‘Filtering’ in traffic is illegal for bicyclists

The in basket: After a flurry of bicycle-related Road Warrior columns last summer, Julie Snyder of Poulsbo asked about what she called “the fairly common practice of ‘filtering,'” or riding one’s bicycle between lanes of traffic stopped at an intersection.

She specifically asked about The Finn Hill/Lindvig Way intersection with Viking Way in Poulsbo, and turns in either direction onto Viking.

Coming west on Lindvig, she said, it’s uphill and bicyclists have trouble not delaying cars if the biker has to take a full spot in the travel lanes to get to the Viking Avenue signal.

“The road splits from two lanes into three just before Cenex, with no shoulder,” she said. “At the bottom of the hill (near Bond Road), I’m moving much slower than traffic, since it’s uphill. Everyone passes me. Then, as cars stop at the light, I start overtaking them.

“Since I want to proceed straight, I look and signal into the center lane, cross the right turn lane when given a break by a motorist, and ride to the right BESIDE those center lane cars up to the stop line, ready to cross when the light changes. There is a shoulder on the opposite side of Finn Hill, and soon the line of cars passes me again.

“I use the same method when turning left to go south on Viking Way (but I add some further eye contact and a nice left-turn signal).

“A motorist friend told me that although filtering was practical, it wasn’t legal. I should take the lane and act ‘like a car’ through this, and every, intersection with no bike lane. I tried this once, and found myself the subject of motorist frustration. Since Lindvig is uphill, I take much longer than a car to move through, and drivers weren’t happy about waiting.”

Going in the other direction on Finn Hill Road, she runs afoul of a safety tip on the state’s Web site, which says, ‘Don’t pass on the right – Motorists may not look for or see a bicycle passing on the right.’

“There is often a back-up of 20 cars from the light,” Julie said. “Should cyclists NOT pass this line of traffic on the right-hand shoulder? There is no designated right-turn lane at the bottom. I approach the bottom of the hill slowly, and stop at the stop line well to the right of the first car in line at the light,” she said.

The out basket: Julie is OK with her tactic coming down Finn Hill Road eastbound, says Ian Macek, the state’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator. The advice about not passing on the right doesn’t apply to bikes on the shoulder or in a bicycle lane, he said.

I would hope so. The shoulder is the safest place for a bicyclist, and state law specifically accords bike riders the right to use the shoulder.

Sadly, that’s the only exemption from the state law that requires bicyclists to comply with all laws that apply to cars. Julie’s friend is correct, filtering is illegal.

I asked Sgt. Andy Pate of Poulsbo police and Deputy Scott Wilson of the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office about this.

Andy replied, “I have ridden the same portion of roadway on a bicycle. Going uphill is an issue at that intersection. Bicyclist cannot legally ‘filter’ in this state. They can, however, ride on the shoulder to avoid impeding traffic. If they are going to make a left turn they must ‘take a lane’ and the fact that they will annoy motorists is unavoidable.

“The idea behind the laws is that bicyclist should not do anything that would surprise a motorist. A bicyclist ‘filtering’ through traffic leaves a motorist, inexperienced in riding a bicycle on the roadway, confused and wondering what the bicyclist’s intentions are. That leads to accidents.

“If a bicyclists takes an assertive position in a lane, such as a left turn lane, it makes it clear to the motorist that the bicyclist is preparing to make a left turn, albeit a slow one.

“It is important in this state that bicyclists approach an intersection and assert themselves into a lane of travel making it clear for all surrounding motorists of the intention. No surprises.

“Once in a lane of travel, the bicyclist is afforded all the rules of the road pertaining to a motorist, forcing the motorist to also follow the rules of the road and treat the bicyclist as a vehicle. Granted, this can be annoying to some motorists, but it does put the burden on them to also follow the rules of the road.

“If a bicyclist rides near the fog line, but not actually on the shoulder, this allows an impatient motorist to try and take advantage of the extra room and go around the bicyclist and squeeze by the bicyclist… In such cases where it is dangerous for a bicyclist to ride on the shoulder, or there is no shoulder, the bicyclist should ‘take the lane’ and ride closer to the center line, helping to ensure that the motorist behind him must treat them as another vehicle.

