Being a Prune

I’m going to start this post by acknowledging that I’m a tad bit upset.  Gunnison is a great community.  Since we moved back home last summer we’ve made friends and even strangers reach out to us in friendship most of the time.  Even better this attitude seems for the most part very genuine, people don’t act friendly to get something from you or pretend interest simply to see what it will do for their own situation.

Even better for me there’s a lot of bicycle infrastructure around town, and most of the highways in and out of town have huge sidings.  For the most part I feel safe riding both in and out of town.  And since this is my primary mode of transport these days that’s a good thing.  What is currently frustrating to me at the moment stems from two incidents I’ve experienced during National Bike Month nonetheless.  Making matters worse the police response has been somewhat underwhelming, basically under lining the unspoken sentiment many cyclist feel regularly.  Don’t ride your bike where it might bother people in cars, they may run you down and that’s A-Ok because cyclists are annoying.

So, let me outline the situation for you.  Its happened twice to me this month and in particular it happens when I’m trying to move across Main Street (which becomes Hwy 135 North Bound to Crested Butte) in particular at lighted/signal intersections.  Generally when you’re moving east or west bound and you encounter a signal intersection there is a right turn lane and a left or straight lane.  Additionally, there is usually bike lane to the inside of the right turn lane.

The Intersection of Death or Indifference

As you may already be aware staying in the bike lane is a really bad idea.  Staying in the bike lane places a cyclist in jeopardy of a “Right Hook” traffic accident and hides the cyclist from on-coming, left-turning traffic putting the cyclist in double-jeopardy of experiencing the “Left Turn T-Bone”.  These traffic encounters are often fatal.

Thus, to avoid this fate I  “take the lane” meaning I safely pull into the left or straight lane; this technique is in common use and legal in Colorado.

C.R.S. 42-4-1412 (5.a.II.C): “A bicyclist may use a lane other than the right-hand lane when:
a)      Preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private roadway or driveway;
b)      Overtaking a slower vehicle; or
c)       Taking reasonably necessary precautions to avoid hazards or road conditions

This allows the cyclist (me) to see and be seen by trailing traffic and on-coming traffic alike.  As soon as I cross the intersection I usually pull back into the bike lane to make way for following traffic.  There are a couple of places where this is less than safe because there is diagonal on-street parking and/or no bike lane, but need less to say, I like to get my rear end out of harms way as soon as possible.  Like most cyclists I can accelerate about as fast as the average car; however, my top end is somewhat slower than a car.  Regardless I clear the intersections pretty quickly so the cost to any following traffic is negligible and could be measured in seconds.

The issue I’m having at this point is that people believe that a) bikes have no business being out of the bike lane and b) that bicycles are obstructions or impediments which should be cleared from the road or turned into speed bumps.

Since the beginning of May I’ve filed two complaints with the Gunnison Police Department.  The first one a driver couldn’t wait the extra couple of seconds and passed me in the intersection by turning into the right-hand turn lane then proceeding through my intended route and the receiving bike lane while accelerating hard.  I chased this guy across town and found his truck in the Gunnison Elementary School parking lot.

The second incident occurred yesterday while pulling Aral in the trailer.  When the red light turned green at the intersection of Main and Spencer I pulled out into the intersection only to be nearly clipped by a guy in a big Dodge diesel on my left.  Adding insult to dangerous behavior the guy yelled something at me as he passed.  Fortunately, I didn’t have to chase this guy far; once he slowed down enough he pulled into the second entrance of Alpine Orthopedic.  I turned right into the first parking lot entrance and came to a stop so I could catch his attention.  When he pulled up beside me I asked “You know what you just did was dangerous and illegal?”

He responded “You know you should get out of my way or you could get run over?”

Ah ha!  With my 18 month old son looking on from the rear of my bike.

Now he stomps on the accelerator of his Dodge sending up a cloud of diesel smoke and decided to jog his wheel in the direction of the trailer.  Moments later pulling into a parking spot.  “Ok, this guy has some issues”, I’m thinking.  I pulled out of the parking lot and rode down the street before he blew his top or worse I did.

