Memo to Denver PD: Ticketing a Man in a Wheelchair Hit By Driver Is Not Vision Zero

Kyle Wolfe was a victim, but Denver PD did not treat him as one. Image: Fox31
Kyle Wolfe was a victim, but Denver PD did not treat him as one. Image: Fox31

Last month, an SUV driver struck Kyle Wolfe as he tried to cross 19th Street at Lawrence in his wheelchair, badly bruising his back. To add the proverbial insult to his injuries, Wolfe also received a citation from the Denver Police Department for crossing against the light.

Wolfe told Fox31’s Emily Allen that he entered the crossing with a walk signal, however, and had to pause to pick up some personal effects he dropped. He just didn’t have enough time to cross the four-lane, one-way street in the 20 allotted seconds before oncoming traffic got a green:

“When you are moving, everything is falling. I need to pick it up. People don’t want to stop,” Wolfe said.

Denver follows federal regulations that pedestrians travel at 3.5 feet per second. The time allotted for each intersection is based on the width of the intersection and how long it will take to cross traveling at that speed.

“That is not fast enough for a handicap person to get across a cross walk,” Wolfe said.

Denver PD shrugged off Wolfe’s account, telling Allen that he can fight the ticket in court. Lucky him.

Legally speaking, when a light turns green, it does not confer the right for drivers to mow down anyone who happens to be in their path at the moment. If Wolfe entered the intersection with the signal, he would have a strong legal case based on Colorado statute 42-4-802.

“I would fight this ticket,” said Brian Weiss, a local attorney who specializes in traffic crashes, especially when bicyclists and pedestrians are involved. “We have to accommodate people with disabilities, and [Wolfe] acted in good faith. I haven’t read the police report, but it sounds like he did not intend to violate a traffic control signal.”

Even if Wolfe began crossing against the light, he would have a case, Weiss said, based on precedent. “You always have to watch out for pedestrians,” he said. “Vehicles always have to yield.”

Denver PD did not cite the driver.

Beyond the strictly legal questions at play, something is deeply wrong with a system where someone in a wheelchair gets hurt while crossing the street, trying to follow the rules — and then fined. The spirit of Denver’s Vision Zero Action Plan, released last week, is to make this system more forgiving, especially for people who aren’t protected by the metal casing of a car.

The plan states that “law enforcement can play a greater role by ensuring traffic laws are enforced equitably across modes and communities within Denver, valuing education and engagement over penal justice.” Punishing a pedestrian after getting hurt is the antithesis of this principle.

The plan also states: “Vision Zero recognizes that humans make mistakes and therefore the transportation system be designed to minimize the consequences of those errors.” The problem is not Wolfe, the problem is a crossing phase that’s too short and should be lengthened.

Mayor Michael Hancock might want to remind Denver Police Chief Robert White that he signed up to prioritize the most vulnerable people on the street when he committed his department to Vision Zero — not penalize them.

  • calwatch

    Has anyone called the Denver mayor, or their council person, and seen what they feel? At the very least, the ticket should be dismissed prior to Mr. Wolfe wasting his day in court for the inevitable.

  • John Riecke

    The problem is shitty, entitled drivers who act like spoiled children with deadly weapons.

    • TakeFive

      FWIW, when I read this…

      Legally speaking, when a light turns green, it does not confer the right for drivers to mow down anyone who happens to be in their path at the moment.

      …I gave Sachs the full benefit-of-the-doubt that he wasn’t suggesting the driver uncaringly hit Wolfe simply bcuz he (could) had a green light. So far as “entitled drivers who act like spoiled children” that is a very fair point and one which I’d agree with. Too many idiots behind the wheel no doubt. Whether that applies in this case I couldn’t say.

  • TakeFive

    OK, I’ll weigh in. BTW, I thought JZ71 made some excellent points in his comment if you happen read it.

