Wrong-way cycling can bring big trouble

First published in the Coloradoan Feb. 3, 2015


Actor Alec Baldwin has become the poster boy for scofflaw bicycle behavior. In May, Baldwin was arrested for “mouthing off” at two police officers who stopped him for riding the wrong way down New York’s Fifth Avenue.

The incident came after Baldwin was photographed riding on the sidewalk — behavior illegal in New York City — riding while talking on his cellphone and without a helmet.
This behavior gives cyclists a bad name.
What is a cyclist thinking when he or she rides down the street in the wrong direction?
I actually make it a habit to ask cyclists that question when I have the opportunity.
Often the behavior is caused by simple ignorance of both the law and good sense.

Centre Avenue south of Prospect Road provides a good example.

I found a young foreign student headed south in the northbound bike lane. It turns out she was a Colorado State University student going to the Natural Resources Research Center off of Centre for an internship.

It was easier, she said, to stay in that lane rather than cross Centre twice.

Another student, pedaling south in the same lane, was going from CSU to Front Range Community College, a trip he made regularly.

When I explained that wrongway cycling was both illegal and dangerous he agreed that he should probably get in the other lane.

More troublesome is the response I get from well-educated adults riding the wrong way down the street.

Most of the time these cyclists explain that they feel more comfortable “seeing what’s coming at them.” I’ve gotten this response from a CSU engineering professor in his mid-30s and from a gentleman in his early 60s.

When I explain that the statistics show that riding the wrong way is often the single biggest cause of bicycle-car crashes and that it is also illegal, some people listen and change their behavior while some don’t.

As children, most of us were taught to walk facing traffic if a street or road has no sidewalk. And some cyclists were taught the same thing.

The pedestrian “rule” is well ingrained and it is the law in several states like Texas, Illinois and Colorado, where the statute explicitly states that “any pedestrian walking or traveling … along and upon a highway shall walk as near as practicable … (to) the left side of the roadway facing traffic that may approach from the opposite direction.”

Until 2009 the law in Colorado required cyclists to ride as far as “practicable” to the right.

Even though the law makes it clear that cyclists are vehicles, not pedestrians, many cyclists still believe they are more like pedestrians than vehicles.

For the record, in Colorado a cyclist is considered a vehicle and is required to follow vehicular rules of the road.

That includes using the right side of the roadway and stopping at stop signs.

Fortunately the 2009 law allows us to ride in from the edge of the road “where we feel safest.”

Share the Road, Please

After the incident described in this column the City of Fort Collins placed several of these signs on College Avenue in Old Town.

After the incident described in this column the City of Fort Collins placed several of these signs on College Avenue in Old Town.

First published in the Coloradoan January 6, 2015

This is a reprint of my first column in the Coloradoan five years ago. It still rings true.

Headed north on College Avenue from Old Town the motorist shouted as he passed. At the light he said, “You were in the middle of the lane. Get out of the road! You can’t ride in the middle of the road.” I gave him my League Cycling Instructor business card as he roared off.

Others have advised me that College Avenue isn’t a “bike lane” or that “bicycles are illegal on College Ave.” When I explain that bicycles are prohibited on College Avenue from Laurel south to Harmony but not in Old Town, people seem surprised. Most don’t realize that legally my bicycle is as much of a vehicle as the SUV or the Prius driving through Old Town. With this monthly column through the year I will discuss rules of the road, shared rights and responsibilities, belligerent motorists and scofflaw cyclists. The outcome, I hope, might be a safer cycling and motoring environment.

I’ll begin with six basic rules for cyclists and motorists.

1) Cyclists are safest when they ride with the flow of traffic. “Wrong way riding” is the single biggest cause of bike/car crashes.

2) Cyclists are safest riding on the street or road, not on the sidewalk. This reduces conflicts with pedestrians and decreases sidewalk “ride-outs,” another cause of bike/car crashes.

3) “Share the road” has two meanings depending on the width of the lane. A fourteen-foot lane has room for bicycles and motor vehicles side by side. A twelve or ten foot lane does not so the League of American Bicyclists teaches cyclists to ride in the center of the lane or just to the right of center where they are more visible and therefore, safer.

4) When there are no bike lanes bicyclists should ride where they feel safest. State law allows this and with the new three-foot passing rule this may mean that cyclists should use the entire lane. In Old Town, for example, with the hazards of diagonal parking, bicycles are safest in the middle of the lane if they chose to ride College, Mountain, Laporte, Olive, Oak and Magnolia Streets. Cyclists no longer should feel the need to pedal in the gutter.

5) Bicycling is safe yet cyclists should wear helmets to protect themselves from the five percent of crashes that can’t be avoided. To avoid the 95% of crashes that can be prevented cyclists should ride defensively, avoid falling off their bikes and not allow others to knock them off their bikes.

6) Bicyclists “fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles.”

This last rule is the mantra of the League of American Bicyclists and dominates 99% of the safe cycling curricula developed and taught in the US over the last forty years. Different rules apply for children under ten and for those between ten and fifteen.

