Colorado Senate Republicans Kill “Safety Stop” Bill

From left, senators Vicki Marble, Randy Baumgardner, and Jerry Sonnenberg.
From left, senators Vicki Marble, Randy Baumgardner, and Jerry Sonnenberg.

Republicans at a Senate Transportation Committee hearing blocked the “Safety Stop” bill from moving forward Tuesday in a 3-2 vote on party lines. The bill, modeled after a longstanding law in Idaho, would have let people on bikes treat stop signs as yields and red lights as stop signs.

The 21 residents from all over Colorado who spoke in favor of the bill included former Republican senator Greg Brophy. Only five testified against it. But that wasn’t enough to sway Republican senators Randy Baumgardner, Jerry Sonnenberg, and Vicki Marble, who voted against the bill, which was sponsored by Democrat Andy Kerr. (Democratic senators Rachel Zenzinger and Nancy Todd voted to move the bill forward.)

Brophy, a Republican, called Kerr’s bill “a good, common sense, conservative approach.”

Kerr believes the bill would have passed had it gotten out of committee, he told Streetsblog. “I know for a fact that this is not a partisan bill, because I’ve talked to Democrats who don’t support it and Republicans who do,” he said, adding that he thinks Republican leaders wanted “to make this bill go away quietly now.”

Kerr said he will try again to get the bill passed in 2018.

People who spoke in favor of the rule change said it would make them safer. Under current law, bicyclists have to wait for traffic to build up at intersections and then jockey for space and visibility when it’s time to move. The bill would enable bike riders to avoid that situation and clear intersections more quickly.

Additionally, traffic sensors don’t usually recognize people on bikes, forcing people to dismount and push a pedestrian beg button to cross the intersection legally. The rule change would have eliminated that problem.

People who testified against the bill claimed it would increase crashes but presented no evidence in support of the assertion. In fact, experience shows giving cyclists more discretion at intersections improves safety: Bike crashes dropped 14.5 percent in Idaho the year after lawmakers enacted a similar policy.

Today drivers injure fewer people biking in Idaho, per capita, than in Colorado. Mountain municipalities like Summit County have a similar law that has worked well, according to a white paper from the Denver Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Committee.

Several people scoffed at the idea that the law should treat people riding 30-pound bicycles differently than people operating two-ton motor vehicles encased in steel frames. But state law already has special rules about cycling. If you’re on a bike and moving slower than car traffic, for instance, the law says you can ride on the right side of a lane.

Dave Hall, the legislative liaison for the Colorado State Patrol, told senators the bill should not move forward because some people lack the “cognitive ability” to ride a bike and scan an intersection for danger at the same time.

Only one senator, Marble, explained her “no” vote. Her argument, essentially, was that one bad apple spoils the whole bunch. She shared this anecdote: “I was in my Hummer, and I was easy to spot, and [a bicyclist] saw me, and he had a stop sign, and I saw that he was speeding up, not slowing down. I put on my brakes, he went by, gave me the one finger salute… Had I not slowed down, he would’ve T-boned me and I would’ve felt absolutely devastated.”

Assuming that’s how things really played out, the bicyclist’s actions would remain illegal under the Safety Stop bill. Cyclists approaching an intersection would still have to yield the right of way to other traffic that arrives first.

“We’re trying to differentiate the safe cyclists from the jerks,” Kerr said. “This isn’t about protecting the jerks. This is about shining a spotlight on the jerks… so that law enforcement doesn’t have to spend time dealing with the folks who are already riding safely.”

“The folks who have testified that they believe this [bill] will increase crashes didn’t present any data because there isn’t any,” said Bicycle Colorado Executive Director Dan Grunig. “The data shows that it improves safety.”

  • mckillio

    I made sure to email the three Senators that did vote for and write the bill, thanking them and to promise to speak the next time it’s up again. If Kerr is right and there is bipartisan support, then he should get someone in the House to present it. What might end up needing to happen is passing this in more local communities as a proof of concept.

