The Cycling Community Can Move Mountains!
Bike advocacy is everyone’s job, and sometimes it takes a village to move a mountain. Our incredible cycling community came together to support a fellow cyclist involved in a close call with a driver. The community pushed for change to make the roads safer for everyone and got results!
Here’s what happened.
What was supposed to be a fun group training ride turned into a frightening experience that left cyclists demanding action.
Helen Gardner, Manager of Big Ring Cycles, was training for a charity ride in Golden, CO this past July when a vehicle came within inches of the group of cyclists, which included a child on a tandem bike with her father and a disabled man in a trailer being pulled by Helen.
The group was riding single file on a two-lane road with Helen second in line. There was an oncoming car approaching in the opposite lane. Helen heard some of the cyclists behind her calling out to a driver who had just passed them.
As Helen passed through an intersection, she looked over to her left and saw a vehicle directly next to her, a vehicle being driven by a student driver. It was just about four inches from her. The vehicle was so close that Helen could have reached into the window and easily touched the driving instructor in the passenger seat.
The teenage driver looked terrified and was white knuckling the steering wheel.
Helen raised her hand to the instructor, pointed behind her at the trailer and said “This is not how this works!” At that point, the driving instructor started banging on the window and yelling at Helen.
“I was speechless. I couldn’t believe that just happened,” said Helen. “Was that really a driver’s ed teacher who yelled at me through his window with somebody else’s child in the car?”
As soon as the oncoming car in the opposite lane drove by, the student driver sped up and pulled away.
One of the cyclists in Helen’s group followed the car to get the vehicle information and take a picture of the license plate. Luckily, no one was injured, just a little shaken.
What should the driver have done? Waited…waited behind the cyclists until the oncoming car had passed. Then, the driver could have passed the cyclists safely giving them the required three-foot separation according to Colorado law. See C.R.S. 42-4-1003 (1) (b) for more information.
If a driver drives his or her vehicle unnecessarily close to, toward, or near a bicyclist, he/she is committing careless driving, which is a class 2 misdemeanor traffic offense.
The day after the incident, some of the cyclists on the ride posted about the incident on social media and contacted the driving school. When Helen contacted our office to discuss her options, our advice was to call the Jeffco Sheriff’s Department to report the incident.
Helen did just that and was told that if she filed a complaint, the driver would be issued a ticket. Helen felt bad for the student driver and didn’t feel it was his fault.
The sheriff’s department told her that another course of action would be to use social media to voice her concern, so she posted an account of what had happened on Facebook. Helen wanted to address the incident and make sure that it wouldn’t happen again. It didn’t sit well with her knowing that students were being taught that it’s OK to buzz by a group of cyclists.
“My next concern became this guy who is out in public teaching future drivers, teaching young people to drive. He clearly does not know the laws. He clearly doesn’t know the rules of the road, especially when it comes to keeping cyclists and his drivers safe,” Helen said.
The cycling community took to social media. Her story was shared over and over by the cycling community, she received support and encouragement, and many people took the time to review the driving school following her post. “The cycling community here was really impressive,” said Helen.
She eventually contacted Ben Pyatt, owner of the Arvada Driving School, by email and expressed her concern. She wanted him to know that a slap on the wrist was not sufficient.
Ben emailed her back the next day. He acknowledged that he was aware of the incident, apologized to her and was very sorry that it had happened. He informed her that the driving instructor had resigned his position after being with the school for over 14 years.
“We do take our business seriously, and learning to share the road with cyclists is a very important part of what we teach our students. My oldest son is a professor at Regis University and rides to work 2 -3 times per week from Arvada to Regis University. He often shares the negative interactions that he has with some motorists. His safety while cycling is always on my mind,” said Ben.
Overall, Helen was happy with the result and felt like the situation had been resolved. “I really just wanted an acknowledgement of what happened and I wanted an action for what happened. I felt relieved and like a resolution had been made.”
Our office contacted Ben and offered to provide a safe cycling/driving class to the driving instructors.
“We had Megan give her presentation on cyclists’ rights to reinforce how to expect to interact with cyclists as a refresher to our instructors. All of our instructors said that it was very worthwhile, ‘time well spent’. Megan did a great job,” said Ben.
He also donated $900.00 to support Helen’s upcoming charity ride which supports inclusion for athletes with disabilities. Find out more about Helen and Noah's Big Adventure ride.
“Megan is one of those people that you love to know, love to have a connection with and hope that you never have to use as a cyclist,” said Helen. “I was so thankful for her guidance and support and her gentleness for handling the situation but for also taking the time to go and to educate these people on my behalf using her own time. I am forever grateful because I think we made a difference and I am happy about that.”