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Ticketing riders

The Durango Herald: Ticketing riders

Fort Collins targeting scofflaw bicyclists

Article Last Updated; Friday, January 08, 2010 12:00AM

Tuesday, the Fort Collins City Council approved a $35 “traffic calming" surcharge on tickets issued to bicyclists for running red lights and other traffic violations. The surcharge already had been applied to motorists.

This comes after the head of the Fort Collins police department’s traffic unit sent a memo to all patrol officers reminding them that traffic laws apply equally to drivers and bike riders. That was in response to complaints from motorists last summer that the law was being enforced unfairly.

The city of Durango should take notice. It is impossible to travel Main Avenue on a nice day and not see bicyclists indulging in maneuvers that would get a motorist ticketed - if not arrested.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about what is going on in Fort Collins is the encouragement the city has been receiving from its biking contingent. Bicycle enthusiasts have been urging the police to step up enforcement efforts on bike riders who ignore traffic laws. They say they want to counter motorists’ perception that all riders flout the law.

The Fort Collins Coloradoan quoted a spokesman for the group Bike Fort Collins as saying, “Far too many cyclists flagrantly disregard the rules of the road, and that reflects badly on the rest of us. We feel this is a step in the right direction."

The city of Fort Collins’ bike coordinator said equal enforcement reminds everyone that the same rules apply to motorists and riders. And that suggests an equal degree of respect.

“The important thing is that we’re recognizing bicycles as traffic, as a legitimate form of transportation," he said. “It is another step in accepting bicycling as a viable form of transportation."

He makes a good point. Bicyclists for years have tried to get motorists to be more aware of their presence and afford them the respect accorded by other vehicles. Safety, of course, is the No. 1 concern. A physical encounter between any car or truck and a bicycle is a lopsided event, the outcome of which is only a matter of degree.

Beyond that, though, if biking is to be “a viable form of transportation," as the man said, it has to be seen as such by everyone on the road. It has to have the respect of motorists as well as their tolerance.

That will not happen as long as drivers see bike riders as scofflaws. And most of them are not. But there is an element that demands the rights of both motorists and pedestrians and ignore rules that apply to either. Seeing the occasional ticket written for ignoring traffic laws could ease tensions on the road somewhat - and encourage the police to require drivers to show bike riders the respect they deserve.

It might also help defuse an unnecessarily contentious issue. The Denver Post had a truncated version of the Fort Collins story on its Web site Thursday. By 6 p.m., the four short paragraphs of the story had generated 76 reader comments, some longer than the story and most angry.

Their arguments lacked the imagination of their invective, but the exchanges did testify to the intensity of the emotion. As both the number of vehicles on Colorado roads and the number of bike riders increases, that could be deadly.

Maybe Fort Collins is on to something.