Bike races drain deputies’ resources, increase traffic complaints
Summit County plays host to a multitude of road bike races every summer, a dream come true for local cyclists, but an increasingly large burden on the Sheriff’s Department and commuters who are forced to share the busy roads.
With the Tour of Park City and the Tour of Utah taking place in August on Summit County’s roadways, Summit County Sheriff Dave Edmunds said his department struggles to staff all of the races.
"The amount of road bike races have proliferated in the past few years," Edmunds said. "We do everything we can to keep the racers safe during the events, but by mid-summer, it is hard to find enough deputies to work overtime and cover the events. It is a huge burden."
Summit County Planner Kimber Gabryszak, who handled the special event permitting for the Tour of Park City, said that event organizers pay the same application fee as any other mobile event, about $400, and also pay an additional fee to cover the overtime hours of deputies.
"The cost for an event that takes place on a road becomes significantly more expensive because the event has to pay a set hourly fee for the deputies," Gabryszak said, adding that organizers must pay each deputy for at least four hours at a rate of roughly $45 an hour.
Tour of Park City coordinator and professional cyclist Ben Towery said that safety is the number one concern with any road bike race, and a lot of money is spent to ensure events are as safe as possible.
"We can’t necessarily afford rolling closures, but we urge cyclists and drivers to respect each other," Towery said. "We tell our racers they can’t expect cars to just give them the right of way because it is a race. They still need to follow the rules of the road, stopping at intersections, only riding two abreast."
Despite precautions taken by event coordinators, drivers and cyclists have had negative run-ins on the road. During the Chalk Creek Championship Road Race last week, a driver was pulled over for illegal lane change and told a deputy he "intentionally drove towards cyclists."
Towery said he almost gets into an accident with a car every time he goes on a ride and constantly hears from other cyclists that drivers purposely swerve toward them or throw things at them.
"Sometimes it is people not paying attention," he said. "But sometimes drivers become aggravated just because we are on the road, especially during a race when there are a lot of us. But if we respect each other and learn how to properly share the road, I think there won’t be any problems. Everyone has a right to be on the road."
Edmunds said he has seen an increase in road rage incidents between drivers and cyclists and that both have an obligation to respect each other.
"Rules of the road have to be followed by both parties, especially during a race," he said. "It is not unusual for us to receive complaints about cyclists not following the rules and drivers giving them obscene gestures."
Gabryszak said that she has also heard some concerns from residents.
"We have received a few complaints from residents on the East Side about road bike races coming through because there is usually only one way in or out of towns like Oakley or Peoa, so traffic impacts are really magnified."
The Tour of Utah, which begins on August 7, two weeks after the Tour of Park City, will bring cyclists through Summit County for three out of the six stages. But Summit County Planner A.C. Caus, who is managing the permitting for the event, said it isn’t the professional riders that concern the county, it is the amateurs.
"For the last few years the event has gone very smoothly and we haven’t really received any complaints about it," Caus said. "Stage five, which takes place mostly in Summit County, has a lot of amateurs that piggyback on the professional race and take a lot longer, causing more traffic impacts."
Rolling closures, where police escorts enclose riders in a group, are not expected for either bike race. Signs will be posted throughout communities that will be impacted by the races, telling residents the times that cyclists may be coming through so they can plan around it.
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