Insomnia Log

This is what keeps me awake at night???

Who needs sleep? (well you’re never gonna get it)
Who needs sleep? (tell me what’s that for)
Who needs sleep? (be happy with what you’re getting,
There’s a guy who’s been awake since the second world war)

-- words and music by Steven Page & Ed Robertson

Location: Boulder, Colorado, United States

Everything you need to know about me can be found in my posts

Saturday, May 09, 2009

The Bicycle Safety Compromise

The Bicycle Safety Bill was finally passed by the Colorado State Legislature, and now it heads to the governor for signature. It was a long and tortured process, including 2 visits to committee to resolve differences between house and senate versions. A day after it passed, Boulder County's sheriff came out against the bill. A day after that, he reversed himself and came out in favor.

What does it all mean? Let me see if I can untangle it.
  • When a car passes a bicycle traveling in the same direction, the driver must leave at least three feet between the vehicles (including side mirrors). This is probably the biggest change to state law in this bill. Colorado law finally sets an expectation that cars passing bikes must do so at a safe distance.
  • It will be legal for a car to cross the (single or double) solid yellow line to pass a bicycle, as long it can be done safely and without impeding other traffic.
  • Carelessly and imprudently driving close to a cyclist will be classified as careless driving. Interestingly, the law does not specifically say anything about deliberately driving too close to a cyclist.
  • Cyclists still have to stay to the right, but:
    • It is now clarified that a cyclist gets to determine what is safe.
    • Cyclists will be permitted to ride on the left on a one-way street.
    • If the cyclist is traveling at the normal speed of traffic, or if the roadway is not wide enough for a car to pass a bike, the cyclist can use the full lane.
    • A cyclist can use a lane other than the right lane to prepare for a left turn, to pass another vehicle, or to aid hazards.
    • Cyclists going straight can ride on the left side of a right-turn lane.
  • The legislature went back and forth several times on clarifications to the two-abreast law. But in the end they didn't change the law much -- cyclists can ride two-abreast as long as they are not impeding the normal and reasonable movement of traffic.
  • Throwing things at cyclists is now explicitly a crime. However, it was already a crime to throw things at a vehicle, and the new crime for throwing things at cyclists has a penalty half as much as the penalty for throwing things at any other vehicle. Thanks for telling us what we are worth in this state. [Correction added May 15: The maximum penalty for throwing things at a car is double the minimum for throwing things at a cyclist, but half the maximum.]
Clarification of the two-abreast law was one of the reasons for this bill. Several changes were in the original bill, and several amendments were added by legislators trying to kill the bill, but in the end it looks like the legislature went with keeping it simple.

The original bill has a clause that stated riding two-abreast isn't impeding if there is no conflicting traffic, with the rationale being that if cars can pass the cyclists aren't impeding. This clause was removed, leaving this up to interpretation by law enforcement.

The original bill also stated that the two-abreast limitation does not prevent cyclists from passing one another, which presumably would have allowed a cyclist to pass two cyclists riding side-by-side. Presumably, with this clause removed that action will be allowed or prosecuted based on the whim of local law enforcement.

The original bill stated that riding two abreast isn't impeding if the road is too narrow for a single bicycle to share with a car. The rationale for this, of course, is that the second cyclist isn't holding up traffic any more than a single cyclist. With this clause removed, I assume this one is again left up to interpretation by law enforcement.

In order to get these clarifying clauses removed, it appears that the bill's opponents were able to get a couple of kooky amendments added, and used them as bargaining chips. These amendments were removed in committee in the final negotiations.

These two amendments started with the phrase, "Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary." As I see it, this can only mean one of two things. Either the lawmakers who wrote these amendments were too lazy to figure out what they really meant, or they knew and they just didn't want it to be obvious. In any case, I'm pretty sure it means that had these two paragraphs remained in the bill they would have had to have been figured out by law enforcement and the courts.

The first of these two amendments said that two-abreast riding is not allowed on state highways with lanes less than 12 feet wide. In other words, they went to all the trouble of spelling out exactly what is impeding and what is not, and then they said, "Just kidding!" Were they at least going to put a sign on these state highways, so that cyclists would know which ones they were? And why did the state get to exclude its highways from the law, but no other government entity got to (city or county roads)?

The second of the kooky amendments said that if the center line of a highway is solid yellow (single or double), cyclists had to ride as far to the right as "feasible". What was this supposed to mean? They went to quite a bit of trouble to define what it means to ride as far to the right as is safe. Was this supposed to be different than that? Were cyclists supposed to not ride safely if there's a solid yellow line? Was the fact that they said "highway" rather than "state highway" significant, especially since "highway" is defined in the code as a road in the state highway system, and "state highway" is not defined"?

I guess, given the confusion, it's not too surprising that the Boulder County Sheriff came out against this bill one day and in favor of it the next, since he based his original opposition to the pre-committee version.

In any case, be safe out there!

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