I cleared B&B Printing to get out of line-of-site of this guy, stopped and dialed Police dispatch.  The dispatcher took my information and dispatched an officer who later called me back.

Now here’s where this one gets really interesting; and while I wont condescend and tell this guy how he might do his job, in my opinion he could use some pointers.  I described the situation, gave him my information and his first response is to ask me why I didn’t just stay in the bike lane.  Further discussion occurs in which I tell him that a) I’m not obligated to ride in the bike lane especially if there’s something unsafe about doing so, b) at a minimum the passing rules have clearly been violated and c) the guy made overt physical threats to me and my baby with a 2 and-a-half ton truck.

His response: “You could have been impeding traffic.”

Clearly this Officer has not read the non-motorized sections of the C.R.S. recently.  I chock it up to ignorance and move the conversation on to the statement I’m going to write and have to him the following morning.  Phone conversation done, I consult with Brad from ColoBikeLaw, then write my statement.

Today, I made the pilgrimage down to the Police Department to check in with the Officer assigned.  We sat down and had yet another discussion, in which I got several interesting pieces of information.

First, not all cyclists in Gunnison obey the law.  And while true it does not mean that I don’t know or obey the law.  Nor does this behavior justify threatening behavior from anyone driving a 2 and-a-half ton truck.  Pull over the offending cyclists and ticket them for the traffic infractions they commit, don’t generalize their behavior and thus demote me to a second class citizen.  I already have enough vulnerabilities to compensate for.

Second, the assigned Officer believes that he knows the statues which apply in this situation.  Funny, when we had our conversation yesterday he put the onus on me to go look up the specifics.  I consulted a lawyer who specializes in Bike Law, found what I needed and conveniently quoted the applicable passages in my statement.  From our conversation together yesterday and this afternoon, I know that the assigned Officer knows of the parts of the code which he’d like cyclists to conform to, but is apparently unaware of the parts meant to protect cyclists.

Finally, the assigned Officer believes that the perpetrator should be allowed offer a contradictory interpretation. After receiving my complaint he called the guy and obviously got a different story.  Cyclists must have nothing better to do than trump up charges all day long?  If I called and said “Hey, my wife is beating me with a 2 and-a-half ton truck” someone would go to at least the holding tank for a bit because it would be categorized as a domestic dispute.

From the conversation with the assigned Officer the Dodge driver claims that he passed me after we cleared the intersection and re-entered Spencer.  Let’s just suppose that’s the case for the moment, it does not explain why he passed so close (well within 12″) which was the original complaint per the following statute

C.R.S. 42-4-1003 (1,B): The driver of a motor vehicle overtaking a bicyclist proceeding in the same direction shall allow the bicyclist at least a three-foot separation between the right side of the driver’s vehicle, including all mirrors or other projections, and the left side of the bicyclist at all times.

Additionally, the driver made the claim that he didn’t shout anything at me as he passed.  Great, had that actually been the case I would have written this bad example of bicycle-car interaction as unfortunate and let it slide.  I don’t need any more anxiety in my life and frankly I’ve got much better things to be doing than stress about some ass-hat in a Dodge.

Which brings me full circle to the worst part.  I love this place and the people I’ve met here, don’t get me wrong its not Utopia.  We put up with college kids partying too hard at all hours of the night.  We find ways to deal with and potentially love the cold.  Sometimes the isolation can be a little oppressive.  But, and this here is a big “but”, this is and has been home for me since I left back in the early 90s.  Incidents like this bring a little poison into my home and that’s unacceptable.

Ultimately, I feel like I should make my way within this community with a sense of trust, a commitment to acting with civic responsibly, and a decision heuristic which is Always Generous.  I guess there are always going to be big defectors in any community.  I thought, perhaps mistakenly, that this was what the system was designed to protect us against.

Done being a Prune.

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