The Sopris Sun

Ridin’ the roundabout: Some ins and outs

By Trina Ortega

Sopris Sun Contributor

From the outside looking in, the new roundabout can look pretty intimidating — yes, even scary — as a cyclist. But once you know and follow the rules of the road, navigating the roundabout is manageable.

Now that the roundabout is open and northbound Highway 133 has through paths and an appropriately sized and marked shoulder, there’s no longer a need to avoid the Highway 133/Main Street intersection or overshoot and double-back on your cycling commute to City Market. That said, I admit I was not excited about cycling into the roundabout the first time. Traffic is constantly moving, and even weeks after it opened, it seemed some drivers were still learning how to get in and out of the roundabout.

Truth is, Carbondale is still small enough that when commuting by bicycle for town errands, I am less likely to ride up and down on Highway 133 and fully use the roundabout. But I have every right to. Road cyclists on long rides prefer to pedal on the roads (it’s often safer than ducking in and out of intersections on a path), and  they have every right to.

Whether you’re commuting a half-mile through town, cruising on a summer’s day, or hammering out a strong pace for a 60-mile training ride up to McClure Pass, the key is to know how to navigate the roundabout via bicycle. So here are some tips, as gleaned from the “Highway 133 Construction Updates” tab on www.carbondalegov.org and my personal cycling experience.

By the book

• You are a moving vehicle in a traffic lane, so follow the rules accordingly and treat the roundabout the same way you would as if driving a car.

• Choose your lane before entering and stay in that lane.

• Yield to pedestrians in crosswalk as you enter.

• Yield to all traffic in all lanes of the roundabout.

• Do not enter beside a driver already in the roundabout.

• Again, stay in your lane. Ride in the middle of the lane.

• Do not hug the curb.

• As you approach your exit, use your hand to signal right.

• Exit from the outer lane into the right lane.

• Yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk as you exit.

• Avoid riding next to large trucks when approaching and in the roundabout; they may need extra width to make their turn radius and are allowed to straddle lanes if needed.

• Do not use the “truck apron” (that strip of concrete that looks like a senseless little sidewalk in the center of the roundabout). The apron allows for longer-wheel-based vehicles, such as trucks and buses, to negotiate the roundabout by rolling over the small curb that separates it from the driving lane. It is NOT for pedestrians, cyclists or the average motorist.

• Use hand signals. I may be pretty old-fashioned here, as I don’t see a lot of my fellow cyclists doing this, but the more you can let drivers understand what you’re doing, the better. It also tells motorists that you take your right to be on the road seriously. New to these signals? Use your left arm straight out to denote a left turn. Bend your left arm upward at the elbow (90 degrees) for a right turn. To indicate a stop or slowing down, hold your left arm straight down. If you can’t do this while managing your bike, stick with the sidewalks.

• When my dad was teaching me how to drive, his biggest piece of advice was: Always be on the defensive. I carry this “defensive driving” philosophy into my cycling habits, too. Motorists are not always paying attention and with a change in traffic flow, such as Carbondale’s fancy new roundabout, you should never take for granted that others can see you or that they are even looking for you. (Along those lines, it doesn’t hurt to wear bright colors and use white lights and blinky lights at dusk and night).

Wrap up

In Carbondale, it’s easy to avoid fully entering the roundabout to get through our busiest intersection. It may be safer and more direct to use the crosswalks with your bike. Remember that if you ride through a crosswalk, though, pedestrians have the right-of-way, so don’t make them move over for you. Use the designated crosswalks; in the short time the roundabout has been opened, more and more Carbondale drivers are learning to stop for pedestrians. (But don’t forget to walk on the defensive, too.)

Avoiding the cone zone this year has been easy on a bicycle compared to a car, but I’m glad to see the project winding down. Whether you’ve been for or against the roundabout, it’s here. As a result, I think there’s an opportunity for all users (motorists, cyclists, walkers, skateboarders, scooterers, everyone … Kumbaya) to learn to be more conscientious when sharing the road. Be safe out there, kids.