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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Taking 337 Middle School Students Bicycling through a Roundabout

First published in the Coloradoan October 17, 2011
By Rick Price, Ph.D.

I began writing my Smart Cycling column in January of 2010 after several people advised me that College Avenue in Old Town “isn’t a bike lane.”  One City employee actually explained to me two years ago that it was illegal for me to ride my bike on College Avenue even though, in reality, College is open to bicyclists except from Laurel to Harmony.  Other bicycling “dos and don’ts” need clarifying as well, for both motorists and cyclists.  This column is an attempt to help clear up some of the ongoing confusion. 

Two weeks ago Bike Co-op volunteers took three hundred thirty seven Lincoln Middle School students on bicycle rides through Old Town in groups ranging in size from ten to twenty-five.  Our ride included the roundabout at Vine Drive and Taft Hill Road, a ride through City Park and the shared lane arrows on Mountain Avenue. The only real problem we had was when one student lost a shoe in the middle of the roundabout and was advised by a motorist the he “should be on the sidewalk!”  The student had every right to be in the roundabout, although I advised him to keep his shoes on next time.

Many people believe that bikes should be on the sidewalk or at least as far to the right as possible on the roadway.  This is actually wrong, since bicyclists have a responsibility to be visible and to ride on the road where they feel “safe.”  Many people still think it is ok to bicycle against traffic so they can see cars coming toward them.  This practice is both dangerous and illegal.  The erroneous ideas about where cyclists should ride come from our rural roots where we learned that cyclists were merely “pedestrians on wheels.”

Several people have commented to me that they see bicyclists signaling right turns incorrectly with their right hand extended.  This is actually legal for cyclists as an alternative to raising their left hand.

Another behavior that you might see that is illegal or inappropriate is bicycles “splitting the lane” by sneaking up along the right hand curb along a line of cars at an intersection.  This is both illegal and dangerous since cyclists can be cut off by a right turning vehicle in this position.  Boulder allows cyclists to do this as long as they stop just behind the front-most vehicle, in full view of the second vehicle.  We should think about adopting this rule in Fort Collins. 

There is still a lot of confusion out there as we mature as a bicycle friendly community.  What about those bicyclists not stopping at stop signs or lights?  Many of us wish we had the “Idaho stop law” which, since 1982 has permitted cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs and since 2006 has allowed cyclists to treat red lights as stop signs.  But that will be a while in the coming to Fort Collins and is a topic for another time.

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