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The Heat is On! Ride legally, or face a ticket this summer.

Spread the word! Denver Police are getting serious about bike laws and you face a traffic stop and a ticket if you don’t play by the rules. BikeDenver recently sat down with officers from Denver’s District 6 Police and we offer the following report:

On May 24th, District 6 Police began the first of several ongoing focused enforcement days operations scheduled throughout the year to combat an increase in bike safety law violations. Over 40 bicyclists were ticketed for running red lights or riding on the sidewalk. District 6 will continue once-a-month operations using both bike patrol and patrol cars with a focus on these, and other safety-related bike violations. The fine for any bike infraction is $60. By comparison motorists who run a red light face a $150 ticket.

Focused enforcement is a typical policing strategy used to address issues that are no longer manageable by day-to-day enforcement. Such operations usually address lower level crimes that impact neighborhoods and draw complaints on “quality of life issues” such as loitering, littering, or drinking in public.

District 6’s Lt. Catherine Davis notes: “Our goal is create an environment where people are in compliance with the law. We reached out to bicycle advocacy groups and embarked on a “Ride Safe” campaign last year, but unfortunately we haven’t seen the desired results. In fact, there has been a marked increase in bicyclist violations and corresponding citizen complaints during the past year.”

Examples close to home

Lt. Davis cites two incidents close to her headquarters as everyday examples of the frequency of incidents related to bike violations and their consequences. An accident that took place near her station involved a bicyclist who ran a red light and broadsided a car at 16th & Washington. On a recent walk around the Capitol Hill neighborhood with the District 6 Police Commander both officers witnessed half a dozen bicyclist violations. They engaged the bike drivers in a conversation about safety and handed them “Ride Safe” educational spoke cards.

Management’s Problem

“Every day I see at least 5-6 bicyclist violations as I travel to and from the station to locations within the District”, says Davis. She also fields complaints from residents who report being “buzzed” or threatened by unpredictable bicyclist behavior and drivers not seeing bicyclists in violation – often involving bicyclists coming off of a sidewalk. When a high level of complaints are logged, Davis schedules officers to work focused operations designed to address resident concerns.

Bike Patrol’s job

Officer James Ballinger (pictured above left) is a bike patrol officer who participated in the May 24th operation. Ballinger says: “when we give out educational spokecards on day-to-day patrol, people are receptive; when we give out tickets during a focused operation, people think they are being treated unfairly. The reality is that the law is the law. Denver has been very lenient in the past, but there is a blatant disregard for bike safety laws by some and one by product of that has been increased accidents and complaints. Bicyclists need to remember that enforcement efforts protect them, too. If you are operating your bicycle in an illegal manner, you’re putting yourself and others at risk. If you are in an accident while doing so, you are also liable, and that means extra money and time in court.”

Regarding the May 24 enforcement effort, Ballinger said: “We are not trying to single people out. At one point there were 5 bicyclists waiting on the sidewalk for their tickets to be written.“
Lt. Davis adds, “Officers are allowed very little discretion during a focused enforcement operation, they are instructed to cite the violators. It’s much like the direction given traffic officers whose focus on a school zone is designed to bring speed limits down. The enforcement efforts pay off in reducing violations.”

Get legal by driving your bike like you drive your car

To ride legally in Denver, remember that bicyclists have all the same rights and responsibilities on roadways as motor vehicle drivers. Obey stop lights and directional signals. Never ride against traffic. Don’t ride on the sidewalk. Only ride the 16th Street Mall on Sundays.

The fine print

Bikes aren’t allowed on the 16th Street Mall Monday-Saturday, but they are permitted to ride in RTD buslanes on the Mall on Sundays. Parking your bike on the mall is also prohibited. Bike parking is available on adjacent streets. There are two exceptions to the sidewalk riding law – you may ride on the sidewalk if you are within a block of parking your bike (at 6mph or less), and some sidewalks are marked allowed for bikes if they are part of a designated bike route. Front (white) lights and rear (red) reflectors as well as side reflectors are required by law. Bicyclists must announce their pass via voice or bell on multi-use paths. Riding two-abreast is allowed as long as bicyclists aren’t impeding traffic. Bicyclists should ride to the right if they are the slower vehicle. Bicyclists may ride as far right as they deem safe, taking into account hazards such as road debris and distance from car doors.

