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Kerr’s bike bill rolls to a stop

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Legislation would have allowed rolling stops at stop signs

By Deborah Swearingen

A bill by state Sen. Andy Kerr was defeated in the Senate Transportation Committee last week, but the South Jeffco Democrat says he plans to continue educating and spreading awareness in the hopes of reintroducing it in the future.

In its most basic sense, Senate Bill 93 would have allowed cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs and stoplights as stop signs. It permitted a cyclist to pass through an intersection without stopping at a stop sign if the person slowed to a reasonable speed and yielded to vehicles and pedestrians. The bill also would have allowed cyclists to proceed through a red light or make a right turn, if the person stopped and yielded to traffic and pedestrians.

Proponents of the bill said it would have made intersections less congested and streets safer for cyclists and motorists.

“… For the vast majority of motorists, absolutely nothing changes,” Kerr said. “This doesn’t give cyclists the right of way over vehicles. Cyclists are only to take advantage of this when they’re at an intersection and there is no other traffic.”

Supporters, including Kerr, said that many detractors simply misunderstood the bill.

“We’re fighting against some misconceptions,” Kerr said. “A lot of people who have preconceived notions about cyclists think that this bill is about protecting bad behavior, and it’s actually the opposite. It’s to spotlight the bad behavior and legalize the good, safe behavior.”

But critics worried that the bill would have provided special privileges to cyclists and, in fact, would have made roads less safe.

A “no” vote by Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulfur Springs, chairman of the Transportation Committee, was the deciding factor at last week’s hearing. But Baumgardner suggested his reasoning for voting against the bill also was misunderstood.

“Numerous witnesses who testified against the bill, including a representative of the Colorado State Patrol, explained that the uniformity and predictability of traffic rules helps reduce the potential for deadly or serious crashes,” Baumgardner said in an e-mail to the Courier. “That’s especially important for bicyclists, given their vulnerabilities when accidents occur.”

Kerr, an avid cyclist, agrees that auto-bicycle accidents can be deadly for cyclists. In fact, Kerr added, intersections can be one of the most dangerous places.

He patterned his bill on the 1982 “Idaho Stop” bill. Cyclist injuries declined by 14.5 percent a year after the bill was passed in Idaho, according to 2010 research by Jason Meggs, a traffic safety researcher with the University of California at Berkeley’s School of Public Health.

Baumgardner said cyclists have for years been fighting for the right to safely share the road with motorists. He fears Kerr’s bill would have created a “confusing double standard.”

“Key to that spirit of coexistence is an understanding that everyone follows some consistent rules of the road,” he said. “It seems counterproductive, in light of the progress that’s been made, for bicyclists now to be lobbying for potentially unsafe rule changes, and seeking special privileges that don’t apply to others who use the roads.”

Kerr said far more people spoke in favor of the bill than against at the hearing. Some even gave remote testimony from western areas of the state such as Durango and Grand Junction.

Michael Raber of Bike Jeffco, a cycling advocacy group, spoke in support of the bill at the hearing. He maintains that, in addition to making roads safer, the legislation would simply have clarified existing laws.

A frustrating scenario frequently occurs for Raber while cycling: When he pulls up to a stoplight, he and his bike aren’t heavy enough to trigger a green light. By law, he must wait for a car to come and activate the sensor or choose to run the light and face a $100-plus ticket if law enforcement is nearby.

The laws can be confusing for bicyclists, motorists and members of law enforcement, Raber said.

“What Andy’s doing will help clarify an area that’s not real well understood,” he said.

For Raber and Kerr, the work has just begun. They were prepared for a negative outcome and plan to continue educating the public before reintroducing the bill.

“Our intent is to just reintroduce it and spend the next couple months or year working on educating what it really calls for, and hearing objections from other people and trying to make it so that it’s acceptable and understandable,” Raber said.

Contact reporter Deborah Swearingen at dswearingen@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1042. Follow her on Twitter @djswearingen.