Posted by: Howell | May 13, 2012

Resisting a discriminatory roadblock in a work zone on a bicycle

Blogger’s note: the identity of the road biker in this story will be defended and protected at all costs—of course I cannot recall her name! Her story, on the other hand, is laid out in detail from on-the-record interviews. For this story her pseudo name is Bonnie.

If you were riding your bike down the highway and a road flagger in a work zone told you that you could not pass with the rest of traffic because you were on a bike, you’d probably be pissed.

An unidentified flagger stands ready to stop, slow, or allow the passage of traffic in a work zone on US Highway 160 outside of Cortez. Refusing the passage of someone riding on a bicycle who has waited with the rest of traffic in a work zone is a class 3 misdemeanor criminal offense that’s punishable in a court of law. Would a state trooper enforce such an act of discrimination if given the opportunity?

Hopefully you would resist such an illegal roadblock with an act of civil disobedience.

That’s what Bonnie did this spring as she was riding westbound down US Highway 160 outside of Mancos while training for the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic race.

Lucky for the future of humanity, Bonnie was smart enough to know her rights as a bicyclist and was brave enough to refuse the illegal roadblock that was intended to prevent her passage solely for the reason that she was riding a bike.

Originally stopped at the work zone with all the rest of traffic, Bonnie was confronted by a road flagger because she was about to ride her bicycle through the work zone.

The lady singled Bonnie out and told her that she could not pass through the work zone when all the other cars and vehicles were allowed to at the end of the wait.

“I think she was more concerned about my safety, because she made a comment of ‘we don’t want an angry motorist trying to take you out. They have to wait for you.’ The wait on both ends was pretty long,” said Bonnie. “You waited anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes during that time. I said to her, that’s ok, I’ll be fine.”

Whether the motorists were a danger to Bonnie or not, she had a place to go just the same as they did, and her training for the Iron Horse on a road bike was just as legal as it’s ever been.

Bonnie wasn’t going to take this discriminatory roadblock. She then told the flagger that she would ride at the end of the line of traffic once they were allowed to proceed as to ensure that no other vehicles could even approach her from behind.

The flagger lady then turned her back on her and talked to a supervisor on the handheld radio, Bonnie said.

“She turns around and says ‘listen, they just don’t feel that you should go through. Is there someone that can come pick you up?’ And I said no I’m riding through,” Bonnie said.

Image created by the administrator at Pachline.org.

“I said if this is going to become a problem then you guys can go ahead and call the cops,” Bonnie said. “Then she didn’t say anything more to me and I just rode through.”

According to Colorado state law, Bonnie’s defiant actions on her bicycle were legally justifiable.

Colorado Statute 42-4-603 only demands ‘obedience to official traffic control devices.’ A device was not used to demand and prohibit Bonnie from passing, as she said that the flagger had the ‘slow’ side of the sign facing her when she went through. Only the words of the flagger restricted her passage.

As for the flagger, Colorado Statute 18-9-107 prohibits the obstruction of a public highway as a criminal offense (class 3 misdemeanor) that is punishable in a court of law with a fine ranging from $50 to $750.

In this situation, if either the flagger or Bonnie had called the cops, a state trooper would respond. Both the flagger and the trooper would in all likelihood allow Bonnie to pass with the rest of traffic (after she waited there for a while to defend her rights as a bicyclist, most certainly). It is very unlikely, though, that a state trooper would actually enforce the law by punishing the flagger for refusing Bonnie’s passage in the first place.

Bonnie said that she thinks discrimination against bikers is part of the culture of Cortez rearing its head on the public highways.

“You know it’s just a different environment over here, when it comes to bikers in Cortez. Most of the community is not very supportive of bikers, and they could care less whether there’s a biker on the side of the road or not,” said Bonnie. “It’s not like Durango, where biking there is looked upon as a positive thing. In Cortez it’s looked upon as more of a pain in the ass, that you know we just have to deal with bikers.

The Colorado Department of Transportation’s Regional Public Relations Director Nancy Shanks replied to this blogger’s inquiries in a comment below.

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Responses

  1. Is it possible that the danger of being on a bike was greater than being in a car and thats why they wanted to keep Bonnie from going through by herself?

    • It is possible, Jake. A few scenarios that come to mind are loud noises and flying debris from heavy machinery, saws or compressed-air wands. I could see how those might be a concern. Wouldn’t those be a serious liability for CDOT or contractors to consider due to the risk they would have for causing damage to vehicles, as well? Any machinery could be stopped momentarily, though, to allow for someone to pass through, don’t you think? Bonnie didn’t say she encountered dangerous conditions on the way through, but I’ll ask her to see what kind of conditions she encountered. Good question.

      • I see your point. Let’s Ride!

  2. […] Resisting a discriminatory roadblock in a work zone on a bicycle […]

  3. Regarding the ‘cycling through a work zone’ incident described above, we have discussed the issue with our contractor’s traffic control supervisor. Unfortunately there was no recollection by traffic control company flaggers of the specific incident so we were unable to question the purpose for this cycling road block. However, we at CDOT and the sub-contractors with the traffic control company (incidentally, a company out of Bayfield, not Cortez as Bonnie suggests) have used this as an opportunity to discuss traffic management procedures to ensure that this does not happen again. If it happened, as described, it was certainly wrong and at the very least the cyclist should have been given a specific safety reason if she was to be held any longer than motorists. In this aproximately 1.5-mile work zone, traffic is in a single-lane, alternating configuration, with the speed limit reduced to 40 mph. Cyclists are allowed (nearly on a daily basis these days) to ride through with same directional traffic – as on all of our projects. We regret any incident that may have happened otherwise, and again, the traffic control company supervisor has addressed this with all staff. Please know that at CDOT, we take sharing the road very seriously–many of us here are cyclists as well (including the CDOT tester/inspector working on that project). We are glad this was brought to our attention and do apologize, on behalf of the project team, for the inconvenience experienced by Bonnie. If this should happen in the future, I would suggest members of the public give us a call first so we can have the opportunity to address the problem, and before too many conclusions are drawn about CDOT or our contractors’ practices or preferences. Thank you. Best regards, Nancy Shanks, CDOT Public Relations

  4. Nancy,
    Thank you for talking with the contractor and the project team as to help me find some answers to my questions. If safety concerns arise that lead to bicycle-specific traffic restrictions in any work zone throughout our region, please let me know, as my readership and I would be interested to know what to expect in that situation.

    Your reply to my inquiries is much appreciated.

    Best,
    Adam Howell
    Horse Gulch Blog


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