Common themes on the front lines

Officer Ballinger has taken his share of abuse when writing up bicyclists. He’s been called a “robot” for having limited discretion in whether to cite or not and has had people scream at him to stop riding on the sidewalk (Police and EMTs performing official duties are exempted from the sidewalk law) The officer reports that some bicyclists think getting ticketed “is bull____”, protesting that they’ve never been warned or ticketed before or pointing to others who aren’t getting cited. Another frequent complaint he hears is that Denver doesn’t do enough to educate the public about bike laws. And a common defense is the statement that the bicyclist is purposefully riding on the sidewalk because they don’t feel safe on the streets. None of these responses will get you out of a ticket. The city produces a free bike map with marked bike routes that exist throughout Denver designed to help bicyclists plan safe routes on less-congested streets (Read about where to get a map or view the online map here.. Ballinger and his partner routinely ride on sidestreets and bike routes to plan their own safe rides. And, clearly, if the word wasn’t out about what’s legal in Denver, it is now.

The Ride Safe Campaign and education efforts

Recent efforts that complemented the DPD campaign include BikeDenver’s radio PSA’s (hear them here!), Denver B-cycle’s “B Aware” sticker messaging, the Denver Cruisers safety campaign (see images below) and Downtown Denver Partnership’s re-designed “warning tickets” for bike parking violations (to go along their $50,000 investment in bike parking facilities on streets adjacent to the 16th Street Mall).

How to help

BikeDenver’s take is that we all need to do our part to ride legally. You can set an example by stopping on red, riding on the road or designated paths and bike routes, signaling your intentions, equipping your bike with lights at night, and driving your bike in a safe and predictable manner. Often the best way to influence others to do the same is by modeling the behaviors you want to see. You can also alert other riders that police are ticketing violators and tell them how to avoid a ticket or liability issues by riding legally. To address concerns you have with current bike safety laws or their applications in Denver, contact your city councilmember and BikeDenver.

Ride Smart, Ride Safe, and Ride On!

Posted in Bicycle News
22 comments on “The Heat is On! Ride legally, or face a ticket this summer.
  1. Mike says:

    Will BikeDenver start pushing for Idaho Stop-style legislation as a result of this? While a bicycle is a vehicle with a right to the road the same as a car, it is not exactly the same as a car and should receive slightly different treatment as a result.

  2. Sean says:

    As a year-round bike-commuter, I’m very pleased to see them do some enforcement. There are days where I feel like I’m the only one following laws out there.

    They should also step-up public education. The graphics shown here are great but they need to be posted all around downtown and along frequently used MUP’s.

    There should be similar signs for motorized-drivers to make motorists aware of things like “door-zones”, reminders to only pass a cyclist when it’s safe to give them 3 feet, and to give cyclists room when we’re merging to the left at an intersection (to turn left).

    With B-Cycle and a general increase in cycling commuters, (The greatest increase I have seen in 10 years), we need to educate EVERYONE about how best to share the roads.

  3. Sean says:

    BTW: Here’s a Link to some information about the Idaho Stop Sign Law for Cyclists: http://bikeportland.org/2009/01/14/idaho-stop-law-faq/.

    Laws like this one should be considered as Denver increases the number of regular cyclists.

  4. Eric says:

    Bravo to DPD and BikeDenver for their efforts both in terms of education and enforcement!! As a pedestrian and motorist, I am one of those that have been angrily confronted several times over the past few years by cyclists using the public sidewalks and pedestrian street crossings. I can certainly relate to what the DPD officers are hearing while issuing citations.

  5. Denise says:

    In my opinion, the Idaho-Stop-style law isn’t good for Colorado. In places like Idaho and Montana, were they are considering making it a law, the population isn’t as dense as the Front Range and Denver. Being a biker and pedestrian down town, I have noticed drivers have little to no respect for people without a motorized vehicle. I feel it is safer to have bikers stop at all stop signs so they can be aware of their surrounding. Let’s not relying on the 3000 lb car with a cell phone user behind the wheel to make sure they do the right thing by paying attention to those of use with out motorized vehicles on the road to keep us safe from accidents.

  6. Mike says:

    Denise, Boise is 80% as dense as Denver and it seems to work great there.

