Location: Colorado

Sheriff, Cyclists at Odds Over Interpretation of Law

In Larimer County, Colorado, near the bicycle-friendly communities of Boulder and Fort Collins, the county sheriff has stirred controversy with his department’s interpretation of Colorado Bicycling Statutes, as well as his own attitude towards cyclists.

The uproar began with two Boulder cyclists being pulled over by a deputy in Larimer County for riding two abreast (as related on an mbtr.com forum) and being told that the deputy “does not appreciate people from Boulder choosing to ride in Larimer.”

Larimer County Sheriff James Alderden then added fuel to the flames by writing, in a column on his department’s web site, that many cyclists “cop an attitude when stopped,” and that “many of the cyclists with attitudes are part of the Boulder cycling community.”

The Sheriff later said that he was just “poking fun” at Boulder in his column, and that people were taking his comments too seriously “It must be the Spandex that causes people to lose their sense of humor,” Alderden said.

Regardless of the Sheriff’s attempt at humor, the issue is a serious one. The Colorado statues state that “Persons operating bicycles on roadways shall ride single file; except that riding no more than two abreast is permitted when riding two abreast will not impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic.”

Alderden said his office interprets the rules to mean that cyclists must move into single file if a vehicle is approaching from behind, and riding two abreast “could” impede the flow of traffic. In other words, cyclists must move to single-file any time a vehicle approaches from behind. “If you ride double file, we’re going to give you a ticket,” Alderden said.

Cyclists, including groups such as Bicycle Colorado, see this as a misinterpretation of state law. Bicyclists may ride two abreast as long as an approaching vehicle can safely pass, they believe. “Two-abreast is OK unless riders are impeding the “normal and reasonable” flow of traffic. Simply having two riders side by side doesn’t reach that standard”, said Dan Grunig, executive director of Bicycle Colorado.

“Law enforcement has a responsibility to cite motorists and bicyclists who are breaking the law,” Grunig said. “What we don’t want to see is people being cited who are not breaking the law.”

Also at issue is the Sheriff’s insistence that cyclists carry identification. “Cyclists who are cited but aren’t carrying identification will be taken to county jail until their identity can be verified,” he said.

Grunig said there’s no state law requiring cyclists to carry identification, unlike the requirement that drivers carry their licenses. But he said it’s simply good practice and one he recommends cyclists follow.

Larimer County officials are attempting to rein in their outspoken Sheriff, considering implementing a new policy that would stipulate that the county web site is to be a source of “objective general information” on matters of public interest and not a forum for expressing personal opinions.

Meanwhile, Bicycle Colorado is leading discussions with officials in Larimer County to work out a resolution to the controversy. “The interpretation of state traffic statutes affecting bicyclists’ rights in Larimer County may have effects across Colorado. It is critical for bicyclists to defend protections and safe practices provided in Colorado law,” their web site states.

Read more: Larimer sheriff slams Boulder cyclists, Sheriff to boost bike law ticketing, Cyclists, sheriff confer on road rules, Larimer sheriff: ‘Spandex causes people to lose sense of humor’, Sheriff’s newsletter spurs debate

About The Author

By Randy Rasa, editor/webmaster at Kansas Cyclist, the web's premier Kansas cycling information site, featuring authoritative guides to Kansas cycling clubs, bike shops, organized bike rides, touring, trails, and much more. [learn more]

2 responses to “Sheriff, Cyclists at Odds Over Interpretation of Law”

  1. Randy says:

    According to one of the lawmakers who sponsored the legislation, “Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden is misinterpreting a key bicycling law that doesn’t need to be changed. I respectfully disagree with the sheriff’s interpretation, and I think he is misreading the plain language,” Colorado Sen. Ron Tupa said. read more

  2. Randy says:

    Bicycle Colorado has an update on the results of their meeting with Sheriff Alderden on June 9th.