I Shocked the Sheriff
The current controversy is just north of Boulder, over the Larimer County line. A popular ride from Boulder takes you over the county line to Carter Lake. Or, if you're ambitious, you can keep going up to Fort Collins or Estes Park.
Recently, a couple of Boulder riders got stopped by a Larimer County deputy for riding two abreast. According to one of them:
The deputy was hostile and first asked us if we knew the laws for cycling. Then he asked if we were from Boulder County. He asked us why we are riding in Larimer County when there are plenty of roads in Boulder County. He ran our ID’s and then told us we had the choice to turn around and go back to Boulder or get a citation if we continued to ride in Larimer County. He stated several times that he does not appreciate people from Boulder choosing to ride in Larimer.However, this is not just a case of a sheriff's deputy with a bad attitude. It starts at the top. Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden has a history of making nasty remarks about Boulder (which he refers to as "the imbecilic borough of Boulder"), which in his opinion is a poster community for the wrong side of the guns, God, and gay debate.
Alderden's response to the charges about the overzealous deputy? The Boulder cyclists, as usual, are copping an attitude. He jokes that his deputies get bonus points for ticketing Boulderites, and that the deputy in question has already won a toaster oven and has almost earned a fishing rod and reel. Does he get to be insulting and then get away with it because he says it's a joke, even though you know he means every word of it?
At issue is the sheriff's interpretation of state law, which allows riding two abreast when it doesn't impede traffic. Clearly, his interpretation is that riding two abreast always impedes traffic, and the state legislature obviously wrote this law just to tease the cyclists.
While out harassing Boulder cyclists who cross the county line, the sheriff is unfortunately paying little attention to the bigger threat of automobile drivers who break the law and threaten the safety of cyclists and others, by passing too close, by crossing the solid yellow line when passing, by hurling insults and objects at cyclists, etc.
Now I do not condone breaking the law by anybody. Some cyclists give the rest of us a bad name when they act illegally and don't share the road. But there are plenty of drivers with exactly the same problem, who give drivers an equally bad name. And Sheriff Alderden is opening himself up to charges of selective enforcement by targeting Boulder cyclists while ignoring the actions of local drivers.
Now for the capper. The sheriff says that many cyclists have taken to not carrying ID, with the implication that this is to avoid taking responsibility for traffic violations. I often don't carry ID when cycling, but it has more to do with lack of pockets and the likelihood of anything you carry getting sweaty. In any case, there is no law that says you have to carry ID. But according to the big, bad sheriff, "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."
That's right. For the non-crime of not carrying ID, you will be thrown in jail and your bike taken away. Both of these actions are so obviously a violation of the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable search and seizure that you have to ask yourself how a law officer can even suggest them. And, no, he wasn't joking this time.
Here's what the good sheriff has done. He's pissed off lots of cyclists, who are no doubt going to spend even more time cycling on his turf. He's riled up lots of drivers, and shown that it's OK even for an elected law officer to harass and insult people based on their residence and sporting activities. So, rather than calming the situation down, as would be appropriate in his position, he has made it worse.
What should we be doing? Well, whether on bicycles, car, trucks, or motorcycles, we should be using the roads safely and legally, and respecting the rights of others to do the same. Remember, cyclists have as much right to use the road as any driver. We are not there to annoy you or slow you down. If a cyclist is not as far right as you think he or she should be, realize that you don't see what they see. There is very likely a hazard you can't see (such as broken glass thoughtfully provided by another driver) causing them to ride further in the roadway. If you come upon a group of cyclists, and you want to pass, no need to honk or yell. They know you're there. Give them a moment to return to single file, or wait a bit until it's safe to pass legally. Remember, if you break the law to pass them, you're no better than they are. And if you're on a bike, you know the rules. Every time you violate the rules, some driver who's not smart enough to know even basic statistics will generalize your actions to prove that all cyclists break the law all the time.
If you ever break traffic laws (and who among us doesn't), then you are being greatly hypocritical when you get indignant about some other class of road users who may also break the law. So, get over it and take a chill pill. Then maybe go out for a nice relaxing bike ride.