Unscientific bike survey: Do Denver residents know the cycling rules of the road?

In this week's feature, "On a Roll," we explore the rising tensions between cyclists and drivers in Denver. The number of bikes on roads originally built for cars is rising, and so are the number of collisions and conflicts -- sometimes with devastating consequences. Do Denver residents know the rules of the road when it comes to bikes? Here, we give you results from our very unscientific survey on some key rules.

As we outlined in our feature, the city is working to greatly expand its bike infrastructure so that the growing number of cyclists have designated lanes and paths for their commutes. But as the Public Works Department builds out the bike network -- sometimes at a slower pace than cycling advocates would like -- people who choose to bike must navigate the roads in Denver alongside cars. This leads to all kinds of conflicts -- when a driver doesn't have room to pass; when a cyclist is staying to the right, but a driver wants to make a right turn; when a cyclist needs to get to the left, and on and on.

There are some rules and laws that govern cyclists, as well as generally agreed-upon guidelines for peaceful co-existence from bike advocates. Before getting to commentary from ten arbitrary Denver residents, here's a basic rundown of the rules:

Generally, bikes are supposed to function like any other vehicle. They have the same responsibilities and the same rights. Cyclists must obey all traffic laws and cannot ride against traffic. Denver's municipal code notes that riding on the sidewalk is prohibited unless it is part of a designated bike route or cyclists are within one block of preparing to mount or dismount at a "parking speed" of six miles per hour. Like cars, they must yield to pedestrians. At night, cyclists must be equipped with lights, and bikes are banned from the 16th Street Mall, except on Sundays.

Of course, bikes are not like cars in most respects. They don't go as fast, they can maneuver around more easily, and it takes a lot more energy to brake and start again. For additional safety, advocates encourage cyclists not to weave in and out of traffic or between parked cars and encourage them to keep to the right and signal often. Cars are supposed to treat cyclists like other cars and if they want to pass them, so they must have at least three feet to do so. When there isn't room to pass, advocates recommend that bikes move to the center of a lane so they can clearly be seen riding with traffic -- essentially as another vehicle.

To get an unscientific pulse on how well Denver residents understand these rules -- and how they view the cyclist-motorist tensions -- we polled ten individuals at random on Monday morning in downtown around a few B-cycle stations, and on the 16th Street Mall.

We asked:

1) Are cyclists allowed to ride on the sidewalk? Six said no, three said yes and one didn't know.

2) Do cyclists have to stop at stop signs and red lights? All ten said yes.

3) Who do you think is more often at fault in bike-vehicle crashes? Five said cyclists, three said cars and two said it's an even split. *See our earlier post today for more details on accident stats.

4) How much room do drivers need to give cyclists if they want to pass them? One said a foot. Two said three feet. Two said five feet. One said ten feet. The rest didn't know.

We also asked more nuanced questions, such as: In general, do you think cyclists follow the law in Denver? And do you think drivers respect cyclists?

Continue reading for some of the best responses we got from our survey. Kahlil Zawadi, twenty: "Cyclists are not allowed to ride on the sidewalk, but I definitely do.... People yell at me even when I'm in the right lane [on a bike]. They are a lot more focused on distractions like their cell phones.... In Denver, there's a large battle between cyclists and drivers."

Jovanna Stepan, 37 "[Cyclists] rarely stop at red lights.... They always drift and go between cars... Here, [cars] do respect cyclists. Cyclists [are probably more at fault in crashes], because they are not following the rules, not stopping at stop signs."

Colleen Rose "I don't think cyclists are legally supposed to ride on the sidewalk -- but I don't care.... Biking downtown, they do go right through lights.... Drivers also don't pay attention."

Marissa Lehto, 22 "I don't think either respects each other.... Cyclists run through red lights, run through stop signs. They often don't obey traffic laws.... Cars are more at fault.... They are safer. People aren't as respectful in cars -- you're not gonna get hurt. You're higher on the food chain."

Don John, 65 "I have mixed emotions. I almost ran into a cop on a bicycle and he gave me dirty looks.... Cops [on bikes] are allowed to be on the sidewalk! But they should be on the street.... [Cyclists] should obey all the laws.... I watched one go through a stop sign and then flip off the car."

Lyndon Myler, 54 "I try to give ten feet, twenty feet [when passing a cyclist].... But sometimes it's hard to do it."

Cheryl Jones, fifty "I was pulled over by a cop [when I was on a bike], who said I ran a red light. And I said, 'No, it was yellow!' I was riding [at the same time] as pedestrians were crossing.... I hate to say it, but I think bicyclists [are more at fault]. They don't always pay attention."

John Johnson, 49 "Sometimes cars see cyclists, they speed up and blow their horn and they're like, 'What are you doing in the street? You're not a car!'"

Ray Wilkes, 48 "Bikes [are more at fault]. They just don't stop at stop signs."

Briana Gerou, 34 "They probably don't follow all the laws...because [cyclists] think they fall somewhere between a car and a pedestrian.... In large part [drivers respect bikes], but there are always exceptions to the rule."

More from our Environment archive: "Photo: Denver Cruisers take over shut-down I-25"

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Sam Levin
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