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War of the roads

Preston Utley/Vail DailyA sign stands on Highway 6 reminding motorists and cyclists to share the road as a cyclist speeds past.
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Tipsline, June 15: Kudos to the lady who wrote in to Tipsline about the bicyclists. I have lived in this valley for 29 years and I am sick and tired of putting my life in jeopardy to get around you on Route 6. I’d appreciate if you bikers would use the bike path.Today, while a transcendent American cyclist tours around the French countryside with a record seventh consecutive victory in the world’s toughest cycling race at stake, numerous local residents will set out on their own road bikes on the busiest stretch of highway in Eagle County.It’s a good story – the Lance Armstrong story, that is. There’s no denying its ripples here.It’s July and Armstrong is again in yellow, which means most of the county is following his daily progress in the local papers, on the Internet, or at home in front of their TVs.Young, rich, old, poor, male, female, black, white, Hispanic, Democrat, Republican – who doesn’t root for Lance Armstrong? There’s something for everyone.The yellow Livestrong bracelets for cancer research have become a universal fashion statement both here and beyond, gracing the wrists of some 50 million people worldwide. And cycling – not to long ago stereotyped as a European sport – has enjoyed unparalleled success in the United States since Armstrong became the resident U.S. ambassador of whup-ass.It seems, with that backdrop in mind, and with more and more local residents commuting to work on their bikes every day, or cycling for exercise, that road bikers would be embraced on local roads.With it’s reputation as a recreational paradise, it’s easy to assume that cyclists would be prized assets here in Eagle County – just like skiers, golfers, fly-fishing enthusiasts, kayakers and mountain bikers.Those assumptions crash head-on into a hard truth, however, to hear it from some local cyclists and to peruse some of the comments in Tipsline, the Vail Daily’s anonymous call-in service.It’s a truth, as Edwards’ Chris Anderson can attest, that hurts.On June 13, Anderson was riding westbound on Highway 6, heading back to his house in Miller Ranch.At the stoplight in front of the Beaver Creek West lot, where he was waiting for the light to turn green, the driver in the car behind Anderson began inching toward him.

As the driver came precariously close to hitting him, Anderson said, he looked over his shoulder and exchanged a glance with the man behind the wheel. The driver then proceeded to drive forward, knocking Anderson over, before turning right on West Beaver Creek Boulevard and speeding off. Anderson said his injuries from the accident were minor – a few scrapes and a “tweaked” knee. The mental repercussions were more severe.A motorist hitting a biker intentionally? Why?”I would like to think that he didn’t (do it intentionally), but if he was really taking a right-hand turn, and he didn’t think I was there, he would have just cruised,” Anderson says. “But, we made eye contact for most of it. It leads me to believe that it may have been intentional.”Witnesses came to Anderson’s aid and also helped him report the car’s make and license-plate number to local authorities, but state troopers didn’t turn up anything. Anderson says he would like to think what happened to him was an isolated incident here in Eagle County. But, he says, there’s reason to believe otherwise. With a growing county population and more bikers and cars on the road, the opportunities for the two sides to come into conflict abound every day – especially on Highway 6.”Up here, it’s probably inevitable,” he says. “As we get a stronger population with more drivers, there will be more incidents. I think it’s a problem both locally and nationally. My brother is a police officer in Dallas and he said there have been a lot of reports of road rage against bikers down there as well. A lot of people have died.”Tipsline, June 8: By no means should we have to swerve into oncoming traffic to avoid these morons. We have bike paths for a reason. Besides, what the heck is the point of riding on the road when you have beautiful scenery along the rivers and trails up here. The fact of the matter is you bikers need to get a life and get off the road where cars belong. … I’m sick of walking my dog with my boyfriend in the morning when some hideous uptight biker goes by with a scowl on his face when we say, “good morning.” You’re not that cool. And to all you bikers on the road who keep getting in my way every morning? I will scare the hell out of you with my horn. I have no mercy with my car horn.’It could always be better’Why don’t road bikers ride on bike paths? Why do they insist on riding on Highway 6, especially at the busiest times of the day?It’s an obvious question for someone not familiar with cycling. The reasoning seems apparent – why do they want to bike on the road? Jeff Mohrman, the founder of the Vail Velo Club who works at Colorado Bike Services in Eagle-Vail, says that kind of uninformed thinking is what is causing flare-ups between drivers and bikers.

