Amid the controversy over a proposed charity bicycle event on Deer Creek Canyon Road, the Jeffco commissioners will propose state legislation that would give them more authority to bar cyclists from some county roads altogether.
Conflict between motorists and cyclists is nothing new on the canyon roads west of South Jeffco in the foothills. But a recent battle over using a portion of Deer Creek Canyon Road for a September fund-raising event has spurred the commissioners to seek broader authority in making some roads off limits to cyclists. The county attorney's office will draft the legislation soon, and the county will try to get a legislator to sponsor it in the 2010 legislative session.
"This morning the board recognized that we have severe issues in Deer Creek Canyon and in other areas," Commissioner Kevin McCasky said June 30 at a hearing on whether the September cycling event would receive a special-use permit.
McCasky was the only commissioner who voted to approve the event, saying that denying the event was penalizing it "for the sins" of earlier cyclist-motorist squabbles. He said that the county would seek powers to "regulate authority over the behavior of cyclists and motorists (on county roadways) all year."
Commissioner Faye Griffin said after the hearing that the plan is in the idea stage, and nothing formal has occurred. But the debate over cycling on some roads showed the commissioners that they need more power, she said.
"We need to look at (laws) that make certain roads in the county (unusable) by bike traffic," Griffin said. "We're saying to our lobbyist to look at the possibility of having some discretion on what roads can have bike traffic and which cannot. Right now there's clearness for cities, but we can't find that the county can say that."
County Attorney Ellen Wakeman said state law gives cities and incorporated towns authority to regulate cycling on roads, but the law is unclear when it comes to counties. Legislation her office will craft in the coming weeks would add counties to the list of governments that can regulate cyclists and their road use.
"It's just something (the commissioners) are considering," Wakeman said.
Griffin said conflicts between cyclists and motorists are a statewide problem and need to be addressed. She added that the scenery along some Jeffco roads, coupled with the technical challenges cyclists love, means the county needs more authority for the sake of safety.
"I can understand that they'd love to have a bike tour in the mountains because of the beauty," Griffin said. "But they have to understand — we have stacks and stacks of e-mails from citizens that live there (opposing cyclists)."
Griffin's right — numerous Deer Creek Canyon residents wrote to the commissioners opposing the proposed cycling event. But a lot of supporters also live in the area and wrote to the commissioners, according to a sample of e-mails submitted.
Griffin acknowledges that many county residents are also cyclists who pay to maintain the roads, and that barring them from some roads might not go over well. But safety concerns are paramount for her.
"We want to have people enjoy our mountains and our roads, but we don't want to have someone killed doing this."