More cyclists means more ticketing, increased enforcement

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Editor's note: This is the third in a series of reports about biking and bike safety in Denver and beyond.

There are a lot more cyclists on the road in Denver -- and apparently a lot more police officers looking to give them tickets. As the interest in biking grows with residents and city officials alike, this is one of the growing pains.

As we noted in an earlier post, ridership has increased dramatically, and the city has helped push that trend froward by greatly expanding its spending on bike infrastructure.

One problem cyclists have encountered is a rapid increase in bike thefts. And another problem -- at least from the vantage point of some cyclists -- is a rapid increase in ticketing and enforcement.

Based on stats provided by the Denver Police Department, it's clear that more cyclists are getting citations -- which cover a wide range of violations, from breaking traffic laws to lacking proper reflectors.

In 2002, there were a total of 138 citation violations involving cyclists. Last year, that total was 1,114, which is more than eight times as many eight years prior. The first big jump appears to have been in 2008, when the number went to 478, followed by 656 citations in 2009 and 1,165 in 2010.

In 2012, from January through June 18, 275 citations have already been given out -- more than the annual totals for all years prior to 2006.

For some cycling advocates, this isn't actually bad news.

"Enforcement is being stepped up and rightly so," says Piep van Heuven, executive director of BikeDenver. "Police enforcement is very effective in reminding people on bikes that they have to obey traffic laws."

Emily Snyder, a senior city planner with Denver's Department of Public Works who oversees bicycle and pedestrian matters, says that when the city adds more bike facilities -- like new lanes or sharrows (which mark shared roads) -- cyclists generally tend to use those roads more. But the growth in the bike network should in theory also help cut down on some citations, by giving cyclists a clear and safe place to ride legally.

Page down to see more statistics about bike citations.

Breaking down the data based on specific violation, some other interesting trends emerge.

First, by far the largest violation each year is cyclists breaking traffic laws. A common complaint is bikers speeding through stop signs and ignoring red lights -- an issue raised when the Denver City Council and the mayor recently discussed bike safety.

The DPD statistics don't specify what kinds of traffic laws are broken most often, but in 2011, 353 citations out of a total of 1,114 were for traffic-law violations.

Unsurprisingly, riding on sidewalks is also one of the more common violations. So far this year, 47 tickets have been written for this offense. But in 2011, 334 total were written up for riding on the sidewalk. Although we don't know when those 334 citations occurred last year, it looks like fewer folks will be getting tickets for being on the sidewalk this year. That could have something to do with the increase in bike lanes -- but that's just a guess.

When we chatted recently with Dan Grunig, executive director of the statewide advocacy group Bicycle Colorado, he said the no-biking-on-sidewalks rules makes sense in most cases, but added that the law could use some tweaking.

"It certainly makes sense in high pedestrian areas or business areas," he said, but added that for young students going to school, there may be times when riding on the sidewalk is necessary -- and if they do get in some kind of accident on the sidewalk, from a car pulling out of a driveway, for example, then they will be considered at fault.

"That exposes cyclists to a huge degree of liability," he noted. "If the street doesn't have a place for [them] to ride, or the cars are going fast, but [they] have to get to school...or home...it puts them in between a rock and a hard place."

Folks critical of cyclists' behavior also frequently raise the concern of bikes on sidewalks, but Grunig said there should be some exceptions in certain areas where the road is particularly unfriendly to cyclists and where the sidewalks aren't high traffic areas.

Another thing to watch out for from the data: The city has dramatically increased ticketing for biking or skating on the 16th Street Mall. Before 2009, no tickets were being given out for this offense -- but now several hundred are issued each year.

And some bike trivia: According to DPD records from 2002 to 2012, no one has ever gotten a ticket for incorrect bike parking. Only two people during that entire time have gotten a ticket for not having a permanent seat. And just ten people over the last ten years have been cited for "carrying articles/persons" on a bicycle.

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Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.

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