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Commissioners backpedaling on bike restrictions?

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Bicyclists bristle as debate over safety issues persists

By AJ Vicens

Jefferson County commissioners appear to be rethinking a plan to seek legislation that would allow them to regulate bicycles on county roads.

After several public meetings about a proposed cycling event through Deer Creek Canyon - and amid a continuing debate about the safety of bikes and cars co-existing on narrow foothills roads - the commissioners had announced they would seek legislative authority to regulate cycling.

But an uproar from the cycling community, including outraged missives from cyclists all over the world, has apparently led the commissioners to take a step back.

"I want to be clear that, initially, our instructions to (the county attorney) and to our lobbyist was to investigate whether a change in legislation would be helpful," said Commissioner Kathy Hartman. "We have not made any decisions, and we are going to have another meeting with our lobbyist, something we do all the time. At this point I'm not willing to support any change (in the law) that does not also have the support of Bike Jeffco and Bicycle Colorado."

The initial proposal would have been an attempt to give counties authority similar to cities and towns.

"Jeffco's problem is we have this whole huge area called ‘unincorporated Jefferson County’ that is just as much urban as Lakewood, but we're using legal tools designed really for rural areas," Hartman said. "I don't know what the solution to that is, but it's more complicated than I originally thought." Hartman said the county has added shoulders on some roads, and plans on adding more.

"But I don't think closing Deer Creek to cyclists is something we'd be doing," Hartman said. "It's not something I would vote for."

Commissioner Kevin McCasky said the issue has been "blown so far out of proportion, and resembles nothing consistent with the commissioners' initiative."

McCasky said the effort to seek the authority was just in the idea stage.

"It was an element of discussion we directed staff to research,” he said. “We don't have a sponsor, don't have any draft legislation. It's an issue that Commissioner Hartman initiated because of a bike permit. We'd be silly to do anything remotely close to banning bicycles. It's not going to happen."

As the commissioners try to find the right path on the cyclists-versus-motorists situation, Deer Creek Canyon Road continues to be wildly popular with cyclists, who come there from all parts of the Denver area.

Scores of cyclists were using the road the morning of July 26. Many were respectful and rode single-file when traffic passed. But some came around blind corners riding nearly in the middle of the road, forcing cars to slow well below the speed limit and making it difficult to pass safely. One cyclist was observed urinating next to Deer Creek Canyon Road a quarter-mile east of South Wadsworth Boulevard, an act many residents farther up the canyon complain happens all the time on their properties.

David Steffen, a cyclist from southeast Denver, came to ride the canyon July 26. He said he'd be upset if he couldn't ride there.

"It'd be horrible," Steffen said. "This is a beautiful road to bike on."

Steffen added that, if anything, the county should be looking to further regulate motorists in the canyon, who he said are rude and aggressive.

"In my many years of cycling, drivers don't look at the road as something they need to share most of the time," Steffen said.

Steffen said a few cyclists are pushy and rude, and that he'd probably be annoyed if he lived in the area and had to deal with all the cyclists.

J.R. Garcia, a cyclist from Highlands Ranch, had a conciliatory view.

"I see both sides of the coin," Garcia said as he prepared for his ride up the canyon July 26. "There's definitely some cyclists that abuse the road, are unsafe, and create unsafe situations for themselves and for drivers." But Garcia said those cyclists are just a few among the hundreds that regularly ride in the area.

He also said living in Colorado is about being outdoors.

"When you think about living in Colorado, you think about the foothills and the mountains," he said. "(Banning cyclists from the roads) seems a bit extreme and absurd. There has to be a compromise as opposed to telling me not to ride here at all."

Jefferson County sheriff's Deputy Fred Lang patrols Deer Creek Canyon every week to monitor the interactions between cyclists and motorists. He's been patrolling the area for three years, and the conflict between the two has been ever-present.

"It's a conflict between a small percentage of cyclists and a few upset residents," Lang said July 26 as he monitored the intersection of South Deer Creek Road and Deer Creek Canyon Road.

A lot of Lang’s work involves interacting with cyclists - he wrote three traffic tickets to cyclists who didn't stop at a stop sign July 26 - but he does talk with motorists as well.

"There are some issues with the residents up here," he said. "Some can be territorial, and when people come into their area, they tend to push back."

Lang says he spends most of his time reminding cyclists that they have to obey traffic laws and reminding motorists that cyclists have every right to be on the roads.

Ultimately, it's about safety, Lang said.

"Up here," he said, pointing to the road as a half dozen cyclists rode by, "there's hardly any room for error."

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.