“A bike path is not just a bike path. It’s a recreation path,” Mohrman said. “Road cyclists are way too fast for those 8-foot paths. That’s the first thing motorists like to say, ‘Well why don’t you get on the path?’ If it worked, we’d rather be away from you guys because you guys are dangerous.”Since founding the Vail Velo Club in 1989, Mohrman says he has attended numerous meetings with leaders from around the state as an advocate for cyclists. When improvements were being planned for Highway 6 10 years ago, Mohrman stumped for dedicated biker lanes, then wider shoulders. Despite the improvements on certain stretches of the highway, most notably the wide shoulders on the stretch in Eagle-Vail, Mohrman says more needs to be done.”It could always be better,” he says. “Anywhere you can put a wide shoulder and put the little bicycle icon in there, you know, for a dedicated bike lane is awesome.”A dedicated bike lane, he says, would ease tensions between unknowing motorists and bikers; the icon being the irrefutable proof that cyclists are allowed to be on the road. As it stands now, Mohrman says, he has run-ins with drivers at least once a week while riding to work on Highway 6. There is a turf war being fought on the asphalt.”It happens all the time,” he says. “I never flip people off. I’ve learned over the years what people want on the road and how not to (expletive) them off. So, I’m pretty good at it.”Eagle County Sheriff Joe Hoy says he is aware of the fact that there are now more cyclists on Eagle County roads than there have ever been. As a cyclist himself, he says he’s also well aware that increased bike and motor traffic has created an environment with the potential for problems.He’s seen cyclists riding two or three abreast when they shouldn’t be – an easy way to incense motorists who have to wait for an opening to pass. He’s also seen drivers intentionally slow down next to bikers, then speed up to give the cyclists a scare.Still, Hoy says, he can’t recollect within the past year of anyone calling into the sheriff’s office to report an incident like Anderson’s, or anything related to motorist road rage that was spurred on by a cyclist.”I can’t think of one,” he says. “Now again, I’d have to get down into the records to verify that, but I can’t recollect anything related to an incident between the two groups. I don’t think it’s that bad. It’s been in the paper enough – you know, share the road.”Another close call



Mohrman says car drivers aren’t the only ones responsible for endangering cyclists on Highway 6 – either knowingly or unknowingly. Just recently, while in the roundabout below Wal-Mart on Highway 6, he says he was nearly run off the road by an Avon bus. “The bus decides that it’s going to race me into the roundabout,” Mohrman says. “I get in there and he comes charging in there and he doesn’t realize how long his bus is. Those huge tires were right next to my head and I just had to lay on the brakes.”While he avoided injury, the quick stop shredded one of his $85 tires. Mohrman also says a close call with a bus is a lot scarier than a close call with a car because bikers can hear cars, whereas buses, with their engines in the rear, are like silent predators.”You don’t hear them coming and they never get over, so those things go by you about 3 feet away,” he says. “You nearly (expletive) your pants. There is a growing concern over the interactions between cyclists and those driving on the road. It needs to be brought out. This is a bike-friendly area, but there’s a lot of that road-rage thing going on.”From Tipsline, June 14: To the moron who called in and boo-hooed about having to share the road with cyclists, you’re a total hypocrite. You’re griping about having to share the road, which bikers have a legal right to, and you’re suggesting they use what you call the bike path, which is actually called a recreation path, then you complain about having to share that same path with us because you and your boyfriend walk your dog on it. That’s quite a contradiction. Perhaps you should make your own society, where a person as superior as yourself won’t ever have to share anything with anybody else ever again. Give me a break. Do you think it’s funny to harass cyclists on the road? Guess what? If you ever endanger my life, I’ll have you ticketed. Road rage is illegal. Before you go calling Spandex lovers selfish for enjoying what they have a right to, perhaps you should read what you had printed in Tipsline. You sound like a spoiled brat. A two-way streetAnderson is quick to point out, despite of his run-in with a driver last month, that bikers are part of the problem. Some motorists don’t know the rules of the road, he says, but the same goes for some bikers. While driving on Highway 6, he’s come across bikers riding two abreast when they shouldn’t be and some solo bikers who fail to stay on the shoulder. “I’ve been one of those drivers where I see a biker taking up too much road space and putting drivers in an awkward situation, but I’ve also been a biker where cars have done things they shouldn’t have, too,” he says. “I think there’s a whole lack of education and a whole lot of miseducation. It’s confusing, knowing what the real rules are for both sides.”Adds Hoy, “I think there is enough blame to go around for everyone.”Mohrman says that he’s seen worse from fellow cyclists on Highway 6 – bikers riding in the shoulder against traffic, instead of with it.

He says, in that situation, the oncoming cyclists create a dangerous situation for him on his bike and oncoming drivers, especially when he is traveling at around 25 mph.He’s also seen cyclists ignore posted traffic signs and stoplights.”There’s a ton of cyclists out there who don’t have a clue,” Mohrman says. “Riding the wrong way against traffic – that’s against the law. They think I’m the one who’s in their way and they’re coming at me. As soon as you signal for them and say, ‘Get on the other side, they’re like, ‘(expletive) you, man.”So far, there haven’t been any Tipsline calls from bikers singling out other bikers. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen, though Mohrman and Anderson both hope that it never comes to that. Hopefully, they say, increased pressure from local groups like the Vail Velo Club will force local and state officials and the Colorado Department of Transportation to take a bigger stake in promoting road-safety etiquette and providing more funding for safer roads.Anderson says there could be more signs and wider shoulders. Mohrman says roads with as much bike traffic as Highway 6 need a dedicated bike lane. “If we gave everybody a little cushion, it would help everyone on both sides,” Anderson says.”There has to be some tolerance,” Hoy says. “I can see why some people get upset, but I think the commuters have to be aware that they do have to share the road with bikers and there’s no reason why they can’t slow down, at least for a little bit, until they get around them.”Nate Peterson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 608, or via e-mail at npeterson@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado


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