Unscientific bike survey: Do Denver residents know the cycling rules of the road?

Thumbnail image for deer creek challenge bicycle racer.jpg
Big photos below.
In this week's feature, "On a Roll," we explore the rising tensions between cyclists and drivers in Denver. The number of bikes on roads originally built for cars is rising, and so are the number of collisions and conflicts -- sometimes with devastating consequences. Do Denver residents know the rules of the road when it comes to bikes? Here, we give you results from our very unscientific survey on some key rules.

As we outlined in our feature, the city is working to greatly expand its bike infrastructure so that the growing number of cyclists have designated lanes and paths for their commutes. But as the Public Works Department builds out the bike network -- sometimes at a slower pace than cycling advocates would like -- people who choose to bike must navigate the roads in Denver alongside cars. This leads to all kinds of conflicts -- when a driver doesn't have room to pass; when a cyclist is staying to the right, but a driver wants to make a right turn; when a cyclist needs to get to the left, and on and on.

Bike advocates in the road.JPG
Sam Levin
Two Denver bike advocates riding in the middle of the road.
There are some rules and laws that govern cyclists, as well as generally agreed-upon guidelines for peaceful co-existence from bike advocates. Before getting to commentary from ten arbitrary Denver residents, here's a basic rundown of the rules:

Generally, bikes are supposed to function like any other vehicle. They have the same responsibilities and the same rights. Cyclists must obey all traffic laws and cannot ride against traffic. Denver's municipal code notes that riding on the sidewalk is prohibited unless it is part of a designated bike route or cyclists are within one block of preparing to mount or dismount at a "parking speed" of six miles per hour. Like cars, they must yield to pedestrians. At night, cyclists must be equipped with lights, and bikes are banned from the 16th Street Mall, except on Sundays.

Of course, bikes are not like cars in most respects. They don't go as fast, they can maneuver around more easily, and it takes a lot more energy to brake and start again. For additional safety, advocates encourage cyclists not to weave in and out of traffic or between parked cars and encourage them to keep to the right and signal often. Cars are supposed to treat cyclists like other cars and if they want to pass them, so they must have at least three feet to do so. When there isn't room to pass, advocates recommend that bikes move to the center of a lane so they can clearly be seen riding with traffic -- essentially as another vehicle.

To get an unscientific pulse on how well Denver residents understand these rules -- and how they view the cyclist-motorist tensions -- we polled ten individuals at random on Monday morning in downtown around a few B-cycle stations, and on the 16th Street Mall.

We asked:

1) Are cyclists allowed to ride on the sidewalk?
Six said no, three said yes and one didn't know.

2) Do cyclists have to stop at stop signs and red lights?
All ten said yes.

3) Who do you think is more often at fault in bike-vehicle crashes?
Five said cyclists, three said cars and two said it's an even split. *See our earlier post today for more details on accident stats.

4) How much room do drivers need to give cyclists if they want to pass them?
One said a foot. Two said three feet. Two said five feet. One said ten feet. The rest didn't know.

We also asked more nuanced questions, such as: In general, do you think cyclists follow the law in Denver? And do you think drivers respect cyclists?

Continue reading for some of the best responses we got from our survey.

Sponsor Content

My Voice Nation Help

I watched a couple of cyclist ride from Zuni to about Auraria Parkway on Speer in the middle of the right hand lane just like a car during rush hour one morning. As annoying and dangerous as this is, they have the right to do so.


Sam makes the common and incorrect assumption that these pesky bikers are flaunting the rules and regs on "roads originally made for cars." While this opinion is common, its not based in fact. The truth is, we all have the Good Roads Movement which was founded in 1880 to thank for having paved roads in our cities. 


Just ask the "Father of Good Roads" Horatio Earle: "I often hear now-a-days, the automobile instigated good roads; that the automobile is the parent of good roads. Well, the truth is, the bicycle is the father of the good roads movement in this country." - "The League fought for equal privileges with horse drawn vehicles. All those battles were won and the bicyclist was accorded equal rights with other users of the highways and streets."


 @rush : You are absolutely correct.  I was about to post the same thing before I read your reply.


Here's a twist for the author: Try doing the same survey of motorists with the exact same question.


That's the fundamental flaw in all of this is that people assume that this is about bicyclists vs. motorists.  It isn't.  It's about people in general.  As long as you make it "us vs. them" you will never be dealing with the real problem which is a severe lack of education of all people with regards to the rules of the road and safety.

Now Trending

Denver Concert Tickets

From the Vault