Monday, May 11, 2009

On Washington Bicycle Traffic Laws

I hear a lot of bicyclists complain that motor vehicles don't respect their rights to the road, and a lot of drivers complain that bicyclists are in the way and unsafe. And in some ways, they're both right, as often neither really accounts for the actual state laws dictating bicycle traffic. As Bike To Work Week begins in Tacoma, perhaps a quick review is in order.

First, to the drivers: "Every person riding a bicycle upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle."

And to the cyclists: "Every person riding a bicycle upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle."

That (the beginning of RCW 46.61.755) sums up the core of the rules, and the core of most disputes. YES, we (cyclists) are allowed to ride on the street. YES, if the street is not designed for bikes, we are allowed to take up a whole lane of traffic. NO, we are not allowed to run red lights, run stop signs, ride in an opposing lane, even if there is no car coming. If you can get a ticket for it in a car, you can get a ticket for it on a bike. (And yes, geniuses who ride your bike to the bar so you can get hammered and won't be drinking and driving: drinking and biking is illegal, too. And more likely to get YOU killed. Drunk drivers are often saved by being loose and relaxed. That is not enough to save a drunk cyclist that jets in front of a sober driver.)

RCW 46.61.770 provides the essential details of this interaction:
Every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a rate of speed less than the normal flow of traffic at the particular time and place shall ride as near to the right side of the right through lane as is safe except as may be appropriate while preparing to make or while making turning movements, or while overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction.
This does NOT mean that we have to stay as far to the right as possible. There are three facets of this that I think escape a lot of drivers:
  1. "the right side of the right through lane" - this does not include the shoulder (marked or otherwise), parking lane, or sidewalk. This means as far to the right of the actual moving traffic lane.
  2. "as near to the right... as is safe" - This is at the discretion of the cyclist. We know our capabilities, and have a good view of the road. There are aspects of the far edge of the street that make it less safe for cyclists than for cars. Riding right at the curb is unsafe. If you clip the curb in a car you hear a funny noise and get jostled a bit. If you clip the curb on a bike, you crash. Similarly, potholes, debris, puddles... anything a driver would move to avoid, a cyclist has to do so for a smaller version. As such it is often safer to stay out in the middle of the lane. Which is more likely to cause you trouble: a cyclist in your way, that you have to wait for a safe moment to pass by changing lanes; or a cyclist off to your right who has to swerve out in front of you to avoid something you can't see from your car?
  3. "except..." - Yes, just as you must pass even the fastest cyclist, sometimes we must pass a slower one. This means sometimes we will move the middle of the lane. Sometimes we will enter the traffic lane from a single-file bike lane. We are also permitted to turn left. There are still a remarkable number of drivers who think a left-turning cyclist ought to stay to the right and use the crosswalks.
And now, since I've ranted at drivers for a bit, back to bikes for a second: GET SOME FRICKIN' LIGHTS. There are a lot of cyclists that I see riding at night with lights, reflectors, shiny jackets, etc. But there are still way too many riding around virtually invisible. It is not just a good idea. It is the law.

That's the gist of it. Drivers: get used to us. Our numbers are growing, and we really are helping you. You may be annoyed on the rare occasions that you're stuck behind us, but that also means we're not clogging your freeways or taking your parking spaces. Cyclists: take your mom's advice. "I'll treat you like an adult when you start acting like an adult." Start behaving like a car and cars will treat you like a car. Darting in and out of traffic on a whim, running red lights because you don't think you can be ticketed: you are making the drivers assume that we're all jackasses just like you. Stop it.

That is all.

P.S. No, Washington State does not require bike helmets. The City of Tacoma does, though. As does Not Being A Dumbass. Follow the city law and don't be a dumbass. Get a helmet.


Dave said...

I'm glad that some cyclists actually know the laws. Seattle cyclists are notoriously bad about this, especially stopping for stop lights. And the critical mass riders are the worst.

Ann said...

Nice post. As the weather improves there will be more recreational cyclists such as myself on the road This is a good reminder to review the rules of the road.

silly punk said...

i know nothing of London cycling laws! which is a good reason i don't cycle :p

Anonymous said...

Um, about that "all of the duties" thing...

it ain't true.

Bicyclists are NOT subject to "all of the duties" that come with driving a vehicle, because THEY PAY NO TAXES!

When bicyclists start paying for tabs, I will be a lot more willing to grant them some respect. Unless/until that happens, they are little more than bumper fodder taking up MY pavement.

So get the hell out of my way!

Anonymous said...

@4: I don't think your reasoning on "all of the duties" would stand up in court. Shockingly, it refers to following the rules of the road rather than licensing. Good luck with your effort to require licenses for vehicles that perform the public good of reducing traffic and cause no wear and tear on the roads.

And as far as your "bumper fodder" comment goes ... first, you're a complete a**hole. Second, while "all duties" does not include licenses, intentionally hitting a cyclist (or anyone else) is vehicular assault or murder.

izenmania said...

@Anonymous #1: When my bicycle starts causing the damage to roads that the fees repair, I'll start paying more for them. How's that? And when I start burning gasoline for my bike I'll start paying emissions taxes. Until then you'll have to settle for the sales tax I pay, which, shocking as it may sound, also contributes to public works funds.

Waving semantics around in a blind and uninformed attempt to justify being an ass doesn't work. It just makes you an ass who is also not very smart. And it doesn't make you any less of a hazard to human life on the road, which you very much are if that's how you feel about cyclists.

Anonymous said...

My earlier comments were a bit over the top, and I freely admit that I should have stated my points differently.

That said...
Bicycles don't reduce traffic in any meaningful way. Indeed, they aggravate traffic much more than they help it.

And, all of the bicycle-friendly modifications to the roads consume resources. Why shouldn't bicyclists pay taxes to pull their own weight.

Anonymous said...

Why shouldn't bicyclists pay taxes to pull their own weight.All bicyclists pay taxes to pull their own weight. Sales taxes. Property taxes (either directly or via their rent). Federal income taxes. And most (though granted not all) vehicle taxes, because it's pretty difficult to live without a car around here.

And if you're in such a damn hurry that having to briefly slow down before safely passing a bicycle on a freaking residential street qualifies as the cyclist "aggravating traffic", I think maybe you need to take a fracking chill pill.

Amy said...

oh lord, Anonymous 1. I'm just not elastic enough to get my head around people like you.

*clears throat*

I shall now tell the Story I Always tell!

My dad came off his bike on a tow-path (not hit by a car or anything) and was knocked out, unconcious for many minutes and was pretty lucky that someone coming the same way found him and called an ambulance. And my dad was *wearing* his helmet. Imagine if he hadn't been.

Kids - wear a helmet. Even if you're not on the road. You don't need to be hit by a car to have an accident.

And if you've ever driven you'll know that it's hard to see cyclists at the best of times - yes, drivwrs should pay attention but don't assume everyone's perfect. Lights, reflective gear. It's not worth not doing it.

Anonymous said...

Late to the party, but I do have a couple comments.

The argument that cyclists don't pay their share of taxes is tired and uninformed. As was pointed out, property, sales, and vehicle tax is the source of the majority of road funding. Anonymous #1 is just recycling the same old knee jerk reaction that has no merit or truth.

As far as the comment by the author that drinking and biking is illegal, you may want to clarify exactly what you mean. The WA DUI code DOES NOT expressly apply to bicycles. Of course, you could get something like Drunk in Public, and the police do have some authority to make sure you get home safely and/or impound your bike for your own safety. WA is one of the few states without a DUI/BUI law that is worded to specifically include bicycles.