    Certainly I recall learning that drivers must yield to pedestrians. What gives me pause here is the sheer oddity of it. Therefor I’m withholding making any assumptions or judgements until I’ve had the opportunity to read the witness statements and the full police report.

    • neroden

      There’s nothing odd about this — it’s just another driver who isn’t following the rules of the road. They’re *really really common*. Why are they common? Because corrupt cops refuse to arrest them. Because corrupt DAs refuse to prosecute them. Because corrupt DMVs refuse to revoke their licenses.

  • Vooch

    Bullying Pedestrians jaywalking in Munich

    • Devin Quince

      Except jaywalking does not exist in Germany

      • Vooch

        mann kann natürlich ein Strafzettel bekommen fürs jaywalking

        • Devin Quince

          Odd, my son has never been told it is illegal there. Seems to be a very car culture ‘Murican thing.

          • Vooch

            it’s unheard of to actually jaywalk. Germans will stand at a minuscule sidestreet intersection with not a car in sight for the entire light cycle until they get a walk signal.

          • Devin Quince

            Not what my son sees in Berlin everyday.

          • Vooch

            LOL

            Berliners are the most Prussian of all the Germans. If one even steps one foot into a crosswalk before the walk sign turns green, you be likely hrump’d at. If one starts walking against the light – you will definitely hear commentary for example;

            “hey, who do you think you are ?”

          • Devin Quince

            Again, Not what my son sees in Berlin everyday.

  • Brian Weiss

    I am on the Denver Vision Zero Coalition and support the VZC mission to end traffic deaths by 2030 (if not sooner) and we need to understand the importance of this as a community. Let me add to my discussion on this topic to make it clear. Mr. Wolfe should be viewed as a pedestrian rightfully crossing in a crosswalk on a walk signal. So he then is where he should be and should been given the right of way by ALL vehicle operators since he entered the crosswalk on the steady “Walk”. The State statute that applies here is CRS 42-4-802. From the statement given to Fox 31, Mr. Wolfe should be given the right of way to allow him to get to a safe place, like the sidewalk.

    Here is some of the State Law CRS 42-4-802 that controls this issue:

    Whenever special pedestrian-control signals exhibiting “Walk” or “Don’t Walk” word or symbol indications are in place, as declared in the traffic control manual adopted by the department of transportation, such signals shall indicate and require as follows:
    (a) “Walk” (steady): While the “Walk” indication is steadily illuminated, pedestrians facing such signal may proceed across the roadway in the direction of the signal indication and shall be given the right-of-way by the drivers of all vehicles.
    (b) “Don’t Walk” (steady): While the “Don’t Walk” indication is steadily illuminated, no pedestrian shall enter the roadway in the direction of the signal indication.
    (c) “Don’t Walk” (flashing): Whenever the “Don’t Walk” indication is flashing, no pedestrian shall start to cross the roadway in the direction of such signal indication, but any pedestrian who has partly completed crossing during the “Walk” indication shall proceed to a sidewalk or to a safety island, and all drivers of vehicles shall yield to any such pedestrian.

    Let me know if you have questions or want to discuss further.

    • Michael

      If you can’t make the intersection safe with traffic lights, it should be switched over to stop signs where the pedestrian always has the right of way. If you ask real people what they want with their streets, it’s always “safety first.”

  • Michael

    Vision zero: make this a two way road, remove the light and make it a stop sign. It will be cheaper for the city and safer for pedestrians. Instead it’s a drag strip.

  • neroden

    Two additiona things need to happen:
    (1) The motorist needs to be prosecuted. This is the responsibility of the District Attorney. Pressure must be put on the DA.
    (2) The police officer who issued an ticket illegally also needs to be prosecuted, and again, this is the responsibility of the DA. Pressue must be put on the DA.
    (3) DAs are generally elected. Someone needs to run on a campaign platform of prosecuting corrupt cops and murderous motorists.

    The current DAs are soft on crime — they just allow massive corruption and mass killings to happen, because the criminals are their buddies, I guess. The campaign ads write themselves.

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