on my bicycle many, many times. It’s scary. Someday, somebody will get hurt up there. There’s no question. It’s too narrow for the two (cyclists and motorists) to mix. Guaranteed, it will be the cyclist who will lose.”
The Summit County Open Space and Trails department has had ongoing discussions with the Forest Service regarding a safer place for cyclists on Swan Mountain Rd. In January, the Forest Service approved a multi-million dollar project to install a bike path from Farmer’s Korner to the Snake River. As to when this installment might actually take place, there’s no telling.
“We’ve been looking at completing the loop around the reservoir since about the mid-90s,” said Todd Robertson, Summit County Open Space and Trails director. “Proposals were entered into a NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act). Based on the environmental assessment, (Forest Service officials decided upon) a grade-separated pathway. That’s a huge first step for the county. We’re talking about a four to five-million dollar project. We’re looking to integrate it into a five-year capital plan. There’s a bunch more analysis yet, but the approval is done.”
There are many commuters in Summit County who travel by bicycle. This means they will often have to use the roads as well as the bike paths. Bicycles are as entitled to use the road as any other vehicle and motorists must be prepared to share. By the same token, cyclists are subject to the same traffic laws as motorists.
“Many cyclists up here don’t obey stop signs, rights of way and traffic flow,” Woodmen said. “Cyclists are not exempt from traffic laws. We’ve issued speeding tickets to cyclists. We’ll see bicycles going 50 MPH down Swan Mountain. They’ll do it all the time.”
Many organizations, such as the League of American Bicyclists, the Equal Rights for Cyclists Campaign and the Colorado State Patrol emphasize the importance of mutual respect between cyclists and motorists. Cyclists should stay as far to the right of the road as possible (unless passing or turning left) to prevent obstructing traffic, and motorists must allow enough space between their car and the cyclist.
“Even my father, when I’m in the car and there’s cyclists on the road, he always comments on how awful the cyclists are, not sharing the road,” Black said. “There’s a certain mentality of some (motorists) that (cyclists) are all a bunch of idiots and trying to get into trouble hogging the road. I guess we all just need to learn to respect each other and share.”
Shauna Farnell can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 236, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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