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Johnnie St. Vrain: You Can Bike with Your Dog, but at Your Own Risk

October 7, 2018

This picture was taken by a motorist parked at a red light at Coffman Street near the RTD bus stop this summer. The cyclist had been in the middle of the road with their dog.

Dear Johnnie: I love my dog as much as the next Longmont resident does, but are cyclists allowed to ride on the road WITH their dog(s)? I took this picture while I was parked at a red light at Coffman near the RTD bus stops. This cyclist was in the middle of the road with their dog. Is that legal? Coffman is slower traffic, but he really messed up the flow. It shows him off to the side because it was a red light, but when the light was green and as soon as it changed to green again, he proceeded to get in the middle of the road again. I also think that isn’t even safe for someone’s dog. What if the dog gets scared and bolts one direction or the other? -- Lexi

Dear Lexi : When I first saw your photo, I had the same initial reaction. Is this illegal? How does that man balance on a bike while walking a dog? And what happens if the dog sees a squirrel?

But then I started searching around and found a plethora of specialized leashes and blogs about how to do just that.

Most, though, seemed to focus on bike trails or mountain biking — not so much driving around a residential area in daytime traffic. Maybe it’s only supposed to be a recreational thing, I thought.

Until I sent the photo over to Longmont police Sgt. Eric Lewis, who leads the traffic unit in the department.

From your description of what happened, Lewis said the cyclist could potentially have violated two laws: “bicycle rider failed to ride on right side of lane when being overtaken” or “bicycle rider failed to keep at least one hand on handlebars.”

The former law says that anyone riding a bicycle must stay in the right-hand lane, unless the lane is wide enough for all traffic to share or the cyclist is turning left. The latter law simply says that all cyclists must keep at least one hand on the handlebars at all times.

Neither, Lewis said, look like they’re being violated in the photo. (Although it sounds like he was breaking the law if he was in the center of the lane and slowing down traffic, which is illegal, even without man’s best friend by your side.)

Still, I couldn’t shake the idea that this isn’t the safest hobby. So I called Peter Piccolo, the executive director of Bicycle Colorado, a nonprofit that works to make Colorado more bike-friendly.

While Piccolo said there is no state law prohibiting you from “biking” your dog, he said that “doesn’t mean it should be done.”

“It’s our opinion that it’s not safe for the dogs, for the rider, for other people on the street,” he said.

He also wasn’t aware of any local or municipal level statutes prohibiting the activity. While cyclists should always first look at the law, he also said you should “use your head” when something isn’t explicitly regulated.

Piccolo, who is skilled with his bike, said he still doesn’t feel so comfortable he would attach his dog to it with a leash.

“My dog will chase a squirrel, and he’ll run further to the left of my bike into traffic,” he said.

The nonprofit recommends people use dog strollers or trailers, which attach to the back of a bike and make it easy to cart your dog around while cycling. I think even I could handle that, though I would probably still forgo streets with small bike lanes.

So, Lexi, the short answer to your question is that it is legal to hop on your bike and walk your pooch at the same time. But it’s never legal to mosey along in the center of the lane as cars pile up behind you.

Do you have a question? Write Johnnie St. Vrain in care of the Times-Call, P.O. Box 299, Longmont, CO., 80502, or email johnnie@times-call.com .

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