Steven Studt was hit by a dump truck last Friday while crossing over I-25 on Kechter Road. This is a horrifying tragedy and as I write this, Studt is in critical condition at the Medical Center of the Rockies. The dump truck driver remained on the scene, but the fact remains that he made a bad decision and it may cost Studt his life.
The question we should all be asking ourselves is, “What could have been done differently that might have prevented this from happening?” so that we can hopefully avoid such accidents in the future (either as a cyclist or a motorist). There are Colorado laws that both motorists and cyclists should be aware of. There are certainly no guarantees in life, but it’s possible that a slight shift in the cyclist’s lane position might have given the dump truck driver second thoughts about trying to pass.
There’s a commonly held belief that cyclists should always ride as far to the right side of a lane as possible. This misconception is even included in the Coloradoan article on Friday’s accident. Adrian Garcia wrote, “An initial investigation revealed that the cyclist was following the law and riding to the right side of the lane as required.” The problem with that statement is that riding as far to the right side of the lane is NOT required by Colorado law. There are several exceptions stated within the law and this skinny bridge would certainly fit within the exceptions. (Scroll to the very end of the article to see the specific Colorado bicycle laws.)
A Google Streetview image of the bridge shows that not only is there no bike lane, but there’s not even a shoulder. According to the Larimer County Transportation Master Plan (pdf), the road is 24 feet wide — which means the lanes in each direction are 12 feet wide. Let’s look at what that means in terms of traffic on this road.
Even if a cyclist hugs the right hand side of the lane, there still wouldn’t be room for a car, a bike, and the legally required 3 foot buffer between them. So one way or another, the motorist is either going to have to hang back, like they would for any other slow moving vehicle, or they’re going to have to go around the cyclist.
That’s where lane positioning can make a difference. If a cyclist positions themselves to the far right, they’re sorta saying, “It’s OK to pass. See? I’m leaving most of the lane open for you.” But *most* of the lane isn’t enough for the motorist to safely squeeze through. They’re going to have to fit into some part of the oncoming lane. But that doesn’t always register completely. As motorists, we tend to think of that as “slipping past” instead of “changing lanes.” So we’re not as focused on oncoming traffic as we would be if we recognized we were going to be fully in their lane.
A cyclist can (legally) position him or herself in the center of the traffic lane in such a way that the motorist is more likely to think through all sides of the situation and make a safe decision. They’ll either choose to hang back for the slow moving vehicle until it is safe to pass. Or they’ll very carefully look for oncoming traffic, more fully aware of what it is they’re about to do.
Taking the lane can be scary. Motorists aren’t always used to the idea that bikes have the right to use the center of the lane. They may honk their horn or ride too close. Both of these are illegal according to Colorado law. (Scroll to the see relevant sections of the code.)
I have found that when this happens, the most dangerous moment is when I pull to the right (at a safe place) in order to let them pass. They often speed up to get around me once they have the clearance and that is when they are most likely to knock me with their mirror or bump me with their car. Motorists, don’t do this! You’re putting someone else’s life, and your own future, at risk. Cyclists, take heed and be prepared to swerve right if need be. Using a rear view mirror might also help you to anticipate this kind of illegal activity.
If we take a look at Kechter Road again, we see that there’s not a good point for a cyclist to pull right until they get off the bridge and cycle down to the right hand turn lane about a quarter mile down the road. So the cyclist should remain in the center of the lane until it is safe to pull right. This will encourage motorized traffic to wait until there is a safe time to pass, then they can pass when the oncoming lane is clear.
There are no guarantees in life, and even when we follow all the rules of the road, accidents still happen. But making yourself visible and encouraging motorists to change lanes to pass (by riding in the center of the traffic lane rather than hugging the right side of the road) might help motorists make better decisions as we all share the road.
Rick Price does a good job of explaining why “taking the lane” or “controlling the lane” (as riding in the center of the traffic lane is called) can not only keep the cyclist safer, but also produce better traffic flow for motorists, in his article entitled “Cyclists ride big, control your lane to help motorists” in the Fort Collins Coloradoan (March 31, 2015).
CyclingSavvy.com also has good explanations on why it is safer to ride in the center of the traffic lane.
Relavant Colorado cycling laws:
42-4-1412. Operation of bicycles and other human-powered vehicles
(5) (a) Any person operating a bicycle or an electrical assisted bicycle upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic shall ride in the right-hand lane, subject to the following conditions:
(I) If the right-hand lane then available for traffic is wide enough to be safely shared with overtaking vehicles, a bicyclist shall ride far enough to the right as judged safe by the bicyclist to facilitate the movement of such overtaking vehicles unless other conditions make it unsafe to do so. [In other words, if it’s not wide enough to “be safely shared with overtaking vehicles” then you’re not expected to stay to the far right.]
(5) (b) A bicyclist shall not be expected or required to:
(II) Ride without a reasonable safety margin on the right-hand side of the roadway. [Sometimes people think, “Hey, this is a skinny road. I better really hug this guard rail.” That puts the cyclist in danger. All it takes is hitting the guardrail with a handlebar or paneer and it could rebound you into motorized traffic. It’s better to keep a safety buffer between yourself and the far right as well as between yourself and anything passing by on your left.]
From Bicycle Colorado.
Traffic regulation. Part 10.
1008. Following too closely. (1) The driver of a motor vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of such vehicles and the traffic upon and the condition of the highway.
From the Model Traffic Code for Colorado put out by CDOT.
Though it is OK to honk at a cyclist from a safe distance, if you feel the need. It is not OK to harass a cyclist nor to scare a cyclist. This is considered harassment and has led to convictions such as this one in Boulder against he driver of the motorized vehicle.