Bringing it Home: Aspen works to increase bike safety awareness

Michael McLaughlin
The Aspen Times
A group of bikers mount their bikes and cross the street from the Hyman mall Thursday afternoon. Although Aspen averages less than ten cyclist traffic accidents a year, the increasing number of close calls between cars and bikes provided the motivation to hold an Aspen Bike Safety Awareness Week on Aug. 4-8.
Aubree Dallas/The Aspen Times |

Bike Safety Facts

The following statistics come from the U.S. Department of Transportation with the most recent traffic safety facts from 2012.

• In 2012, 726 cyclists were killed and an additional 49,000 were injured in motor vehicle traffic crashes. Cyclist deaths accounted for 2 percent of all motor vehicle traffic fatalities.

• The majority of cyclist fatalities occurred in urban areas (69 percent) with almost half of the fatalities occurring between 4 p.m. and 11:59 p.m.

• The average age of cyclists killed in traffic crashes was 43. In the past 10 years, there’s been a steady increase in the average age of cyclists killed and injured.

• Cyclists ages 45 to 54 had the highest fatality rate based on the percentage of riders and made up 24 percent of the 634 cyclists killed. The majority of cyclists killed were males (88 percent) with the most males injured (7,000) coming from ages 10 to 15. Per capita, there were seven times more male cyclists killed than females.

• Alcohol involvement, either for the driver of a motor vehicle or the cyclist, was reported in more than 37 percent of the traffic crashes that resulted in cyclist fatalities.

Editor’s note: “Bringing It Home” runs weekends in The Aspen Times and focuses on state, national or international issues that have ties to or impacts on the Roaring Fork Valley.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a newsletter Friday stressing summer cycling safety. According to the newsletter, more Americans are riding bikes for fun, fitness, errands and getting to work and school. In the summer months with school out, more young people are on bikes, as well.

The administration also pointed out an increasing number of cyclist accidents that involve alcohol.

In 2012, most cyclist fatalities occurred between 4 p.m. and midnight and happened in urban areas. One in four cyclists who died in crashes had a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher, topping the legal limit in all states.

Bike safety is a growing concern in Aspen, as well.

The Aspen area has long had an active cycling community. With a combined 13 bike-rental shops in Aspen and Snowmass as well as the advent of the We-cycle program, ridership is increasing and is at its highest during the summer tourist season.

“We’re definitely seeing more people riding bikes in the Aspen area,” said Blair Weyer, spokeswoman for the Aspen Police Department. “It’s great for the community. Bikes help solve a lot of problems, whether we’re talking traffic reduction or increasing awareness toward cyclists. I’ve read several reports that show a correlation between more bike riders equaling a greater knowledge of biker safety.”

As far as people riding bikes while under the influence of alcohol, Weyer said it carries the same fine as driving a car drunk.

“People don’t realize they can get a DUI on a bike,” she said. “The statistics show the dangers of riding under the influence. It’s a serious problem.”

Weyer said with so many tourists in town also renting bikes, she’s seen and heard about a growing number of close calls with bikes and cars. Motivated by the number of near misses, Weyer said the city has put together an Aspen Bike Safety Awareness Week for Aug. 4 through 8. Part of the week includes a community-outreach day Aug. 6 at Wagner Park.

There will be representatives from the city of Aspen, Aspen Valley Hospital and We-cycle at the event, offering information on bike safety. The hospital will be giving away free kids bike helmets, and there will be a raffle for a high-end bike lock valued at $100.

Miles Wagner, the trauma program manager at Aspen Valley Hospital, said bike-related injuries are a reality in Aspen.

“We certainly see more than our share of bike-related injuries here in Aspen,” Wagner said. “We can’t stress enough the importance of wearing a helmet whenever you’re riding and making sure your equipment, especially your tires, is in good shape. We also see a lot of injuries from people riding the passes and going too fast. I tell people you see more if you go slow.”

While Aspen averages fewer than 10 bike-related traffic accidents per year, Weyer sees the need for more bike-safety awareness not just for bike riders but for pedestrians and drivers, as well.

“We’ve had three reports of bike traffic accidents this year,” she said. “Two involved biker injuries; one didn’t. But in the past week, there have been two additional accidents at the corner of Eighth and Hallam, where the designation between the sidewalk and bike path can be confusing.”

Weyer said the municipal code of Aspen restricts riding bikes on sidewalks unless the wheels of the bike have a diameter of 14 inches or smaller to allow for children on bikes to access the sidewalk.

Police officers have the discretion with writing citations, and most choose to educate and give warnings before resorting to a citation that carries a fine of $100.

Aspen resident Mirte Mallory created the We-cycle program. It offers 100 bikes at 14 stations set up around town available 24 hours a day. Once a pass is purchased, riders can use the bikes for up to 30 minutes at a time before the bike needs to be returned to one of the stations.

Mallory said that if riding bikes on a sidewalk is discouraged, then you have to provide a safe area for bikes.

“Aspen has done that with designated bike paths and bike sharrows — a sign with a bike and two partial triangles drawn above the bike that shows a theoretical lane where bikes should be,” Mallory said. “Aspen is definitely bike-friendly and getting more so. Biking isn’t just what we do after work; more and more people use their bikes to commute with.”

Cyclists need to be aware that they’re subject to the same rules and fines as a car when on public roads. One particular law called the “Idaho Stop Law,” which allows cyclists to yield at marked stop signs, took effect in Aspen this year. The law allows a cyclist to go through stop signs as long as there’s no incoming traffic or pedestrians. It does not allow for a reckless ride through a stop sign.

Weyer said it’s critical to teach defensive riding for cyclists.

“If you’re unpredictable on a bike, that’s when problems happen,” she said. “The No. 1 way to increase safety on a bike is obey car-safety rules and be predictable. We don’t want to discourage ridership; we want to be pre-emptive rather than reactive.”