Big Scoop for the Crack CBS 4 Team: Not All Bicyclists Follow All the Rules

According to CBS4, some bicyclists break traffic laws. It’s true. Some people even roll through stop signs and red lights, according to CBS 4’s Kelly Werthmann.

The report did not specify whether people driving multi-ton vehicles also disobey traffic laws, or if it’s just something that People Who Ride Bikes do on their lightweight, human-powered machines. Regardless, the Denver Police Department is “cracking down” on these dangerous offenders.

Lt. Kevin Edling had a message for people on bikes: “You’re the same as a car. Think of yourself as a car.” It was unclear if Edling meant that people on bikes should park in general traffic lanes. After all, many drivers (including Denver PD officers), constantly park their cars in bike lanes, forcing riders to swerve into traffic. There’s no police crackdown on bike lane blockers, though, just on bike riders, who apparently pose a big threat to public safety.

A lot of people don’t feel safe biking next to high-speed motor vehicle traffic. But Denver still has a patchwork bike network where physical protection from cars is rare. In fact, public agencies design some streets, like Federal Boulevard, with the mindset that bicyclists should not use them at all.

CBS 4 didn’t wade into these issues at all. Instead, those cyclists biking on the sidewalk are presented as a bunch of scofflaws.

Maybe Werthmann will be back with a follow-up segment investigating why people on bikes break the law on streets that aren’t designed for cycling. Denver has a local expert on the subject with excellent credentials: the University of Colorado Denver’s Wes Marshall, whose research found that people on bikes often break rules to stay safe. Biking through a red light when the intersection is clear, for example, makes bike riders more visible to the drivers steering big, powerful vehicles behind them.

Perhaps another CBS 4 report will explore how quality bike infrastructure decreases “scofflaw” riding. Or why Denver is so tolerant of speeding, even though a few miles per hour can spell the difference between life and death.

We’ll see.

  • lode

    Sure, and when they do, like riding on sidewalks or darting across an intersection before the light turns green, it’s because they feel unsafe in a car-dominated city. Maybe CBS can turn its attention to the rule-breaking motorists out there, being reckless in 3-ton trucks occupied by one person who is texting and not looking out for pedestrians or cyclists as they don’t deign to slow down to turn onto one-way streets. And no, DPD, bicycles are not the same as cars, nor should they be treated as such. It’s like comparing canoes to speedboats. Or police officers to urban planning experts.

  • Brian Schroder

    It’s true that many cyclists do not obey the law and automobile drivers don’t obey the law as well. If we set-up hidden cameras at no turn on red intersections and four way stops we’d see that automobiles roll through intersections and red lights without making a complete stop as well. Traffic laws are not obeyed by both groups and having the same laws for automobiles and cyclists doesn’t make sense.

  • Erik Thoreson

    I’ve spent over five thousand hours riding a bicycle on the streets with motorized traffic and suffered zero serious injuries as a result of collisions with motor vehicles. I am very, very fortunate, I know. However, for the record: I’ve spent maybe fifty hours riding a bicycle on the sidewalks and suffered a very serious injury indeed as a result of collision with a motor vehicle. That seems very unusual, I know. However, this is my real life personal testimony.

  • RedMercury

    Unfortunately, I can’t view the story (Flash? In 2016? Really?) but I’ll point out a gripe with cyclists.

    Biking through a red light when the intersection is clear, for example, makes bike riders more visible to the drivers steering big, powerful vehicles behind them.

    But does the cyclist have to be in front of them?

    I’ve seen this scenario played out numerous times. Cyclist is riding along the right side of the road–taking the lane if it is safe to do so, which is a good thing for them to do. They come to an intersection with a bunch of cars. They immediately cut to the right and pass all those cars waiting at the intersection. The cyclist is now at the front of the lane situated right next to a car. The light goes green and all vehicles start moving and the cyclist is now stuck in this narrow space with cars on their left and parked cars or a curb on their right.

    This is scary and dangerous for the cyclist. Heck, I understand that completely because, as I cyclist, I used to do this! One minor mistake and I’m going to get smacked by a car. And Lord help me if there’s anything in that little space, like a tree branch or a storm grate.

    Eventually, I figured out the solution. When I approach the intersection, I stop behind the last car. I position myself directly behind them. I sit up straight and proud with a blinking red light on my backpack and a blinking red light on the back of my bicycle. I take the lane and act like a car.

    One thing I noticed when I started doing this was that cars didn’t want to be behind me. I mean, let’s face it, what car wants to be behind a bicycle? So while I was sitting there, I would look in my rear-view mirror and see cars come up behind me and then move over into the other lane. Generally, the cars that stayed behind me were planning on making a right turn anyway at the intersection. So I generally didn’t have to worry about cars being behind me.