    • Ryan Keeney

      I like the idea of taking this to the house. I’ll call my state representative if you call yours.

      • mckillio

        I want to hear back from these Senators as I asked them if they think it’s worth while but regardless I think I will do just that anyways.

  • Brian Schroder

    It was a great attempt to change the laws for the safety of bicyclists, but until more people are using cycling as a commuting option it won’t be seen as necessary by the car centric minded in Colorado.

    • David B

      Unfortunately, in some cases, it’s a chicken/egg issue. Without pro-bike legislation, it’s harder to increase the number of cyclists/commuters. It’s slower, but things like this may have to be proven in local cities, increasing cycling numbers in those areas, before they get traction at the state level.

      I had reservations about this specific bill, but getting killed in committee is a really disappointing result, and does not bode well for any progressive bike legislation.

      • Brian Schroder

        I’ve lived in Denver for over 10 years and I’d say the number of commuting cyclists has increased more than the number of bike lanes, bike trails or other public improvements. I agree that favorable bike legislation and infrastructure helps, and maybe my own observations are skewed, but people will choose to bicycle whether they are protected or not if they feel empowered to do so.

        I lived in Boston for ten years before Denver and despite the lack of safety or infrastructure for bicycling which has greatly improved since, there were always cyclists on the road in a much more aggressive and dangerous environment.

        That said, I’ve always believed that there is a lack of awareness that people can use a bicycle to get to work rather than drive. I don’t mean “hey how could I get somewhere without a bike lane/”, but “why would I do that when I have a car?”.

        • David B

          Absolutely–I shouldn’t sound that negative–there are a lot more commuters, especially in the last 5 years. I will say, the most dramatic increase I’ve seen on my route was in the last year, after Denver added specific bike lanes both downtown, and along 15th St/29th Ave.

          I do hope there will be a tipping point where there are enough visible bike commuters that drivers begin to consider cycling as a viable option.

          • Devin Quince

            You have to get drivers to look up to see anything

    • Under law bicycles are considered as a vehicle, and must follow motor vehicle laws. Getting laws changed just for bicycles would mean you are no longer considered a vehicle.

      • Brian Schroder

        Why have laws at all? I stop, but cars don’t. There are many times when I’ve almost been hit as a bicyclist and as a runner/walker by someone operating a vehicle not stopping at a “right on red”, a four way intersection or from a parking lot or private road entering the road. There should be zero tolerance for all traffic users. Every vehicle should self report speeding and every intersection should be monitored and a credit card should be on file to charge fines whenever anyone, bicyclist, pedestrian, or vehicle breaks the law.

      • mattlogan

        Um, no it wouldn’t. The definition of vehicle is in a separate section of statute, and not impacted. There are already special laws for bicycles (light requirements, brake requirements, lane position requirements, etc. Whose legal advice are you basing your statement on?

        • Yes it is. Here in Wisconsin the laws are contradictory, a bicycle can be a pedestrian when it is convenient to shirk motor vehicle laws they are suppose to follow, but don’t want to.
          In colorado, the laws are probably more messed up due to all that pot they smoke.

          • Devin Quince

            Yeah, that was intelligent.

  • mattlogan

    I am calling my state senator, Vicki Marble now….

    • mattlogan

      I called the office and talked to her staff. Her staff suggested it was another Senator that made the comment. I am reviewing the audio now to verify where the ‘bad apples’ comment came from.

      • mattlogan

        Marble definitely makes the comment about the bad apple at 1:51:40. I will be calling again tomorrow.

        • James Davis

          That’s the spirit! Thank you for holding the senator responsible.

      • Walter Crunch

        So, her staff lies too? Shocking.

        • mattlogan

          I’m not sure if they lied – I asked about the “bad apples comment”, and to be fair, Marble did not use that phrase – she described getting the one finger salute after having to stop for a bicyclist that blew through a stop sign in front of her.

