Cycling: Longmont considers ban on bikes downtown, advocates oppose strict enforcement

Based on safety concerns and the potential for crashes in a congested corridor, Longmont officials are considering a ban on biking downtown through a so-called "dismount zone" that would require cyclists to get off their wheels and walk their bikes. And while cycling advocates aren't opposed to encouraging safer behaviors, some say they are worried about a new enforcement policy that could lead to unfair fines for those who choose not to drive.

In a state where cycling is an increasingly popular mode of transportation, especially in urban centers, these kinds of debates are becoming more common across Colorado, especially with concerns about the growing number of collisions.

While there is a lot of debate in Denver around crashes between cars and bikes as more cyclists use the city's streets, in Longmont, it seems that the discussion is centered on the potential for crashes between bikes and pedestrians.

"We occasionally get complaints from merchants or visitors...[who] say they were almost run over by a bike...or there's been some near-misses," says Kimberlee McKee, executive director of the Longmont Downtown Development Authority, which is considering a possible dismount zone. "One of our goals is to make downtown friendly for all kinds of modes of transportation."

Unlike in Denver, it is legal for cyclists to ride on the sidewalk in Longmont, she notes.

McKee says that the city is in the early stages of collecting information about this problem in anticipation of possibily sending a proposal to the city council, which would have to approve any kind of new ordinance.

Scott Conlin, a board member with Bicycle Longmont, the local advocacy group, says that he wants to be sure officials better understand the scope of the problem before putting in any kind of policy that could be unnecessarily harsh toward cyclists.

"If there is an issue with people riding their bikes too fast, then we're [in favor of]...trying to curb that behavior and make sure it's a safe place for cyclists and pedestrians and everyone," Conlin says. "But our board's perspective is not to go directly to an ordinance immediately."

Continue for more on the debate around a possible dismount zone.

Conlin says that there hasn't been a lot of education around safe cycling in downtown, and that should be the first step before considering new laws that penalize cyclists.

"We realize there's a lot of people in Longmont...that use bicycles as transportation," he says. "These are the people that have hardships already and to fine them for using a bicycle, which [could be]...their sole mode of transportation is a difficult thing."

Conlin says he would be open to signage encouraging cyclists to get off their bikes in certain areas or to direct them to nearby roads that are designed specifically to accommodate bikes. "If education doesn't work, we're open to other ways of doing it," he says.

McKee says the city would not want to put any policy in place that might discourage cycling. "I can't stress enough...the last thing we want is to be bicycle-unfriendly," insists, noting projects currently underway that will give cyclists more lanes. "If we feel this could kill bicycling downtown, that would be a problem."

She adds, "The last thing...we'd want is any kind of heavy enforcement.... That was not the vision at all.... We've made great strides with getting the bicycle presence on the map here in Longmont and that's certainly not something we want to jeopardize."

McKee says that officials will look at other cities that have successfully implemented dismount zones. Some cyclists are good about warning pedestrians and riding safely, she explains, but sometimes others can forget and that can negatively impact downtown.

"It's the wonderful historic downtown feel we'd like to have," she says. "We have a nice streetscape down here."

As discussions continue, Conlin adds, "All of the parties involved are going to work on messaging and making sure we are still encouraging cyclists to come downtown."

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