    When the light goes green and the cars pull out, I’m right behind them. I find I can actually accelerate with the cars for a bit, assuming I downshift when I get to the intersection (horsepower wins out eventually, of course). But now I’m not riding in a dangerous area between the cars and the curb or parked cars. I’m not slowing down the cars that got to the intersection before I did.

    So, as Lt. Edlin says, if I act like a car, it’s safer for me.

    • Erik Thoreson

      Yes.

    • David B

      Exactly this!
      I will add: I regularly see cyclists pass in the gutter, and then take the full lane, and ride slowly. I know this angers drivers–I’ve seen it as a cyclist behind them. It angers me too, because I actually stop for every red light/stop sign, and then ride fast between them, and now I’m stuck behind a car that’s stuck behind a slow, scofflaw who just cut the line. If you want more cars angry at bikes, this is a perfect way to do it. Is that _really_ what you want? Because I very much want cars to not hate me. Please don’t make them hate all cyclists because of your selfish actions.

      • Walter Crunch

        I stopped three times through downtown yesterday…because cars take forever to park. Nobody honked.

    • Vertigo700

      Except that much of our new bike infrastructure specifically instructs bicyclists to pass along the right and take the lane through an intersection before drivers. That is pretty much the case with any separated bike lane, protected bike lane and streets with “bike boxes” at the intersection. What you describe really only happens with streets without bike infrastructure (or crappy “sharrows” that don’t do anything.)The reality is that we need a lot more streets with bike lanes and bike boxes and then this isn’t really an issue. And again bikes are not the same as cars because they can fit in a much narrower lane, which is exactly why we need bike infrastructure to reflect this.

      • RedMercury

        Agreed. If there’s a bike lane running along the right, I would use it–assuming (and this is sometimes a crazy assumption) that the bike lane is also on the other side of the intersection. You need to watch for those “Bike Lane Ends” signs. :^D

        But yes, total agreement regarding bike infrastructure. Ultimately, that is the solution to the predicament above.

        That said, though, this caught my eye:

        […] bikes are not the same as cars because they can fit in a much narrower lane […]

        This is sort of what I’m talking about, though. Just because you can fit between doesn’t mean it’s safe for you to fit between cars. You don’t get to suddenly decide that this space is a “lane” just because you can fit there.

        And it’s where I get a bit grumpy with other cyclists: “I’m going to do something dangerous and then I’ll complain about how dangerous it is.” Wouldn’t it be better to just not do the dangerous thing to begin with?

  • David B

    I’ve been commuting into downtown Denver since 1997, year-round, and I’ve seen a lot of changes since then. Many of those changes are great–we have actual bike lanes now, and not surprisingly, lots more cyclists (a feedback loop, I’d argue). The cyclists are a lot more diverse now too, which is also great. However, there are also a lot more novice cyclists, who visibly are less skilled at riding safely, whether that’s riding a straight line, or making choices that are safe for them and everyone around them. I think that reminding new cyclists about the laws of the road is a very good thing for everyone involved. Certainly we could also use much stronger enforcement (or ANY enforcement) of illegal parking–a huge problem–but the lack of that does not mean we should not be cracking down on illegal cycling practices. Traffic law isn’t about being fair, it’s about keeping people safe.

    Just because you think riding through a red light is safer for you doesn’t mean it actually is safer for you. People think that driving in a massive SUV is safer than a small car, when all the data shows the exact opposite. Humans have a well documented poor ability to assess risk. At least if you obey the law, and act like you’re a car (to the extent it’s legal and feasible) you fit in with the expected patterns, rather than breaking people’s established expectations. Riding on the sidewalk is a classic example–drivers don’t anticipate fast moving traffic coming from a sidewalk into the street. As a cyclist, I’ve certainly had narrow misses with other bikes who were running a red light perpendicular to my green light, and either didn’t see me or didn’t care. When you break traffic laws, you risk hurting yourself and others, period. And that’s without even getting into the subject of road rage directed against law abiding cyclists by motorists who have recently been enraged by different cyclist(s) breaking the law.

    I love the coverage of cycling and pedestrian issues on this site, and I also appreciate the criticisms of Denver’s failure to address parking violations in bike lanes–but please don’t encourage or justify anyone breaking the rules of the road, no matter what mode of transport they choose.

    • Erik Thoreson

      Yes.

  • Walter Crunch

    I think of myself as a car..until that other car passes me with 6 inches to spare. And then I realize, there will be zero consequences for the other car if they hit me.

    So, I am not a car. I am a bike..and therefore..I am special. Take that world!

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