Saturday, November 28, 2020

Bicyclists have rights, responsibilities

| July 4, 2020 1:00 AM

I have ridden a bike for the past 45 years plus. From New Haven, Conn., to Olympia, Wash., to Coeur d’Alene and places between. Bike races, the Seattle-to-Portland in a day rides, triathlons, biking vacations and commuting in a busy city (way before it was an “in” thing) as well as out on country roads (where some truck drivers are allergic to sharing the road with a bicycle) — I love it all! I am gratified to see the changes that have come about and how many more people are riding as well as teaching their children the love of biking. Bike lanes and biking trails have made biking a lot more appealing as well.

What I don’t love and what I would like to change is the number of drivers and bicyclists who have no understanding of bicyclists’ rights and responsibilities on the road. From the Idaho driver’s Handbook, I quote: “Bicyclists are legally allowed to ride on all Idaho roadways, have the same rights as drivers, and are required to ride with the flow of traffic.” Here are some more points from the handbook that it seems many drivers are unaware of:

“A safe margin (for passing a bicycle) is at least three (3) feet. This may require waiting for a break in traffic.” It’s very frustrating and scary when a driver gets close enough to push you onto the shoulder.

“In Idaho, bicyclists do not need to come to a complete stop at stop signs. They must, however, yield to the right-of-way of vehicles in or already at the intersection …” This one has caused me numerous confrontations with simply unaware drivers.

“Bicyclists may proceed with caution through a red light after stopping and yielding the right-of-way to vehicles already in the intersection (or close enough to constitute a potential hazard). They do not need to come to a complete stop when turning right on a red light.” If you have to wait for a bicycle to trip a traffic light, you may be there for a very long time!

This one from a recent personal experience (and my first accident with a vehicle in 45+ years of riding), many drivers are not aware of or do not do: “When proceeding through or turning at an intersection, always scan the corners of the intersection more than once. An approaching bicyclist can easily travel 50 to 100 feet in a few seconds, so what you saw on your first look may change.” This is especially true if you are in an area where children are riding bicycles. Also, very true in an area with dappled sunlight.

“Bicyclists can legally ride on sidewalks in most communities although there is no legal requirement to use them. Young children usually ride on the sidewalk, so be extremely cautious when pulling in or out of a driveway”. Imagine the surprise a woman driver in Lacey, Wash., felt when she pulled into the police department and complained that I refused to ride on the sidewalk and he explained that I was supposed to ride on the road and that she could be fined if she harassed the bicyclist!

Here, I paraphrase:

When you are in the right turning lane, please check your side view mirror carefully and more than once, in case there is a bicyclist in the bike lane.

“BEING IN A HURRY: Never rush a turn or squeeze past a bicyclist just to beat traffic or a traffic light.”

“Always drive with the expectation that bicyclists are on the road.”

“HONKING: Never honk when close to a bicyclist; it may startle the bicyclist and cause an unexpected reaction.”


Bicyclists appreciate bike lanes and prefer to ride in them, when possible. It is NOT possible when the lanes have a lot of sand or highway trash or broken glass in them. So, assume that if a bicyclist in not riding in a marked bike lane, it is NOT because he wants to make you angry, it is because IT IS NOT SAFE to do so.

Bicyclists have a responsibility to play by these rules, share the road, do not ride side by side and block vehicle traffic.

Finally, many thanks to all the drivers who share the road with bicyclists. You are so appreciated!

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Wayne Burton is a North Idaho resident.