An Uneasy Truce

June 11 2008, 1:14 PM

"Colorful" Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden held his highly anticipated summit with bike advocates on Monday to discuss how his department is, or is not, enforcing traffic laws among cyclists.

The result? Call it a mixed bag.

Alderden met with Dan Grunig, Executive Director of Bicycle Colorado, Jeff Merrill of Bike Fort Collins and state legislators Don Marostica, a Republican who represents Larimer County's District 51, and Greg Brophy (R-Wray) who represents most of the northeastern counties and wrote the 2005 revision to Colorado's law governing bike travel on the road.

"It went pretty well," said Grunig. ""We're seeing some progress in the sheriff's interpretation of the law. He could see where two-abreast riding is OK on a wide shoulder or in a lane of traffic where the cyclists are going the posted limit and aren't impeding traffic." Grunig said the meeting also clarified the issue of whether cyclists can be taken to jail if they're pulled over and can't supply a form of identification.

"It's stupid to ride without ID," said Grunig, "and the sheriff is right that if someone is being cited for a criminal offense they must ID themselves. But our interpretation of it is that you don't have to be carrying ID as long as you properly identify yourself. Since they have computers in the car, they can call it in and verify your name if you give them the correct one. Obviously, you should never lie in that situation."

But Grunig said that there is still a difference of opinion on some aspects, centering on interpretation of the statutes. "We're going to continue to enforce the statutes as we interpret them," Alderden told the Boulder Daily Camera.

At issue is what Grunig says is supposed "ambiguity" in the way the law was written. Alderden contends that the ambiguity is confusing; Grunig counters that the language was deliberately written that way to offer law enforcement some discretion to deal with various situations. "It provides law enforcement with flexibility to determine and enforce safe behavior," said Grunig – the point being that two riders having a friendly chat on a ride and who might not go back to single file quickly enough for an overtaking car to pass without briefly slowing is not the same as a pack of 20 cyclists completely disregarding the traffic they're impeding.

It's telling, however, that Alderden remains unbowed about enforcing his interpretation of the law, in keeping with his unique take on various issues like concealed-carry permits and holiday displays.

After all, he had an opportunity to get complete clarity on the law from Brophy, who is not only a farmer interested in promoting vehicle safety for slow-moving equipment like tractors, but a competitive cyclist as well and fellow Republican. If Brophy, who wrote the bill in question, can't bring Alderden around to his view, then it's worth asking whether anyone can.

Bicycle Colorado, for it's part, says it will try to work with the cycling community to make sure that traffic laws are followed, particularly on some of the larger group rides that have been a major source of the problem. The organization will also continue to monitor the Larimer situation and how the Sheriff's office enforces the law. "We'll be watching to make sure that the Sheriff is enforcing the impeding traffic clause uniformly, independent of the vehicle – whether it's a classic car with a top speed of 40mph, a tractor or a bike," Grunig said. A sit-down is planned for October to review the results of a long, hot summer.

In unrelated news, a Denver-area woman is in critical condition at Saint Anthony's after getting hit from behind on her bike by a driver on a rural Jefferson County road. Rhonda Kobi, 57, of Northglenn was riding solo on Simms Avenue near Highway 128 when she was struck from behind by Walter Johnson, 24, of Boulder. Since drugs, alcohol and speed were not suspected, the state patrol cited the cause of the accident as inattentive driving. Johnson was cited for misdemeanor careless driving.