The dispute over a Black Hawk bike ban heads to the Colorado Supreme Court

Categories: Crime, Environment

Bike ban, black hawk.jpg
Tensions between cyclists and motorists on the road seem to be at an all-time high in Colorado given several recent incidents where drivers and bikers have clashed dramatically. Now, three cyclists have taken one fight all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court to protest a controversial ban on biking in Black Hawk. The case involves a municipal ordinance in place for several years that makes it illegal to bike on certain streets. The defendants -- three cyclists ticketed for violating that law -- argue that Black Hawk's policy contradicts state law.

Black Hawk City.jpg
This dispute, which has been working its way through the courts since 2010, is interesting because it gets into questions about whether cities can make their own laws like this, as well as the rights of cyclists to use public roads. And for Black Hawk officials that pushed the ban, it's a matter of public safety.

The three cyclists were ticketed in June of 2010; afterward, they partnered with a Boulder law firm to argue that the ordinance violates state law. Attorney Paul Schwartz of Shoemaker Ghiselli and Schwartz explains that Colorado law makes it clear that there are restrictions on how cities can implement these kinds of transportation laws.

"Under Colorado state law, a city can ban bicycling on local streets, only if there is a suitable, nearby alternative bicycling route," he says. "And it's undisputed that there is no alternative route in this case."

Black Hawk is a "home rule" city, which means it does have municipal authority to make laws, but the defendants argue that in the case of bike bans, there are limitations.

"The general rule is that bicycles have the same rights and duties as motorists unless specifically provided for in the traffic code," says Schwartz. "And although there is a provision in the state traffic code that says cities can ban bicycling on heavily traveled streets, one of the requirements of that statute is that there be a nearby alternative."

The three cyclists, from Golden, Denver and Crested Butte, were ticketed on Gregory Street in Black Hawk after the ordinance went into effect -- earning fines which now amount to a little over one hundred dollars each. They were doing a bicycle loop starting and ending in Golden, through Idaho Springs, Central City and then down through Black Hawk.

"Gregory the only connector," says Schwartz, explaining that for cyclists on this kind of trip, there's no way around the Black Hawk streets that city officials have banned.

The case has gone from Black Hawk Municipal Court, which ruled against the cyclists, to an appeal in the Gilpin County District Court, which upheld the lower court's decision in 2011, saying that the city acted within its authority to enact a bike prohibition.

From there, the Colorado State Supreme Court granted the defendants' petition to hear the case and oral arguments were given earlier this month. That final decision is pending.

The cyclists argue that a ruling in their favor would set a precedent that there are limits on how cities can ban cyclists -- which, they say, would be a major win for bikers.

On the flip side, Black Hawk officials argue that if the court rules in favor of the defendants, it would negatively impact municipalities across the state because it would be a clear statement against local control and the authority cities have to make their own ordinances.

"The larger issue is whether cities in Colorado have the power to pass traffic regulations or traffic rules that conflict with state law, when those ordinances have an impact outside the city," says Schwartz. "We're not aware of any similar bans, but we're certainly concerned that if the ban gets upheld that it could open the door for other cities to similarly ban bicycling."

Jack Lewis, city manager of Black Hawk, which is home to casinos, says that ultimately this case and the ordinance is about safety on his city's roads.

Bicycle Colorado black hawk.jpg
Screenshot from Bicycle Colorado, the statewide advocacy group that is spreading the word about the case.
"You'd be surprised at the number of vehicles that come down that hill every day, and many of them are large tour buses," he says. "And if two tour buses approach each other at the same time, I will assure you that there is very little room anywhere."

He says, "This is an issue of safety.... From a mitigation standpoint, it is very difficult, because of the topography here."

In response to arguments that cyclists should have the same rights as vehicles, he says, "I don't believe that anybody has a right over anyone else. When safety is a factor, safety trumps all...and it's just not safe. There is no shoulder. It's a small, narrow two-line country road."

Lewis says he is a cyclist himself but that the city must retain its right to promote safety with its own local ordinances. He argues that there is also an alternative route for cyclists that is very reasonable, though he recognizes that it doesn't fall within the distance set forth by the law, which mandates that bike bans can only be implemented when there are other options within 450 feet. Still, he's confident the court will rule in Black Hawk's favor.

Schwartz, though, says that overall the push from Black Hawk reflects an unfriendliness toward cyclists and that it should be the responsibility of vehicles to safely share the road.

"The city sort of finds it inconvenient for the buses that deliver gamblers to the casino...that they might have to share the road with bicyclists," he says.

Continue for the official court documents in this case.

Sponsor Content

My Voice Nation Help
Nicole Mills
Nicole Mills

You can thank all the encouraged growth to this state. Transplants do not respect Colorado culture.

Don Finley
Don Finley

You can't tie your horse up out front of the Casino either... get over yourselves bicyclists.

DonkeyHotay topcommenter

No More FREE RIDES for Bicyclists !!


1) Mandatory Registration and Use taxes, just like Trucks, Cars, Motorcycles and Mopeds.


 2) Mandatory Licensing of Cyclists --  they should be forced to PASS A TEST showing they know the LAWS regarding Safe Bike operation on public roadways. 


3) Mandatory License Plates to prove the above, identify the owners and make catching scofflaws -- like those who run through red lights and stop signs -- easier. 


4) Mandatory Liability Insurance to protect innocent citizens from any harm or damage cyclists may cause.


If they wont comply with the above, then let them ride on their own PRIVATE property and not the PUBLIC Roadways!





Yea while were at it all people who ride scooters and skateboards and any vehicle should be required to do the same! Also people should get all of the above too because if they trip and harm others in public we need insurance for them to pay damages. While we are at it everyone should have to do whatever police officers or any official Government Employee for the Public Good. We should all just be guilty and prove our innocence because if you are not guilty then there is nothing to worry about. Why do we have private enterprise? We should just have the Government make everything so we know it is safe, they will make us 100% safe from ourselves and others. There should not be private property because what if someone does something on their private property but it causes damages on another privately owned property? If we just had a policeman in every house we could finally all be safe and not worry about these damn people hurting others and we can get rid of insurance! Hell yea why not those greedy bastards have been screwing the American Public and it is time for some payback.


I do find the point about making sure they know the laws interesting because not one of you knows all the cyclist laws. Not one person in the world. Sure you can look them up but you don't know them right now on the spot. No car owner, not a single one knows all the laws of the road. Again no one in the world knows all the laws just related to cars let alone rules of the road. Not a single person knows all the laws of a single city, or town let alone State laws in the US. Not one in the world. Clearly we don't have enough if one single person didn't find them important enough to learn all of them for a town let alone the state they live in, we need to make it so everyone has a motive to know every law and follow them.

DonkeyHotay topcommenter

 @Asdf  @DonkeyHotay  @justinnet 


According to the Stoners who just defiled the Constitution with Amendment 64 -- Regulation Works !!


They even claim that STRICT Regulation Works Better!!




@DonkeyHotay @justinnet What are your proposals for motorized traffic? Mandatory sobriety ignigition locks? Lifetime driving ban for DUI? Mandatory monitoring equipment to provide evidence in case of accident? Annual recertifications to maintain licensing? Motorized vehicles are clearly more dangerous and require more regulation.

Now Trending

Denver Concert Tickets

From the Vault