    I don’t trust anyone in a car to look out for my safety, which is exactly why Denver needs an Idaho Stop-style law. I’d much rather be responsible for myself, and get away from situations where I can be rear ended. Idaho Stop is about increasing my safety and efficiency as a cyclist without fear of a ticket for not following an inappropriate law.

    I asked BikeDenver a couple years ago what their stance on Idaho Stop was and was told they have no official position. Can someone from BD chime in and let us know where they stand at this point?

  7. Kevin says:

    If this is going to be enforced, including the no riding on sidewalks, then bike lanes are needed, and not just on a few of them. Cars typically don’t want bikes on the road, and as confident I am in my ability, I’m no match for an angry driver stuck in rush hour traffic. Sometimes it’s just safer to ride on the sidewalk for a bit.

    Secondly, if we’re going to be ticketing bicyclists for running red lights, I think we should step up the enforcement on cars. I witness red light running, by cars, all the time in Denver.

    Bikes should be considered normal vehicles when it makes sense, but not when it’s downright dangerous.

  8. thopol says:

    Does BikeDenver support this policy? This article is a very positive take on some really wacky police actions.

  9. Terri says:

    Mike, I agree with you I would love to see us get that law that Idaho has. When you are on a very unpopulated road, I’m not talking about Denver Proper, it seems silly to make a complete stop when there are no cars around.

  10. John Klever says:

    I haven’t seen a car stop at a stop sign since 1978, and that was someone who had just run out of gas.

  11. Michael says:

    I commute to work every day, right through the heart of Mayfair, Park Hill etc.. Stopping at all those stop signs would be ridiculous. I am more than willing to risk the ticket in this case.

  12. Becky says:

    I think if we get the privledge of sharing the road we ought to respect the laws of the road. Although, I admit to breaking them when it’s in my best interest. I think the Idaho style stop would work here…we do it all the time anyway. I’d like to see more dedicated bike paths along direct routes N,S,E,W for non motorized vehicles to ensure a bikers safety. (I ride the sidewalk along S. University cuz it’s a deathwish to ride in the street!)My pet peeve, I’m glad you asked…fellow bikers who are plugged into MP3 players or on cell phones!!!

  13. Phillip says:

    Is there focused enforcement for 3-feet-to-pass?
    If this bicycle focused enforcement is based on accidents and complaints make sure that all accidents have a police report and make sure your complaints about drivers are heard… Report ALL unsafe drivers using *CSP from your cell phone as described at http://bicyclecolo.org/articles/star-csp-hotline-for-bicyclists-pg731.htm
    Every time a motorist passes you too closely, passes you without enough time to complete the pass before a stop light/sign, etc.
    If we don’t communicate where the real safety issues are the DPD can’t know where best to put their efforts.

  14. Hater says:

    Did you take a look at those cops? Seriously… They are fat and old and are riding mountain bikes. How the hell are they going to catch someone if they are bombing through a light. These rules will really only apply to the stupid people who ride on sidewalks and make bad judgment calls. The people who live in suburbia who come downtown to ride with the Denver Cruisers and get wasted only to put their bike back in their car and drive back out to Highlands Ranch. Those people probably should face $60 tickets because they are a hazard to our community.

    Catch me if you can. <3

  15. The Ninja says:

    I am a cyclist. I drive a car maybe once a month. The battle between cyclist, pedestrians and motorist has always been a heated one. Having been on both sides of this argument I feel that the answer is more education, not more laws. I run stop signs and lights everyday. I do it at my own risk and under my own judgement. I have yet to be hit (knock on wood). I have had some close calls, when motorist don’t use their signals or pull a Jersey sweep. Whats next though, bike cops ticketing people for walking on the bike side of the Cherry Creek path? Ticketing, for the most part, only steals money from citizens for really petty offenses
    I’m with you Hater
    Catch me if you can fat boys

  16. Bike Driver says:

    Driving your bike like you drive your car? How about you start cracking down on drivers switching lanes without blinkers, turning without blinkers, cutting me off when I’m waiting at a stop sign or red light, passing me with inches to spare, hitting me while they’re talking on their cell-phones, rolling through 4-ways, yelling at me to bike on the side-walk and to get off the road. While you’re at it, please crack down on the massive jay-walking problem as well.

