Colorado town’s bike ban and the Road Diet debate



Council’s on recess right now and I’m taking advantage of the break and enjoying a few days away from the office.  As an elected, you never really get time off – there’s always work to be done, and more than likely, elements of policy work or legislation seem to conjure themselves up out of the woodwork even when you’re trying to avoid them . Case in point, my morning tea and newspaper earlier this week was anything but leisurely.  A headline about a bicycle ban in a Colorado town caught my eyeHow could I see that and not read the article?

In 2009, the Colorado Legislature passed a law requiring that motorists give bikes three feet of space when passing. There are at least fourteen other states that have passed this same three-foot rule without fuss.

The town of Black Hawk, Colorado, felt the liabilities imposed by this new law were too much and they wanted to take back their streets in favor of the tourism industry and the busloads of people arriving on city streets once designed for horse-traffic. Black Hawk took an unprecedented step and banned bicycles from its main streets in January, and cyclists who get caught riding their bikes on city streets are now being cited with a $68 ticket.

This seems a bit unbelievable and to the extreme. But it reminded me of what is happening in Seattle, or what could happen if we aren’t careful.

In recent weeks, my office has started receiving quite a few emails and calls about rechannelization of select city streets. When it comes to road diets or rechannelization, people seem to either love the idea or hate it. We are hearing quite frequently from those who fall into the latter and what’re were really noticing is the tone. People are angry for a variety of reasons, and I’m hearing that road diets are “preposterous beyond belief,” and a “waste of taxpayers’ money”.  One constituent kept his feelings short and to the point:  STOP SCREWING UP OUR STREETS!!!

Now, I am fully aware that people usually contact me when they are mad or angry or when they disagree, so I understand that we are predominantly hearing from one side. I’m watching who contacts us but I’m also listening to what people are saying and how they are saying it. What troubles me is the divide that we might be creating. This is quickly becoming another ‘us versus them’ scenario, pitting bikes against autos and this issue should be anything but that simple.

It’s ironic that the city is moving in a direction where we are asking people to share the roads but that discussion is becoming divisive in nature. We are hoping to build a system where cars and bikes (and pedestrians, for that matter) can coexist, but it’s as if we’ve created an environment where the various camps don’t even want to talk to one another.

Bike lanes and road diets should be opportunities to unite, not divide. These steps of rechannelization or road diets aren’t really about giving preference to one mode over another. What we are doing, or hope to be doing, is crafting the foundation for a safer environment for all modes.