There's a border war brewing up north between Boulder and Larimer counties. On one side, cyclists who enjoy the (usually) quiet roads and vistas of southern Larimer County, enough that many of them come from the cycling-mad burg of Boulder.
On the other, a sheriff who, depending on your point of view, is either trying vainly to enforce traffic laws on said scofflaw cyclists or is harassing law-abiding bike riders because he's anti-bike and anti-Boulder.
The car vs. bike debate is an annual rite of spring in Colorado, sparking right around the time the Pasque flowers bloom and the weather gets decent enough to send us (yes, I'm one) cyclists out in significant numbers.
But things got uglier than normal this year with reports that deputies in Larimer were stopping cyclists, demanding ID and â€“ if it turned out that the riders were from lib'ral Bowl-Der â€“ told to turn tail and not let the sun set on them in Larimer if they wanted to avoid a citation.
An isolated incident? Earlier in the year, one cycling blogger said that on a traffic stop in January, the deputy "basically said he was just practicing for summertime when there's thousands of us Boulderites running ragged through Larimer County."
Sheriff Jim Alderden posted his response on Tuesday in his weekly "Bull's-Eye" blog, the design and execution of which (replete with frontier font logo and a passel of "aints") only add to the Old West flavor. In it, he offered the department's view, if not exactly dispelling the notion that he's anti-bike
"Don't you just love this time of year, when the birds, boats and cyclists come out?" he opens. "Well, two out of three ain't bad.
Hey, at least I don't have zebra mussels on my chain, pal. At any rate, Alderden claims the overzealous deputy in question denies the "Git outta Dodge City" gambit, but that he's committed to enforcing the law, at least so far as he sees it:
"Apparently there was some dialogue (argument) about the interpretation of the applicable statute and the cyclists were advised that we were going to enforce the law regarding impeding the traffic flow in our county. The deputy continued by stating that perhaps they should return to Boulder County where they indicated they could ride two abreast, or be cited if they continued to do so here. It really wasn't a "get out of Dodge" ultimatum but "if you stay in Dodge, be prepared to follow the rules or suffer the consequences." Perhaps he could have been more tactful, but anytime you get to even suggest something to deal with Dodge City, its okay in my book."
The issue has already hit the local Boulder paper and comments are flying, and Bicycle Colorado, the advocacy organization for the state's cyclists, sent out a missive this morning asking readers to refrain from calling or e-mailing about the issue until discussions with the Larimer sheriff can hopefully arrive at a compromise.
So, what is the rule in question, and where lies the difference in interpretation?
6)(a) Persons operating bicycles on roadways shall ride single file; except that riding no more than two abreast is permitted in the following circumstances:
(i)When riding two abreast will not impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic; or
(ii)When riding on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles.
(b) Persons riding two abreast shall ride within a single lane.
At first glance, there's quite a lot up for interpretation there, but Colorado statute defines "roadway" as the portion of the paved road between the white "fog lines" â€“ that is, the travel lanes. What about the shoulder?
Although Larimer's roads, like many in the state, aren't exactly flush with spacious paved shoulders, that interpretation may be part of the problem here. As Alderden writes in his blog, "Further, section 6 doesn't negate the requirement of section 5 to ride on the paved shoulder or as far to the right as feasible when being overtaken. [Alderden's emphasis â€“ Ed.] While riding two abreast, one of the pair isn't as far to the right as possible."
If both riders can fit on the shoulder without impeding traffic, they can ride two abreast because they're not technically in the roadway. As well, says Dan Grunig, Executive Director for Bicycle Colorado, the law reads that cyclists have to ride as far to the right as is practicable, not as far right as possible. That is, if there's debris in the road or other obstacles, a cyclist has the right to ride further out in the lane. And, if riders are two abreast and a car approaches from behind, they're not in violation if they single up dutifully.
"There's a difference between traffic flow and movement," says Grunig. "Anytime a car passes a bicyclist, motorists should slow down, check oncoming traffic and make a safe pass." Essentially, an extra five seconds on your commute does not a citation for impeding traffic make.
That said, one particular Boulder group ride, the Gateway, that regularly heads over the county line en route to Carter Lake is notorious for scofflaw behavior, which cycling community leaders acknowledge needs to change, and quick.
It's not impossible: Boulder's weekly Bustop ride was for years completely lawless, with at times upward of 100 riders ignoring traffic laws, stop signs and pretty much everything else in their zeal for Thursday Night World Championship bragging rights. In 1993, Sports Illustrated even called it the "dark side" of Boulder's cycling scene.
But in recent years, says Grunig, concerted direction from Boulder's cycling leaders (as well as some careful diplomacy with the State Patrol) has pulled the ride back under control. He's focused on the same kind of resolution to the Larimer/Boulder border war.
"There's a lot of possibilities for solutions if you can just get people together and talk," he says. Ain't that the truth.