In the following months I will continue to examine these common rules more in depth.

Winter Riding is for the Strong and Fearless

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First published in the Coloradoan January 20, 2015

Snowy weather and unplowed bike lanes and sidewalks offer a challenge to cyclists in Fort Collins. As usual the trails maintained by the City’s Parks and Recreation Department have been kept clear of ice and snow in most places. But if you can’t get to the trails on city streets it doesn’t help to encourage people to venture out on their bicycles.

Transportation planners in Portland, Oregon, a platinum level bicycle friendly community like Fort Collins, have identified four types of cyclists. This information was used in the development of the recently approved 2014 Fort Collins Bicycle Plan.

The planners found that about 30% of people won’t ride a bike no matter what. This population never rode their bikes to school as children and never developed the bicycle habit. Another 7-9% of cyclists are confident and ride most of the time while 1 to 3% are “strong and fearless.” These folks will ride no matter what even on snow and ice. The remaining 60% of the population is interested in bicycling but they are concerned about safety, about streets without bike lanes and in winter, they worry about snow and ice.

So what hope is there for the “interested but concerned” would-be cyclists for better plowed streets in winter? Don’t hold your breath. According to the new Bike Plan the Streets Department estimates that “the cost per mile . . . of snow removal could increase from $200 to $1,000 per mile” with new, protected bike lanes. And plowing snow off of regular, not protected, bike lanes will remain difficult.

The City of Madison, Wisconsin might be a picture of the future for cycling in winter. As a gold level bicycle friendly community, Madison’s official web site admits that it struggles with snow plowing: “Since on street bike paths are located on the edge of streets they will get snow accumulations. Because snow removal operations are expensive and our places to store removed snow are limited, we only clear these on street bike paths when we get significant narrowing of a street. We do not remove snow strictly to clear on street bike paths.” Furthermore, “clearing bike lanes with parked cars will remain difficult.”

So the advice for cyclists from Madison is “choose your route carefully. The heat from traffic helps clear streets of snow and ice. The places that will be best to ride are where cars are driven, not near the side of the street which will stay icy and snow covered. Try to find streets that have enough traffic to clear the snow and ice, but not so much traffic that you feel uncomfortable riding in the path cleared by the cars.”

So if you really want to ride in winter don’t count on cleared bike lanes any time soon. Be prepared to exercise your right to take the lane on streets with some traffic.   Plan, also, on studded tires or even “fat bikes,” which have four-inch tires designed specifically for ice and snow. And, needless-to-say, be careful out there.

Stay out of Door Zone Bike Lanes for a Safer Ride

First published in the Coloradoan December 23, 2014
December 23, 2014
By Rick Price, Ph.D.

According to Fort Collins Police Services cyclist Hans Updegraff, who was injured while riding in a “door zone bike lane” on Lake Street December 9th, is recovering from his injuries. Updegraff collided with the driver’s side door of a parked car which motorist Emma Holt opened unexpectedly. Updegraff hit the door and fell into the street where he was hit by a passing car.

According to an e-mail I received from the investigating officer last week the parked driver opened her door illegally and will be cited. Police services made no comment about a citation for the passing motorist. And I haven’t asked if the motorist was respecting the three foot distance that Colorado law requires motorists to give a cyclist before passing.

Lake Street

Lake Street on the Colorado State University Campus in Fort Collins. The snow is covering a bike lane right in the door zone of parked cars.

The community can learn from a crash like this. First, we still have and are still constructing bike lanes in door zones in Fort Collins. This is a huge mistake. Bike lanes on streets like Lake and Howes need immediate remedial attention. Additionally, the City has just striped new bike lanes on City Park Avenue right in the door zone. We should stop doing that.

As a cyclist you need to adopt a policy of not riding in bike lanes in the door zone. Think for a minute about the dynamics of a crash in the door zone. Three scenarios emerge: 1) you hit the door head on and are stopped cold with serious injuries; 2) while traveling at a slow speed you hit the door but are able to stop with minor injuries; and, most seriously, 3) you catch the right side of your handle bar on the door and are flung into passing traffic, suffering serious injuries.

A high school classmate of our youngest daughter went to college in Chicago. While riding her bike to the university one day she noticed a car door about to open in her path. She swerved slightly though the motorist saw her coming and pulled the door shot. The driver of the Chicago Transit Authority bus coming up behind her saw her swerve so he swerved, too. But he didn’t stop. The front of the bus missed her but she went down under the rear wheels breaking both legs and her pelvis. It took her over a year to recover.

Both the bus driver in Chicago and the motorist on Lake Street might have avoided these crashes if they had been more attentive to a cyclist in the door zone and if they had performed an emergency stop when they saw a dangerous situation. The same holds for the motorist who opened the car door. She should have looked before opening that door.

We are all still suffering from the “far to the right rule” that our motoring culture imposed on cyclists decades ago. City streets engineers need to get rid of door zone bike lanes and cyclists need to learn to stay out of them as long as we have them. Perhaps signs that read “Bikes May Use Full Lane” would help with this.

