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Travis Baker blogs about the problems and idiosyncrasies of Kitsap highways and byways.
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Readers Weigh in on Bicyclists’ Road Rules

March 27th, 2006 by sitedude

The in basket: A week or so ago I asked if any readers knew the rationale behind a state law requiring bicyclists to ride in the same direction as cars, when they seemed to benefit as much as pedestrians from being able to see oncoming traffic in the lane next to them.
Sunny Evsich was surprised to learn of the rule and said, “when I was growing up in Bremerton it was drilled into us to ride FACING traffic so we could see what’s coming at us. The police, including Art Morken, used to come to our grade school every year and lecture us on that very fact.
The out basket: Three readers say the existing law is safer and provided reasons.


The in basket: A week or so ago I asked if any readers knew the rationale behind a state law requiring bicyclists to ride in the same direction as cars, when they seemed to benefit as much as pedestrians from being able to see oncoming traffic in the lane next to them.
Sunny Evsich was surprised to learn of the rule and said, “when I was growing up in Bremerton it was drilled into us to ride FACING traffic so we could see what’s coming at us. The police, including Art Morken, used to come to our grade school every year and lecture us on that very fact. I was even literally cut off by a police car and given a stern command to ride facing traffic when I rode around the corner to my house in the same direction as traffic.
“Now, people on bicycles ride with traffic and even get into the left turn lanes in the middle of the street and ride in between the cars. Holy Moly, I would have gone to jail if I did that when I was a kid! When were the rules changed to the unbelievably dangerous situation that is now in practice of riding with traffic, as if a bicycle were a car?”
The out basket: Three readers say the existing law is safer and provided reasons.
Don Van Doornink said, “If a cyclist is riding on a road without a paved shoulder, and thus is unable to move far enough to the right to allow cars to pass, cars approaching the cyclist from behind can slow down to match the cyclist’s speed until it is safe to cross the center lane and pass.
“If the cyclist were riding in the left lane, oncoming traffic would have to ‘thread the needle’ between the cyclist and any oncoming traffic in the opposite lane to avoid a head on collision.”
Gary Lusk of Tracyton said Eldon Jacobson both pointed out that some drivers look only to their left when making a right turn. They’ll see a bicycle coming along with auto traffic, but not a cyclist riding against traffic approaching from the right. A serious collision could result.
Eldon also said, “When a bicycle and a car are traveling the same direction, there is more time for the driver to figure out how to avoid the bicycle by either slowing down or safely passing.  For example, if a bicycle is traveling 10 miles per hour and a car is going 30 mph, the closing speed is 40 mph if they are headed towards each other, and 20 mph if they are going the same direction.”
I don’t know if the law was ever different, or when it was changed if it was. There was some kind of change in the law requiring bicyclists to follow the same rules as cars in 2000, and the only previous amendment before than was in 1965. The law doesn’t say what the changes were at those times.
 

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2 Responses to “Readers Weigh in on Bicyclists’ Road Rules”

  1. Christopher J. Campbell Says:

    I did not see your original article asking for comment on bicycle rules of
    the road, but as a long time bicyclist I can tell you that it is far more
    dangerous to ride against traffic than with it. It is also far more
    dangerous to ride on a sidewalk than on the street. Statistically, a cyclist
    is more likely to be killed riding against traffic. The majority of fatal
    bicycle accidents are with bicycles on sidewalks. The book “Effective
    Cycling” has numerous diagrams and statistics that back this up.

    As others have noted, drivers pulling into an intersection have much more
    difficulty seeing traffic coming from the right in the right hand lane. Motorists almost never look for fast moving traffic in a sidewalk
    or bike path. A bicyclist can be wearing the brightest colors in the world
    and motorists will not see him if he is riding against traffic.

    Bicycles are often ridden at speeds in excess of 20mph and can reach 50mph
    or more on the straight and level, at least for short distances. They do not
    move at the speed of pedestrians in any case unless they are toy bikes
    ridden by toddlers or small children.

    Drivers who are parallel parking look behind them when opening their door,
    not to the front.

    Pedestrians stepping out into traffic look first to the left, not to the
    right.

    Bicycles entering intersections while going against traffic severely disrupt
    traffic flow. Picture a bicycle going against traffic moving straight
    through an intersection and the car overtaking him wanting to turn left. The
    driver of the car is going to be looking down the road where he is going,
    not for bicyclists going the wrong way at high speed. The situation becomes
    similar to attempting a left hand turn from a right hand lane, with poor
    prognosis for the cyclist.

    Bicyclists going against the flow of traffic would find a traffic circle
    almost impossible to navigate.

    Bicyclists going against the flow of traffic would be in severe danger when
    approaching freeway on and off ramps.

    Bicyclists going against traffic are less able to see road signs and traffic
    signals.

    Bicyclists going against traffic are unable to see traffic going their way.

    Very few fatal accidents are from bicyclists being hit from behind. The most
    severe accidents are head-on collisions. A car going 50 hitting a bicyclist
    going 20 from behind is much less likely to kill the bicyclist than if
    hitting the bicyclist head on. In the first case, the speed difference is
    30mph. In the second case, the relative speed is 70mph.

    A car approaching a bicyclist from behind has much more time to do something
    about it than a car approaching a bicyclist head on for the same reason. If
    your closing speed is 30mph you have more than twice the time and distance
    to avoid the bicyclist than you have with a closing speed of 70mph.

    A bicyclist riding against traffic is unable to make a legal or safe right
    turn.

    A bicyclist riding against traffic is unable to trip the stoplight sensors
    on the right hand side of the road.

    Bicycle rear view mirrors are designed for bicycles riding with traffic.

    A bicyclist riding against traffic is an extreme danger to both himself and
    everybody around him and should be subject to the same traffic enforcement
    as any other vehicle going the wrong way.

    P.S. I am currently in the Philippines doing missionary work, but I read your
    column as often as I can.

  2. Ward Starring Says:

    As a Post Script to your Monday article on bicyclists’ road rules, in the early 60′s I was stopped on my bicycle by the Washington State Patrol as I was leaving Silverdale and riding on the shoulder facing traffic. My reasoning was that the shoulder on that side of the highway was much wider than the opposite shoulder, and since I was going to turn onto Chico Way, heading South, I wouldn’t have to contend with vehicle mirrors brushing my shoulder as I rode, and also wouldn’t need to cross traffic once I reached the Chico Way intersection with Newberry Hill road. The trooper was adamant that I cross to the southbound shoulder and waited until I did so; he actually stopped his patrol car until I crossed. I knew that the law stated to ride in the direction of traffic but I reasoned common sense should apply. Ten feet of shoulder versus two feet seemed a no brainer to a kid 14-years of age. At 57 years old, I still feel that the law was trying to get me killed and if I ever have occasion to ride that section of highway again, I guess I’ll just pay the ticket.

    Ward Starring
    5762 Chico Way N.W.
    Bremerton 98312
    360-692-2550

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