Friday, February 18

Roads Still Open For Now

Riding home from Denver last night under a full moon I had time to reflect on the proceedings at the Capitol. For me it was a completely new experience. I can’t think of anyone in my immediate circle of trust who has ever testified before a governmental committee. At least I was not asked if I was now, or ever had been associated with communist party or anything like that. It was a much more inviting environment than you’d expect, even for a generally attention-shy person like myself.

I'm familiar with the workings of public hearings. I've sat in on a few related to my job so the format was familiar to me. The mechanics of state government were a bit fuzzy to me, but after grilling Rep. Kerr for a few minutes I started to understand a little better.

I had a good conversation with Chris Santriano who works with Midnight Sun, Inc. He came to testify as a cyclist and as a a bicycle industry representative.

Time passed as we sat outside the hearing room. The frantic ride east to get to the Capitol by 1:30 yesterday was wasted energy. I don’t know how many bills were before HB 1092 but we waited. We waited. We waited. Around six-ish we went into he hearing room.

As is customary, the opposition went first after Andy presented the bill. First up was Corey Hoffman, city attorney for Black Hawk. He made two points defending Black Hawk's ban: 1) There is a real world danger by putting bikes and other vehicles on the roads together in Black Hawk and 2) Legislation of the movement of vehicles on roads should be left to local municipalities. The he cited the narrowness of Black Hawk's roads. He stated that bicycles on the roads in Black Hawk are incompatible with the cars and motor coaches that travel through the city.

Hoffman went on to state that the city didn’t want to find out what would happen if bikes and cars continued to share the roads in Black Hawk (paraphrasing here) and that they didn’t need to do a traffic study. It was a common sense solution. He made the claim that the streets had been designed for horse and buggy and were narrow and curvy.

State Highway 279, Black Hawk

Then he cited other places where bikes are prohibited, including US 6 through Clear Creek Canyon, which is closed to bikes because of a series of tunnels. He also stated that it was impossible to find an alternate route for bikes through Black Hawk that they would literally have to "move mountains" which would be costly and not practical. Hoffman also pointed out that Black Hawk limits the time deliveries can be made within city limits and that there is a time restriction on semis passing through the city.

He concluded by asking if there would really be a controversy if the ban had been on skateboards instead of bikes.

The committee had a few questions for Hoffman. He basically reiterated the same rhetoric about safety and the narrowness of the roads.

My quick take on Hoffman's points: 1) there is more danger for cyclists to walk their bikes along Black Hawk's narrow roads than to ride them, a point Dan Grunig later articulated very well. 2) By leaving the decision to local municipalities you give one community the power to cut other communities off from through bicycle traffic. For that reason alone they should not be allowed so much power. 3) If the streets were designed for horse and buggy, then the modern vehicle best suited for the roads in Black Hawk would be the bicycle. The problem in Black Hawk is a car (and motor coach) problem, not a bike problem. 4) There are other places in Colorado and around the nation where bikes are prohibited for safety reasons such as US 6 through Clear Creek Canyon, but HB 1092 does not prohibit local governments from closing a road to bikes. It only mandates that they justify the decision to do so with a study and provide an alternate route. 5) By lumping bikes with skateboards Hoffman was attempting to move the perception away from bikes as vehicles and put them in a category with "toys". Given that he was speaking to a room full of…well, shall we say, all of a certain party, it was a sly tactic.

After Hoffman Peg Ackerman testified in record time that the County Sheriffs of Colorado opposed the bill and though the local authorities were best able to determine if a road is safe for bicycles thank you. While I agree on that point I also think they should justify the closure and provide an alternative.

Mark Radke of the Colorado Municipal League rounded out the opposition stating this was simply a local control issue and that the response to the ban was a gross overreaction. He concluded by saying the CML and its affiliates had been promoting cycling around the state.

Then the ball was in our court. Chris Satriano spoke first, and briefly and emphasized that the bill was a good common ground for the bike vs. car debate. Then it was my turn. I spoke briefly and somewhat nervously about being a bicycle commuter and relying the freedom to move through five municipalities between my house and my job. Andy wanted my focus on this aspect and we talked about a couple of other view points I could elaborate on, but of course under scrutiny my brain tends to vaporize and I got a little stuck.

It was okay though because Dan Grunig, the Executive Director of Bicycle Colorado batted us all in with his well delivered testimony and rapid fire and concise responses to the questioning that followed.

In the end I think it came down to an issue of local rule. One committee member in particular said even though she agreed with the bill to an extent, she still felt it was best left to the communities to decide.

The bill could be resurrected. At the very least it can make its rounds next session in another form. It's not looking good.

For me it was a good experience. If I am ever given the opportunity to testify on a bill in the future I'll know what to expect and I can prepare more effectively. I met a couple of good people in the bike industry and learned a bit about state government in the process.

I have ideas and schemes running through my head. I am more motivated to increase my knowledge base in advocacy, and oddly in state government, and I am starting to build up experience where I want it. We'll see where the white line takes me from here.

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