‘Safety’ concerns prompt biking ban in Colorado town

A “No Bikes” sign greets
visitors to Black Hawk, CO.
(Photo: Bicycle Colorado)

As you probably have already heard, a small casino town in Colorado has passed – and is now enforcing – a ban on biking. The town of Black Hawk has drawn national attention for the ban and Colorado bike advocacy group Bicycle Colorado is mobilizing to have the law repealed.

The impetus behind the ban is a feeling by Black Hawk’s leaders that bike traffic simply gets in the way of its casino clientele — a clientele that has skyrocketed in numbers after a recent increase in the town’s betting limits.

I’ll repeat: This ban is not because the city of Black Hawk is concerned about the safety of people riding bikes, the ban was passed because bike traffic threatens the safety of motor vehicle traffic.

Here’s the official language in the ordinance:

“…bicycles and other non-motorized traffic found to be incompatible with normal and safe movement of traffic shall be prohibited…. this ordinance is neccessary for the preservation of health and safety and for the protection of public convenience and welfare.”

But wait, there’s more:

“The City of Black hawk is desirous of providing on site parking for its customers, and the number of vehicles and customary traffic movements such as turning movements on City streets accessing the City’s businesses make the addition of bicycle traffic fundamentally unsafe.”

So far, eight unlucky people have been ticketed for riding through Black Hawk. According to a source, Bicycle Colorado has secured legal representation and plans to fight the tickets. The tickets will not be overturned locally (the law clearly prohibits biking), but an appeal to a higher court will likely prove that the ban is illegal.

Lawyer, author, and Bicycling Magazine contributor Bob Mionske says the ban has no legal merit. He writes in a recent blog post on the issue that, “The City of Black Hawk is about to be reminded that it is the law, and not the city, that holds all the cards…”

Another interesting wrinkle is that some of the streets where biking is now banned are on the official bike touring route of the Adventure Cycling Association. They’ve got a detailed response on their blog.

This story reminded me of a bike ban episode we experienced here in Portland a few years back. In March of 2006, ODOT put forth a proposal to ban bicycles on several metro area highways. The proposal raised concerns from advocates and from lawyer Ray Thomas, who wrote, “ODOT’s consideration of a ban on bicycles on metro area freeways is legally unnecessary and a restriction on bicyclists’ legal rights.”

Like in Black Hawk, ODOT’s proposal was forwarded out of ‘safety concerns’ (although it was unclear whether they meant safety of people on bikes, in cars, or both).

Like Dan Grunig from Bicycle Colorado who is worried that the Black Hawk ordinance could set a precedent, Bicycle Transportation Alliance Board Member Susan Otcenas responded to the ODOT proposal by warning that ‘safety concerns’ are a “slippery slope.”

“What if “safety concerns” gradually brought about the banning of bikes on all sorts of roads we use all the time? Don’t laugh, or think it can’t happen – I was in Spokane last weekend and saw “NO BICYCLES” signs on major thoroughfares there – not freeways, just busy roads.”

Thankfully, ODOT quickly came to their senses and shelved the bike ban proposal less than a month later.

Bicycle Colorado plans a rally on the steps of the state capitol on June 29th and they’re gathering signatures of support via a petition they’ll hand over to the Black Hawk city council next month. Find out more about the bike ban on Bicycle Colorado’s website.

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