National Association of Counties
Washington, D.C.

Mediation Eases Tension Between Drivers and Cyclists

By Charlie Ban

Boulder County, Colo.

A war was brewing in idyllic Boulder County, Colo.

On one side, motorists wanted to keep using roads the way they always had — for their cars.

At the same time, bicyclists wanted to train on the same thoroughfares and complained, in droves, to the sheriff’s office and county transportation department.

“It built up over a couple of years,” said county spokesman Dan Rowland. “Boulder’s a unique place — we have a ton of world-class cyclists who come here to train, but even the weekend warriors are dedicated. There’re some territorial conflicts that were bound to surface.”


Photo courtesy of Boulder County, Colo.

Boulder County, Colo.’s picturesque but busy canyon roads require cooperation between drivers and cyclists.

Large groups of cyclists could overwhelm the roads some days, with some riders interpreting traffic laws differently than drivers, making it difficult for motorists to travel. At the same time, cyclists were complaining that drivers passed or followed too closely and viewed bikes as nuisances.

To smooth the way, with the help of a local mediation firm, the sheriff’s office and transportation department recruited dozens of cyclists and residents from the neighborhoods around the roads popular with cyclists. 

“Someone needed to bring everyone together and see if they could co-exist,” Rowland said. “We found that the people who show up for something like this are results-oriented, they want to help and work in the spirit of collaboration.”

A survey to determine how to better educate motorists and cyclists to understand safety and reduce tensions went out to cyclist groups and residents, and was available on the county website and in two daily newspapers. After two weeks, nearly 2,500 people responded.

The group met four times by spring 2010 and agreed on a series of steps the county could take to improve relations between cyclists and motorists. Foremost was the increase in signage in heavy-cycling areas that encouraged riders to move single file through curvy stretches of road, guide them to pull-off areas built on busy roads away from the flow of traffic, and reminders for motorists to pass with care.

“Looking back, they’re fairly easy improvements,” Rowland said. “With these working groups, often you can get a lot of voices together and come up with ideas that don’t cost too much money.”

All told, the mediation and road improvements cost $28,500, which came from the road department’s budget.

In addition, the county agreed to schedule more frequent sweeping of road shoulders and debris removal.

“Many of the cyclists said they’d rather ride on the shoulder anyway,” Rowland said. “If all it takes is us cleaning them a little more, that will go a long way.”

The county’s general policy going forward is, when repaving roads, to increase shoulder width to allow for bike traffic.

Even without the road improvements, Rowland said the process was helpful and will lead to better relations between the drivers and cyclists.

“Everyone needed to hear the other’s perspective,” he said. “That did a lot to alleviate tension.”


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