Last year, the Denver Regional Council of Governments launched a “Vision Zero” plan for the Denver metro area.
Vision Zero, which originated in Sweden, is the concept that even one death on roadways is unacceptable.
Denver and Boulder already have their own Vision Zero programs, but the DRCOG felt that the concept warranted expansion. In 2017, 266 people lost their lives in the nine-county region DRCOG serves, 9News reported last year. One in four of those deaths involved cyclists or pedestrians.
We’re fortunate not to have to deal with the heavy traffic that results in those kind of sobering figures. But clearly, more can and should be done to prevent avoidable fatalities. The Colorado Senate just passed Senate Bill 61, known as the Bike Lane Bill, which should aid Vision Zero’s goal of lowering cyclist deaths.
Interestingly, the debate in the Senate reflected the usual tension that arises between motorists and cyclists.
“If there is currently animosity or tension, then anything that can be done to provide better clarity, understanding or certainty or where everybody belongs and what their duties are can only improve the situation,” said Brad Tucker, a Denver lawyer and president of Bicycle Colorado’s board of directors.
The bill eliminates a current “gray area” regarding who has the right-of-way in an intersection between drivers turning and bicyclists going straight when involved in a crash, Tucker said.
Senate Bill 61 establishes bike lanes as any portion of the roadway that has been designated by striping, signage or pavement markings. It also states that a bike lane continues through an intersection even when unmarked
The bill establishes that bicyclists have the right of way in a bike lane and drivers must yield the right-of-way to a bicyclist — whether they are making a turn or entering a parking spot.
Should the legislation pass, drivers who don’t yield the right-of-way to cyclists in a bike lane will be subject to a new fine.
“All the current laws that are in place around cyclists and motorists interacting remain in place,” Sen. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, said in response to questions about how the bill would be applied. “The only thing that this bill does is it makes it clear that if the cyclist is in the bike lane, that the motorist shall yield. It doesn’t deal with the roads ... where there are no bike lanes.”
This strikes us a common-sense codification of the way cyclists are already using bike lanes. As Foote noted, if a cyclist is in a bike lane, obeying the law, and gets hit by a driver in the bike lane, “sometimes the cyclist is actually cited themselves for that particular crash, or nobody is cited.”
The bill seeks to provide more certainty to all road users and thus better safety. We hope it passes the House less contentiously than it was debated in the Senate.
We acknowledge that friction between motorists and cyclists isn’t a one-way street. It takes two to tango. But cyclists are more vulnerable and more exposed than motorists. That’s why this is good legislation. It encourages the use of bike lanes, which not only improves safety for all road users, it helps reduce conflicts.
That’s important for a region like ours that is actively promoting itself as a bike-friendly community.