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.
“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.”
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.