This past June, thousands of Colorado residents left their cars at home and chose to spend the day communing on their bicycles.
People celebrate Bike to Work Day every spring in Colorado and across the country. For bicycle advocates, this day is particularly meaningful. It’s a day to spread awareness about cycling, bicycle safety, and sustainable commuting.
For some people, like Bob Shaver of Denver, June 22 was just an ordinary weekday. Shaver estimates he’s ridden over 200,000 miles in the 50 years he’s been cycling, and Bike to Work Day was another opportunity for him to share the road with fellow cyclists.
Sadly, this year, the annual celebration was bittersweet for Shaver. Just a few days before Bike to Work Day, he witnessed a terrible hit-and-run accident while riding in Golden, near Maple Grove Park.
Shaver says he was rattled by a loud noise that sounded almost like a gunshot. When he looked to see what had happened, he noticed a cyclist lying in the middle of the road and a car speeding off in the distance.
It wasn’t the first time Shaver had witnessed a bicycle accident. Over the years, he has seen at least three cyclists get hit. In one of those instances, the rider was killed.
The Risks for Bike Riders
Bicycle crashes involving vehicles are a genuine fear for cyclists, who say they’ve noticed a decrease in traffic safety across Colorado. Since 2013, there have been approximately 2,460 registered bicycle accidents in the Denver metro area alone.
In fact, on the morning of Bike to Work Day, a 50-year-old cyclist out on an early ride was fatally struck by a truck in Lafayette, just 20 miles north of Denver.
The bicycle advocacy organization Bicycle Colorado says the COVID-19 pandemic brought about the biggest bike boom in years. The increase in cyclists even caused bicycle shortages around the world as manufacturers tried to keep up with the high demand during the peak of the bike boom.
With so many new bikes hitting Colorado roads, the number of accidents is expected to increase unless lawmakers pass additional measures to ensure rider safety.
According to the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), there have been an average of 15.6 cyclists killed each year on Colorado roads. Most of these accidents are attributed to drivers, and hit-and-runs make up a percentage of these deadly encounters.
A record 22 cyclist deaths were reported in Colorado in 2018, and in 2019 there were 20. These are daunting numbers given the population of the state, though the statistics don’t compare with Florida, where an average of 110 cyclists die each year from crash-related injuries.
According to 2010-2019 data from CDOT compiled by KUNC, the hit and run that Shaver witnessed in June is one of over 8,000 statewide crashes reported in the last decade where investigators determined riders were not to blame. In the same report, over 75% of cyclists involved in crashes sustained injuries.
Last month alone, there were at least three cyclist hit-and-runs in the Denver area. In one of those accidents, a driver intentionally crashed into two seasoned cyclists who were riding along Highway 40 in Jefferson County.
One of the victims, a 61-year-old woman, was unconscious for 19 days following the crash and suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result.
Shaver says he sees himself in the two cyclists who were hit. They were also longtime bicycle enthusiasts who knew the rules of the road and to follow bicycle safety measures. The 61-year-old woman who sustained critical injuries was a member of her local cycling club. She was no stranger to the road.
Shaver explained that over the years, he has noticed more cars taking to the streets in his community. He worries about distracted drivers and those who drive in a hurry. Shaver believes that motorists just don’t consider the safety of cyclists.
Cyclists across the state feel threatened by hazards, including road rage, distracted driving, and ignorance of the Colorado law that requires drivers to keep three feet of separation between a car and a rider.
This year, CDOT has started a statewide campaign to remind drivers about the law by installing signage on highways and roadways. Likewise, bicycle accident attorneys are fighting hard for the victims of negligent drivers.
Responses from Local Officials
As a result of the increasing dangers for cyclists on the roads, some cities in Colorado have started to take initiatives to keep riders safe. Boulder, Denver, and Fort Collins have vowed to eradicate serious bicycle injuries with an approach called “vision zero.”
According to the Denver Regional Council of Government, vision zero is “based on the principle that loss of life is not an acceptable price to pay for mobility.”
In 2020, Denver took the first steps in applying its new safety initiative. The city published its first report and plan of action in achieving “vision zero.” According to the report, reaching those goals will require citizen outreach, a collaboration between agencies, better data monitoring, and more legislative support across Colorado.
Last April, Colorado lawmakers signed the state’s first “Safety Stop” bill. Safety stop laws have been promoted by bicycle advocacy groups across the country for the past few years. These laws change the way in which cyclists are allowed to stop and yield in certain situations.
At stop signs, cyclists will now be able to yield and roll through rather than making a complete stop. At red lights, riders will be able to stop but continue before the light turns green if there is no oncoming traffic.
Traffic experts have determined that intersections are the most vulnerable places for bicycle accidents. By allowing riders to get out of these conflict areas more quickly, the law will help reduce the number of preventable accidents.
Talking about bicycle accidents he’s seen and heard about, Shaver says, “It’s heartbreaking.”
Nevertheless, Shaver will continue riding his bike just as he has for the past 50 years because he sees hope for the cycling community. He pictures a future where one day, everyone from drivers to cyclists can share the road peacefully.
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