  17. Street says:

    I feel that for any one to take this article seriously has got too caught up in everyday propaganda. Furthermore the “Denver Cruisers” DO NOT speak for the majority of the cycling community. As stated before the “Denver Cruisers” get together every wed, and have what some would call a “frat-party-on-wheels”, most of which whom have driven from the subs and brought their bikes with them. Now that’s all fine and dandy, but when your trying to take a group of people seriously you may want to research who makes your propaganda campaign. Then again the cruisers WOULD be stupid enough to try something like this.

    TICKET THE CRUISERS NOT OUR STATE OF MIND!

    <3 Spokes

  18. Sarah McGregor says:

    Certainly cyclists need to observe the laws. What I don’t understand is why the crackdown on cyclists when motorists are far and away the bigger offenders–and they’re driving much more dangerous vehicles. Like “Bike Driver”, I am sick of motorists on cell phones who apparently don’t know what a turn signal is or what to do at stop signs, who pull out of parking spaces and driveways without a glance backward, pass me far too closely at too high a speed, turn right on red without looking both ways and generally threaten my life on a daily basis.

  19. Mo says:

    Man this really irrates me now more than ever for bikers that get so upset when they think they “own these streets” and rules shouldn’t apply to them. WHAT?? Are ya kidding? Yes plain and simple bikers like everyone in vehicles must and has to STOP at lights and stop signs. Stops signs and lights are a NOT a “special privilege” for bikers. Bikers don’t get a special “pass” simply because you’re a biker NO.

    I hit this biker with my vehicle last week because of this she blew through her stop sign I had the right away with no stop signs and she went right in front of me and she thought she was in the right and that since she was a biker then I had to stop just for her. MORON EFFIN STOP MEANS STOP BIKERS INCLUDED!!! This lady I hit it broke her arm in several places and wrist and the police said it was completely her fault, failing to STOP but then when the cop cited her at the hospital the cop said like I had imagined a lot of these idiot bikers think it’s the vehicles fault. Why in the eff would you think it’s the vehicles fault when you the biker has the STOP sign, you the biker MUST STOP and the vehicle has the right away because it’s a right away with no STOP SIGN for the vehicle and the vehicle goes without stopping. If you the biker doesn’t STOP or does the roll stop, goes and runs in front of the vehicle that had the right away it’s the biker’s damn fault. A biker can’t get pissed at the vehicle because they expect them to stop even though the vehicle has the right away and you the biker FAILED to STOP because you BIKERS ARE EITHER TO LAZY OR STUPID TO FOLLOW TRAFFIC SIGNS AND STOP LIGHTS JUST LIKE VEHICLES. Bikers are vehicles and they have to follow the EXACT same rules as vehicles!! Yes I feel bad and awful that I hurt this biker but at the same time it pi**es me off that she and a lot of other bikers think the STREET belongs to them and they don’t have to stop at stop signs and stop signals and she and many other bikers blame the vehicles when it’s you (the bikers) damn fault for not stopping and obeying the stop signs stop signals!! I hope she got a huge ticket fine. It’s an insult to vehicles if these bikers get a low fine beacuse it could have hurt you a lot worse or worse yet KILLED you and that’s all on you BIKERS for failure to STOP and thinking you “own the streets”!!

  20. Mo says:

    Here’s a scenario that makes me also nervous and a bit on edge. Ok so then what like when I hit this biker broke her arm and wrist is she and other bikers then think that the driver who was not at fault thinks that the driver has to get them a new bike if the bike was totaled? HE** NO!! No way is the vehicle driver that is not at fault responsible for buying you a bike because of your lack or responsibility. It’s you being such an idiot moron. So yes you should get a HUGE fine, pay your own hospital bill and buy yourself a new bike. The vehicle driver is in no way at fault if the vehicle has the right of way and the biker failed to stop!!

  21. theboy says:

    There are many things wrong with this policy, but we expect the Denver Police to be nimrods. One of the roles of a bike advocacy organization should be to educate the police. Seems like Piep sat there with a happy face on and played stenographer and publicist for the Department’s idiocy.

    Bike Denver’s acquiescence (and perhaps even approval) was one of bicycling low points for 2010.

  22. WoFo says:

    If you are a cyclist there are various websites to report close calls with vehicles.

    But what about the other side of the coin?

    There is no way to file a report about an ‘anonymous’ cyclist who blows through a stop sign and punches your car like you were in the wrong…because they don’t register or have license plates, even though they have the same rights and responsibilities as motor vehicles.

    Hmmmm…so where do we go from here?

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