After a 14-year break, the streets of Paonia will once again be patrolled by bicycle. Police officer Stewart Byrge recently completed training as a bicycle police officer, and took to the streets Saturday afternoon.
Byrge, who joined the department in April, said he believes patrolling by bike is good for public relations. Being on a bicycle will make him much more visible and accessible to the public than riding in a patrol car. It's not at all like sitting behind the windshield of a patrol car, he said.
This summer Byrge received 12 hours of training from former Paonia police officer Neal Schwieterman. He was the last bicycle officer and patrolled Paonia's streets from 1999-2003. Prior to moving to Paonia, Schwieterman worked with the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department, and in 1994 was certified as a police mountain bike instructor. The concept was gaining popularity, but the state never created training standards, said Schwieterman. So he focused on providing the skills needed to safely patrol the streets on a bike, along with bike care and maintenance.
"You're out there and you're real approachable," said Schwieterman. He recalled his first day on the job. Within minutes he stopped to talk to an older gentleman who was working in his yard. "It took a while for him to figure out he was talking to a police officer," said Schwieterman. Once he did, he said it was the first time he'd spoken to a police officer in Paonia since the department stopped patrolling the streets on foot years earlier.
To get that affirmation in the first half hour on the job "was a good thing," said Schwieterman.
Police chief Neil Ferguson hired Byrge with bicycle patrolling in mind. "He definitely has the cycling skills needed," said Schwieterman, who remembers Byrge growing up in Paonia, riding his bike, jumping and doing other tricks.
While the department has received complaints of cyclists running stop signs and electrical assisted bikes speeding and passing cars on town streets, Byrge said he isn't out to stop cyclists. With a few exceptions, he said he can do anything he can do while riding in a patrol car.
Cyclists have the same responsibilities, and the same rights, as motorists. Violations of traffic laws are a Class 2 misdemeanor traffic offense subject to the same penalties as motor vehicles, but don't result in lost points off of driver's licenses.
There are some obvious exceptions, said Schwieterman. For example, cyclists must ride as far right of the traffic lane as possible when being overtaken by vehicles, and ride one abreast when vehicles approach.
Electrical assisted bicycles are also subject to the same laws.
Byrge emphasizes a few rules cyclists might not consider, such as stopping at least 20 feet behind a school bus with flashing red lights and not overtaking the bus while it's stopped. Those riding in twilight or dark are also required to be equipped with reflective material visible from 600 feet away and a headlight or headlamp visible from at least 500 feet.
Officer Byrge can be recognized by his blaze yellow jacket and the orange Specialized mountain bike he's riding, which was donated to the department several years ago.
For an explanation of Colorado bicycle and electrical assist bicycle laws, see C.R.S. 42-4-1412, or visit.fcgov.com/bicycling/pdf/cbm-colobikestatutes.pdf)