Cars and bicycles have been sharing the same roads since the 1800s. The bicycle first appeared in Germany in 1817, and automobile production began toward the end of that century. For just as long, people have been unsure about the rules of coexistence on public roads.
The simplest advice for drivers and riders alike is to exercise patience. Patience allows for time and space on the road — and helps avoid accidents. Despite the vast differences in size and speed, cars and bicycles are both operated by human beings deserving respect and the safety that the rules of the road offer.
The Bike Alliance of Washington provides great links to all the laws governing the use of bikes on Washington roads (http://bit.ly/1bV06BI). This article is a condensed version of the more prominent concerns with cycling on our roads, a few common sense answers to questions I have been asked by drivers in our valley.
Let me address the most commonly asked question first. Every publicly funded road in our valley is accessible to cyclists including highways, Middle Waitsburg road, and Mill Creek road. There are some limited access roads in our state that are posted as such.
Some have mentioned that there is no licensing fee for bicycles, and cyclists aren’t helping to maintain the roads they ride on. Trust me, everyone in this valley pays taxes, from motor vehicle license fees to property taxes to taxes on goods and services. And almost all cyclists own a motor vehicle.
Cyclist must ride as far to the right of the road as is safe and practical. Sometimes road conditions dictate a cyclist will ride in the middle of the road until they pass the hazard. Cyclist can legally ride two abreast, but no more than two.
Cyclists are not required to ride in a bike lane even if there is one. A friend once asked me why I would not ride in the bike lane. Road bike tires are about one inch wide and can cost upward of $60 each. Bicycle lanes can be littered with glass and other debris that is pushed to the side by cars and trucks (or there are dangerous chuckholes). Take a look for yourself if you see a cyclist not in the bike lane.
A bicycle lane is indicated in two ways: a solid white line with a bike symbol and direction of travel arrow, or the same but with a solid white line along the right side of the bike lane. In some cases, cars may not park in a bike lane without an extra white line painted on the right if so posted, like the bike lane on Howard across from Prospect Point School. In no cases may cars park where there is an extra line. By code, there will be ample space to park in that situation.
Cyclists must obey all the rules of the road, including riding with the flow of traffic and not against it. This just makes sense. In the city, some cyclists travel near or at posted speeds. Riding into oncoming traffic at those speeds greatly reduces driver reaction time.
A car approaching a cyclist can pass “at a safe distance.” There is no specific distance in the law but a good rule of thumb is a 3-foot buffer if the conditions allow for it. We have a few four-lane roads in the city like Rose Street between 9th and Myra where the right lane has no buffer. Cyclists ride right up against the curb. If a car is in the left lane pacing a cyclist, the cyclist should simply slow down and be patient.
Nothing riles a driver more than cyclists who blow through stop signs. That is illegal and cyclists can be ticketed. The Wheatland Wheelers advocate for following all the rules of the road. Cyclists need to be just as predictable as drivers. We wait our turn at four way stops and signal our intentions clearly.
That said, sometimes you will see a cyclist come to a near stop at a congested four way stop and then proceed when it is their turn. Some cyclists will do this as a way of clearing the intersection as quickly as is safely possible. It takes a cyclist at a dead stop a bit longer to get going than a car, and we understand limited patience. Being safe and predictable are the keys.
Cyclists are allowed to signal a turn with either right or left arm. Sometimes it is a brief signal because, in order to signal, a cyclist has to take one hand off the bar and away from the brake lever. Cyclists will normally only be in the left side of a lane if they intend to turn left relatively soon.
Riders in Washington are not required to wear helmets, but remember this: all riders at some point will go down. Two-wheeled vehicles are much more vulnerable to road conditions. The consequences of not wearing a helmet can be catastrophic. Imagine going outside and banging your head on the sidewalk. Then imagine doing it during a slide at 20 mph. Not pretty.
We are also required to have a white light on the front of our bike at night with a red light on the back. The law states that the red light can be steady or blinking but you will often see white blinking lights also. A quickly blinking LED style white or red light is pretty unique to cyclists and walkers/joggers on the road. To car drivers it means a vulnerable human being is just up the road.
RCW 46.61.700 states that parents are responsible for their children obeying laws, including those pertaining to cycling. Most of us have experienced a kid on a bicycle fly straight across Second Avenue sometimes at night without lights or a helmet.
When I think back to my youth on bicycles and motorcycles, I wonder how I made it this far. Education and insistence on complying with the rules and common sense are key.
We have been riding and driving together on our public roads for a very long time. Two elderly residents of our valley told me they remember riding up and down Mill Creek when they were very young. That is still a beautiful ride.
Cyclists and car drivers can safely coexist with a little understanding, by obeying the laws, and, above all, having some patience.
Bill Bialozor is the Bicycle Advocate for the Wheatland Wheelers Bicycle Club. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org