It is difficult, (but) bicyclists must develop the mindset that they are part of the traffic when riding on the roadway.

Scott’s advice differs somewhat.

“If the bicyclist becomes the impeding factor, ie:  a bicyclist traveling uphill on a roadway in the lane of travel, it would be prudent for the bicyclist to move onto the roadway shoulder, or at least as far to the right of the lane of travel as possible, in order to allow uphill traffic to pass the bicycle (given that there are no other impediments and traffic is moving along at the posted speed limit),” Scott said.

“If traffic is slowed or stopped, the bicyclist certainly may pass this traffic on the shoulder as in all probability the bicyclist will be moving faster than traffic.

“The realities.” he concluded, “are that there are a few bicyclists who ride their bikes in all manner of movement or design, ie:  riding against traffic, riding at night without any illumination, failing to abide by the most basic rules of the road.

“These are the individuals about whom we are most concerned from a safety aspect to both themselves and other motorists.  Serious bicyclists are very aware of their personal actions and strive to adjust to traffic flow utilizing common sense and adherence to traffic laws.

5 thoughts on “‘Filtering’ in traffic is illegal for bicyclists

  1. I have ridden my bike on city streets, including across the Manette bridge and down town. I have empathy for cyclists, but mostly I drive around for my job and time is money.

    I become very frustrated when I am driving through town and I patiently and carefully make my way around a cyclist only to be stopped at a light and have them pass me on the shoulder or sidewalk. Now I have to carefully get past them again. In these situations I will often pull my car as far to the right hand side of my lane as possible to discourage the cyclist from passing on the right.

    If there was a shoulder the cyclist was riding on it would be no issue, but what they do is pass on the right then get back into the lane of traffic at the front of the line when the light turns green. If that is not illegal, it should be!

  2. As much as I hate being caught behind a bicycle when I’m driving, I believe that they should “take the lane” especially if they are going a different direction than the shoulder travels. I had a situation several years ago while driving in Everett where I came upon a bicyclist riding on the shoulder. As we came up to an intersection where I was turning right, I got into the right-turn lane and he proceeded up the shoulder. I overtook him just before the intersection and proceeded to turn right as the right-turn lane dictated. He then got mad at me since he was proceeding straight across the intersection and I cut him off. However, I was under the belief that he was also turning right since he gave no indication that he would be crossing my path by taking the lane and moving into the center lane to proceed straight across the intersection.

  3. @ Robin Henderson:
    Bicyclists shouldn’t do that, but moving a car over into the path of an oncoming bicyclist to block them seems incredibly unsafe. As you state, “time is money”. If this manuever is performed, you effectively value the life of Kitsap County bicylists at your hourly wage rate. I would imagine that filling out all of the accident reports and attending required court dates would negatively impact your “time is money” philosophy more than waiting on an inconsiderate and illegal bicyclist.

  4. Thank you, Travis, for researching this. I think the perspectives of both experts you spoke with show the need for manners and patience on the part of both cyclists and motorists…at least until we have designated bike lanes through all intersections in town.

  5. Thanks for a great article. When I started out cycling several years ago, I too “Filtered” into traffic by ignorance, especially that intersection in Poulsbo. After taking some cycling courses at Cascade Bicycle Club, I have learned how to navigate with traffic, according to State Laws.
    You are right on, however you did not address the 2 Lindvig left turn lanes onto Viking South towards Silverdale. The correct Left turn lane for cyclist is the “right or outer” turn lane. This also happens to be the “center” lane for going onto Finn Hill. This lane allows left turning cyclist to enter the bike lane on Viking. When I merge into this center lane motorist are not happy, and think slower moving vehicles like bicycles should be in the “left” left turn lane. However, there are exceptions to this rule like, if your destination is immediate left after the turn. To me, safely taking a lane is the correct procedure, even if it means a motorist will be unhappy. Sometime I think it would be nice for motorist to realize, that I am 1 less automobile to add to their congestion, by leaving my big truck parked at home today.

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