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.”