Stay out of Door Zone Bike Lanes for a Safer Ride

First published in the Coloradoan December 23, 2014

According to Fort Collins Police Services cyclist Hans Updegraff, who was injured while riding in a “door zone bike lane” on Lake Street December 9th, is recovering from his injuries. Updegraff collided with the driver’s side door of a parked car which motorist Emma Holt opened unexpectedly. Updegraff hit the door and fell into the street where he was hit by a passing car.

According to an e-mail I received from the investigating officer last week the parked driver opened her door illegally and will be cited. Police services made no comment about a citation for the passing motorist. And I haven’t asked if the motorist was respecting the three foot distance that Colorado law requires motorists to give a cyclist before passing.

The community can learn from a crash like this.   First, we still have and are still constructing bike lanes in door zones in Fort Collins. This is a huge mistake. Bike lanes on streets like Lake and Howes need immediate remedial attention.   Additionally, the City has just striped new bike lanes on City Park Avenue right in the door zone. We should stop doing that.

As a cyclist you need to adopt a policy of not riding in bike lanes in the door zone. Think for a minute about the dynamics of a crash in the door zone. Three scenarios emerge: 1) you hit the door head on and are stopped cold with serious injuries; 2) while traveling at a slow speed you hit the door but are able to stop with minor injuries; and, most seriously, 3) you catch the right side of your handle bar on the door and are flung into passing traffic, suffering serious injuries.

A high school classmate of our youngest daughter went to college in Chicago. While riding her bike to the university one day she noticed a car door about to open in her path. She swerved slightly though the motorist saw her coming and pulled the door shot. The driver of the Chicago Transit Authority bus coming up behind her saw her swerve so he swerved, too. But he didn’t stop. The front of the bus missed her but she went down under the rear wheels breaking both legs and her pelvis. It took her over a year to recover.

Both the bus driver in Chicago and the motorist on Lake Street might have avoided these crashes if they had been more attentive to a cyclist in the door zone and if they had performed an emergency stop when they saw a dangerous situation. The same for the motorist who opened the car door. She should have looked before opening that door.

We are all still suffering from the “far to the right rule” that our motoring culture imposed on cyclists decades ago. City streets engineers need to get rid of door zone bike lanes and cyclists need to learn to stay out of them as long as we have them. Perhaps signs that read “Bikes May Use Full Lane” would help with this.

Exercise your Mind this Winter to Become a Safer Cyclist

First published in the Coloradoan December 9, 2014

Fort Collins’ winter bike to work day is tomorrow. The forecast is for clouds and a low of 31° Fahrenheit. So bundle up if you choose to join the crowd as the ride will be a little chilly.

Not comfortable riding in winter? The City has classes and rides to teach winter riding skills for newbies. The classes are January 7 from 4 – 6 p.m. at the Senior Center, 1200 Raintree Drive, or on February 4 from 6 – 8 p.m. at Northside Aztlan Community Center, 112 E. Willow St.

Apply your classroom learning with guided rides Jan. 10 and February 7. Meet at the Senior Center on the 10th and at the North Aztlan Community Center on the 7th for the 10 a.m. to 12 noon rides. Sign up in advance as enrollment in these rides is limited to twenty participants. Search “Guided Winter Ride” on the City’s website to register.

If you are a fair weather cyclist you don’t have to sit idle in winter to learn to be safe on your bike. Here are just a few ideas to get you started inside where you aren’t likely to slip on the ice.

The Fort Collins Bike Co-op will help you learn how to maintain your bike. The goal of Co-op is “Building Community Through Bicycling.” They aim “to keep our community riding, including those who can’t afford to buy a bike; to educate our neighbors in all things bike-related including bike maintenance, bicycle education and safety; to keep good bikes out of the landfill and to recycle poorly built or unsafe bikes; to refurbish and donate bicycles for a wide variety of charity events and programs for those in need.”

The Bike Co-op has a cadre of volunteers who spend Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 2 – 5 p.m. working on bikes and Sundays from 12 to 6 doing the same. During that time you can come into the shop, pay $10 per hour and work with a mentor to learn basic bicycle mechanics skills while working on your own bike.

If you are looking for a more cerebral way of making this a safer bicycle community join the Facebook group, CFI, Fort Collins Coalition for Infrastructure. This is a discussion and watchdog group of 238 citizens interested in completing the infrastructure for our bicycle and pedestrian plans. We also discuss transit and are tuned into issues at Transfort. The group has proven useful in identifying problems in the community and in solving some of those problems.  Find CFI here:

Most importantly, CFI is dedicated to identifying long-term funding sources to complete our various transportation infrastructures. With this in mind the group has engaged at least four City Council members in our discussions and at one time or another all of these Council members have asked City staff to pay attention to the group, “your boots on the ground,” as one member put it.

Visit CFI on facebook here:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/fococfi/