Bicycle laws 101: explaining the rules of the road

Sady Swanson

Some students stop at the cross walk to let cross traffic through. Not all students understand the bicycle laws on and around campus, which can be dangerous. (Photo credit: Sady Swanson)
Some students stop at the cross walk to let cross traffic through. Not all students understand the bicycle laws on and around campus, which can be dangerous. (Photo credit: Sady Swanson)

Every student receives a Colorado State University Bicycle Regulations handbook when registering a bike with the CSU Police Department, but not all students follow what the handbook says. Some of the most common mistakes students make are because the law confuses them.

When biking on the road, bicyclists are responsible for following all laws motor vehicles follow, according to the Colorado Bicycling Manual. That includes stopping yielding to pedestrians at stop signs and using a headlight when riding in the dark.

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“In the state of Colorado you are considered a vehicle when you ride your bike,” said Joy Childress, coordinator of the bicycle education and enforcement program. “So the more you can ride like a vehicle, the safer you’re going to be.”

Riding on the sidewalk

The law depends on whether bicyclists are on campus or not.

On campus, if there is a bike lane adjacent to a sidewalk, bicyclists need to be in the bike lane. If there is no bike lane, then bicyclists can be on the sidewalk. On shared use trails, bicyclists must always yield to pedestrians.

However, the rules change for biking off campus.

“Within the City of Fort Collins, you’re allowed to ride on the sidewalk all you want,” Childress said.

Even though it is legal, Childress advises against it.

Of all crashes involving bikes and vehicles in Fort Collins, 88 percent are caused by bicyclists entering intersections from the sidewalk, according to Childress.

“Yes, you are allowed to ride on the sidewalk,” Childress said. “But, it is very unsafe because it puts you in a place where motorists don’t know how you’re going to enter the intersection.”

Other than the dismount zone in downtown, bicyclists are allowed to bike on the sidewalks.

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Passing pedestrians

The CSU Bicycle Regulations handbook states that bicyclists must make an audible signal when passing or overtaking any pedestrians.

“This is the first year we are actually focusing on that law,” Childress said.

In the past, the focus of CSUPD has been safety issues such as running stop signs, riding in dismount zones and not using a light at night.

“We are getting more and more bicyclists on campus,” Childress said, which makes this law more of a safety hazard than in previous years.

Childress said they have not seen an improvement in students abiding by this law yet this year, but CSUPD will remain focused on it throughout the year.

Stop signs

Running stop signs is the most common reason for receiving a ticket, according to Childress.

Since bikes are considered motor vehicles in Colorado, they are required to follow all motor vehicle laws as well. That includes stopping at stop signs on the road and on bike paths or shared use trails.

Childress believes that if more people begin to stop, other students will see that and stop as well.

Childress said that CSUPD is working on changing the infrastructure around campus to create “more lawful ways” to ride on campus. An example would be changing the stop signs on paths to yield signs.

Skateboarders

Skateboards are considered toys under the law. A skateboarder riding in the road or in a bike lane can get a ticket for “toys in the roadway,” according to Childress.

“That’s something we are looking into,” Childress said. “We might go to the Board of Governors and get approval from them to maybe put skateboards in a different location.”

There are no plans to move skateboarders in the near future, so they are advised to remain on the sidewalks. Skateboarders are still required to yield to pedestrians and not ride in dismount zones.

Riding with no hands on the handlebars

Although not explicitly stated in the CSU Bicycle Regulations handbook, this is illegal. It falls under the section of the handbook stating, “Other moving violations … are considered safety violations as well and may be cited by the officer.”

Riding with headphones

This is legal, although Childress believes it can be dangerous.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Childress said. “It’s not a safe thing to not be able to hear your surrounding environment.”

Childress said she had heard rumors about going to the Board of Governors and making a law on CSU’s campus to stop students from riding with headphones in, but nothing is in the process yet.

The role of the pedestrians

“Pedestrians are definitely at the top of the totem pole,” Childress said.

But, according to Childress, pedestrians tend to abuse that power.

“Yes, they are pedestrians, and they do have the right of way,” Childress said. “But, you should also use responsibility and courtesy when you’re out there.”

Collegian Reporter Sady Swanson can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter at @sadyswan.