Ah, fall: the time when a young student’s thoughts turn to cycling. And why not? Fort Collins has done an amazing job at developing a citywide network of bike paths and bike lanes on major streets, and the flat terrain and beautiful weather are conducive to hopping on your bike to get where you need to go.
As evidenced by the hundreds of bike racks around campus and the thousands of bikes zipping between buildings, many of us choose this option.
Bikes don’t work for everybody, of course, so we share the roads with motorists. And although you’d expect cyclists to be extremely cautious when traveling alongside cars, many take their lives into their own hands by breaking the law, running red lights and stop signs, riding the wrong way in bike lanes and riding at night without proper lights. Understandably, many motorists have come to expect that cyclists won’t follow regular traffic rules.
As a consequence, things like this happen to me at least once a month: When coming up to a four-way stop on my bike, I’ll come to a full stop at the stop sign, but there’s a car there ahead of me. Since the car has the right-of-way, I wait for it to proceed, but it doesn’t.
But, because the driver of the car expects me, a cyclist, to break the law and speed on through the intersection, they wait for me to do so, even though I’ve already stopped. I try to be a responsible cyclist, so I motion to them that they have the right-of-way and should proceed accordingly. Not only does this slow everybody down, but it occasionally makes the motorist mad. I’ve been honked at, flipped off and yelled at for doing nothing other than refusing to break the law.
These interactions at intersections are a minor annoyance compared to what can happen when, say, a 150-pound cyclist traveling at 10 miles per hour collides with a 2,000-pound car traveling at 40 miles per hour, needless to say, the results are not going to be good for the cyclist. In recent months, multiple cyclists have been killed or severely injured as a result of bike-car collisions in Fort Collins.
Because the stakes are so high when cyclists and motorists interact, you’d think that the Fort Collins and CSU police would place a high priority on enforcing the traffic laws for both groups. And yet, after four years in Fort Collins seeing cyclists break the law on a near-daily basis, I’ve never once seen a cyclist pulled over by a police officer.
Now I know what you’re thinking: We do have bike police at CSU. But I’ve never seen them do anything other than enforce the dismount zones around the center of campus. Preventing a 10-mile-per-hour cyclist from colliding with a 5-mile-per-hour pedestrian is nothing compared to averting the potential dangers of a bike-car collision.
To add to this waste of resources, the Fort Collins Coloradoan reported two weeks ago that CSU police, under the leadership of former Chief Dexter Yarbrough, were given leave to police areas of town well away from campus.
It feels to me as though the CSU police department has been ignoring students’ actual safety in order to simply write more tickets. It may be easier to pull over motorists miles away from campus or to cite stray cyclists in the dismount zones, but we pay the CSU police to help keep us safe. Why not devote more resources to the places where there’s the greatest risk of students being involved in deadly collisions?
Now that we’ve had a change in administration, perhaps CSU police under the leadership of new chief Wendy Rich-Goldschmidt can be more productive with their time, keeping motorists and cyclists around campus safe by rigorously enforcing traffic laws against scofflaw cyclists. Doing so would make both driving and cycling safer and more convenient for everyone.
Seth Anthony is a chemistry graduate student. His column appears Tuesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.