Rules are opposite for bikes and pedestrians on roadways

The in basket: Irene Olsen asks, “When walking along a road as a pedestrian, should you walk with the traffic flow or facing the oncoming traffic? And how about if you are on a bicycle?”

The out basket: This is a quick and easy one. State law requires pedestrians to walk toward oncoming traffic, so they can see an approaching danger.

The opposite is true of bicycles, which state law requires be ridden with traffic. While one might argue, as I once did, that bicyclists need to see approaching danger as much as pedestrians, the following from bicyclinginfo,org cites author Ken Kifer’s explanation as to why I was wrong.

“Turning motorists are not looking where wrong-way riders are riding, the motorist and bicyclist have limited time and little space in which to react to each others’ presence, the closing speed of a bicyclist and motorist riding head on into each other is higher than if the bicyclist and motorist were traveling in the same direction and riding with traffic decreases the number of vehicles passing you, and doesn’t bring you into conflict with bicyclists who are riding the right way with traffic.”

8 thoughts on “Rules are opposite for bikes and pedestrians on roadways

  1. There is a circumstance southbound on Hwy 16 at Gorst where I would argue that riding the left side of the road should be acceptable. The only way to get onto Hwy 166 going into Port Orchard without having to ride on and cross high speed traffic to the left lane exit on that 60mph highway is to ride the wide westbound shoulder from the mattress store to the bridge bike path onto 166, then safely cross to the eastbound side of Bay Street/166 going into Port Orchard. While it may never happen, this stretch could be marked/signed/painted/barricaded as a cycle lane. This is the route I routinely take to return to Port Orchard and, as a longtime road cyclist that pays serious attention to traffic, I find that by riding alertly it is the safest way to get to Hwy 166/Bay Street from Gorst. Hopefully WSP would interpret it the same way and grant the exception.

  2. Travis – As a daily bike commuter in Kitsap I take exception with this statement from bicyclinginfo,org: “Turning motorists are not looking where wrong-way riders are riding”. While bicyclinginfo,org offers sound biking advice this statement is not true of the unaccountably bad drivers on Kitsap county roads. I frequently find myself slamming on the brakes or swerving on Kitsap roadways (into traffic generally) to avoid drivers rolling up through side street stop signs/lights or business exits to enter a thoroughfare. Many (maybe a majority) inexplicably approach their turns onto the roadway while looking the “wrong way” (i.e. to their right where traffic in the immediate lane is not approaching them from???). Challenge your readers to observe this on their travels about the area. On average I have about one close call/week bike commuting as a result of drivers not seeing me in my high vis bike wear and annoyingly bright strobe headlight because they’re looking the wrong flipping way as they encroach on my lane of travel. After 15 years in this area I still find myself perplexed at the high population of bad drivers around here and am convinced they’ll be the death of me one day. Not just a Kitsap phenomenon; can extend these generalizations to all of western Washington (western Oregon is equally bad if not worse). As an aside this might make an interesting topic/debate/poll for a future article as I have found near universal agreement with these opinions from people who did not grow up and learn to drive in this area. Thanks, Joe.

  3. Excellent article and thank you Sun for sharing it to everyone. I learned to walk against traffic as a kid but wasn’t sure it was still correct.

    And, to Joe; Jeepers, dude… seems like everywhere you ride there are bad drivers. What’s the common denominator there?

  4. I tend to agree with Joe- as a driver, I see the same thing he does, vehicles charging up to the stop line, drivers either not looking, or on their phones.

    As for which side of the road they should ride, I see few wearing as Joe describes, “High Visibility” gear. Black, dark colors or gray are far too common on our often gray days, or heavy shadow. To make matters worse, I rarely see a rear-view mirror on a bicycle; this means that the rider is absolutely oblivious to the traffic around him, until after it has passed. If they were to ride on the opposite side, they would be more aware. This would, of course, mean that they would not be able to “share the road” with 35-60 mph cars, trucks, and semis.

    This might be a good thing.

    And please note: a tiny, slowly blinking LED somewhere on the bicycle, in our often bright/shadowy roads, can NOT be considered “High Visibility”.

  5. The real reason for bikes riding with traffic is it is a machine, it propels you faster than walking/running ever could, hence you enter the flow of traffic with other machines. You can travel as fast as cars on some roads depending on their speed limits.

  6. State Law RCW 46.61.250 para 2 says a pedestrian must walk facing traffic “when practicable”. As far as I know, no one has been ticketed for walking with traffic.

  7. Does it REALLY matter what the “rules” are, when you’ve got numerous government officials (including a local Senior Deputy Prosecutor ) driving around drunk, and wrecking other people’s cars?

  8. Hey Joe,

    As someone who used to ride 60 miles per day, I’d like to welcome you to rural/suburban western washington. Maybe a few of my experiences can lend you a hand.

    “I frequently find myself slamming on the brakes or swerving on Kitsap roadways (into traffic generally) to avoid drivers rolling up through side street stop signs/lights or business exits to enter a thoroughfare.”
    Now that braking and swerving doesn’t sound safe, and there is quite a bit missing to make an appropriate decision as either the driver or the cyclist. Was there a stop line? Were you in the roadway or on the sidewalk/shoulder (were you a vehicle or a pedestrian)? The statement “swerving into traffic” implies that you started as a pedestrian and entered traffic. So I’d suggest thinking about your route. Consider approaching cross streets where the cross traffic stops at the intersection instead of a stop line by riding in your lane as opposed to operating as a pedestrian, as you aren’t allowed to suddenly enter traffic. Also note the distinct lack of right-of-way defined for crosswalks in RCW 46.61.261, IANAL but I’d be wary of that.

    “Many (maybe a majority) inexplicably approach their turns onto the roadway while looking the “wrong way” (i.e. to their right where traffic in the immediate lane is not approaching them from???).”
    All of the defensive driving I’ve found recommends looking all around when approaching an intersection, not left. Looking left is the first step in proceeding. You may also be observing the behavior that after a full stop, people sit and look for their next opportunity. (they did stop right?)

    “After 15 years in this area I still find myself perplexed at the high population of bad drivers around here and am convinced they’ll be the death of me one day.”
    Well, the stats I just found from city-data say 55% of kitsap residents are out of state transplants. Statistically, you’ll have to claim your fair share of bad drivers yourself.

    Regarding safety,you have the right attitude. You aren’t in a protective cage. You have to think about your safety, because even if 90% of drivers do, that leaves the 1/10 who don’t, and I got passed by more than 10 drivers last time I was out for a ride.

    However, you need to think about your approach to this discussion. The closer to the city, the worse the drivers… and the cyclists. Seriously, if you are complaining about a vehicle stopped at a cross street, encroaching, they are either in the path of cross traffic or they aren’t.

    We’ve all heard the joke about “he had the right of way” on a tombstone, eulogy, etc. Don’t be the guy that where “had the right of way” gets qualifiers like maybe, almost, kinda, or didn’t. Be safe instead.

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