    • That is how the cookie crumbles. There is a reason why I started my blog, and youtube channel, to expose bad bicyclists.
      Just think if a cyclist ended up colliding in to a motor vehicle, or worse, who’s fault is it going to be, the cyclist ( dream on ), or the motorist?

      • Devin Quince

        I thought about this for drivers, but I do not have enough space for my video of bad drivers.

        • There are enough cyclists that upload to youtube provoking drivers in hopes of catching their actions on video. I just do it in a nicer non-confrontational way.

          • mattlogan

            How do you know the bicyclists provoked drivers?

      • mattlogan

        Reviewing crash records across the country, much more often than not, drivers are found at fault when automobiles and bicycles collide. But people like you still obsess on the behavior of bicyclists. Why?

        • You can keep using flawed lopsided data from bicycle advocates, I am not going to buy that biased crap because you say it is so.

          Because the bicycle advocates/bicycle lobby do the same. Except what I am doing can cause shock waves through the bicycling community.

          • mattlogan

            The data I have reviewed is from cities, not advocacy groups. It seems you are the one that needs to be shocked back to reality.

    • mattlogan

      16 days, and no response. I am told by her staff that Vicki has a post-it note with my name on it at her desk. I guess she is too busy drafting anti-sanctuary city and anti-EV legislation to get to my note. the longer she waits, the more issues I am going to be bringing up during our chat.

  • Ryan Keeney

    Can city councils pass their own laws about this? Or can they not because that conflicts with state supremacy?

    • mckillio

      They can, there are multiple cities in CO that have this law.

      • BurbManDan

        Please elaborate – which cities? I commute by bike, crossing 8 municipalities in the metro area, so I’d like to be aware if any allow this. Definitely a good idea.

        • mckillio

          Aspen, Breckenridge, Dillon and Summit County.

  • Mr H

    “Vicki Marble, Randy Baumgardner, and Jerry Sonnenberg”
    A real who’s who of local turds.
    #ProtectOurHummers

  • Dan Cavallari

    Just called two of the three of these senators and will call the third shortly. I demand an explanation why a bill that would easily save lives was killed based on anecdotal evidence and bias.

    • Walter Crunch

      Because they are elected and their bicycle base is pretty small.

      • Miles Bader

        But it’s very likely that almost nobody in their non-bicycle base cares even the tiniest bit.

        They could have just done nothing and let the bill proceed, and the effect on them would have been negligible.

        • Walter Crunch

          Well, they are Republicans feeling their Donald Trump oats.

    • ahwr

      How many lives would this bill save per year?

      • Devin Quince

        Maybe it is about making riders feel safer out there, which means more riders.

  • James Davis

    Wow! This is an awesome display of citizenship. We should try to organize these efforts and make them more systematic (i.e., all calling specific senators/ representatives prior to important votes). Any one up for such an effort?

  • Walter Crunch

    Love the killer’s (those who defend the automobile) act as if this will start killing bikers left and right. Ummmm…You are killing us nicely already. Can’t do much worse.

  • SammyDEEEE

    What a shock that Dumbgardner voted against it. That guy is useful as a screen door on a submarine.

  • Devin Quince

    Marble is my rep, so I will calling her today. Thanks for the time listing when she called us bad apples, I will be sure to bring it up. As to RB, Steamboat is a HUGE vacation cycling destination and I wonder if he realizes that this might have made folks feel more comfortable riding and hence possible more riders coming in and spending money.

  • Brian Weiss

    This was not a partisan topic – it was common sense for people who ride bikes.

  • Tim Yogerst

    As a bicycling commuter of over 5,000 miles per year, I was most offended by the comment of the State Patrol liason, “some people lack the “cognitive ability” to ride a bike and scan an intersection for danger at the same time”… According to crash statistics, there are many thousands of people who lack the “cognitive ability” to DRIVE A CAR and scan an intersection for danger at the same time!

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