Article from today's paper:
Crossing paths: Cyclists and motorists are far apart on rules of the road
By KRISTIN DIZON
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER
Cyclists are scofflaws pulling dangerous moves on city streets.
Drivers are road hogs who cut off and flip off people on bikes.
It doesn't take much poking beneath the surface to tap a potent brew of hostility between many a motorist and bicyclist in Seattle.
As the songs say, we could all use a little more peace and brotherhood on the roads. In that spirit, we talked with drivers and cyclists about their perceptions of each other and why they do what they do.
The sins of cyclists that seem to incense motorists most: running red lights or stop signs, going the wrong way down one-way streets, splitting lanes by riding between two lanes, changing lanes or turning without signaling, a holier-than-thou attitude.
And, driver trespasses that stress out cyclists: failing to yield the right of way when turning left; not looking when turning right; opening the car door without looking (thus, giving a cyclist a painful "door prize"); failure to use turn signals; running red lights or stop signs; a holier-than-thou attitude.
Drivers said many cyclists want to be treated like vehicles but don't want to follow the same rules. But drivers who respect traffic laws and the speed limit 100 percent of the time also are an endangered species. Many motorists were sympathetic to the risks cyclists face, and some cyclists excoriated their own for illegal moves.
Behind the handlebars: Cyclists sound off about dangerous drivers
Eric Heller commutes to work seven miles each way from Green Lake to Amazon.com on Beacon Hill. Heller has been hit twice in the past three years -- both times in the bike lane on Second Avenue when drivers turned into him. In what cyclists say is a common occurrence, one motorist drove off; the other drove down the block before returning to help. Heller had scrapes, bruises and a bent frame.
"So I don't ride in the bike lane anymore. I ride in the street," he said, though he gets "the finger all the time." People yell, "Get into the bike lane. You're breaking the law." (It is not illegal to ride in traffic lanes.)
Blings, a messenger who didn't want her real name used, said she feels some animosity from drivers. "I don't blame them. I'd be upset if I was driving around too," she said. "I think they're mad that we can get away with breaking traffic laws."
Blings was recently hit by a woman who turned right into her bike, then drove off before checking on her. She was unharmed.
She says she doesn't use arm signals and knows only one person who does. She runs stop signs and yield signs when it looks clear -- partially because it takes much more energy and effort to stop and restart the bike with muscles, unlike pressing an accelerator or brakes.
And she won't sit behind a line of cars at a light, because that means sucking up exhaust. She rides to the front of the line, which infuriates some drivers. She also rides between lanes, which she says is a courtesy to not slow cars down. "We feel comfortable riding down those lanes, and people can pass us on either side."
Cyclist Joseph Sheedy, who uses a bike to go everywhere and owns 10 to 20 bikes, says he sometimes splits lanes too. "That definitely provokes strong emotions from people."
He said he's safety-conscious in an aggressive way, usually riding between 20 and 25 mph.
"Speed is safety," he said. "If I can stay at or near the speed limit, I should have the complete right to be in the middle of the lane. It's mostly to increase our visibility to motorists and control the situation around me."
Sheedy, like many cyclists, is wary of riding at the right edge of a lane when there's no shoulder or bike lane, because many drivers try to pass with razor-thin, heart-stopping margins.
A few weeks ago, Sheedy says he was deliberately hit from behind by a driver in the University District at a slow speed. He wasn't hurt, but stopped to call police. After yelling at him and referring to cyclists as "hippies of the road," the driver left, but was later visited at her home by an officer. "She just didn't like the fact that I was slowing her down 5 mph," Sheedy said. "There's definitely a strong us vs. them mentality there."
He says he can't criticize others since he bends the law, but hopes drivers understand the seriousness of piloting a 2,000-pound vehicle around bikes. "I think a lot of motorists don't really understand the consequences for cyclists of not using their turn signals or opening their door without looking."
Nick Spang, a 29-year-old graduate student, said it's not fair for cyclists to follow rules that were designed for cars.
"They never had the vulnerabilities or capabilities of bicyclists in mind when they created those rules," said Spang, who sits on the city's Bicycle Advisory Board, but whose views do not reflect the board's. "Bicyclists are small and can't cause the same amount of damage."
Spang, who has been the victim of a hit-and-run collision with a car, says drivers don't treat bicyclists with the same respect as they do other cars. "If a big truck is in the middle of the road doing 5 mph, the cars will wait. But if a cyclist was doing the same, he'd probably get run down or yelled at," Spang said. "People would not accept it."
Behind the wheel: Drivers sound off about reckless cyclists
Rob Neilson, 60, is fed up with cyclists ignoring laws. "It's like they have some moral, pure-of-heart right because they are not using gasoline that they can do anything they want," said Neilson, of Capitol Hill.
"I know stopping at every stop sign is a pain, but my God, the car behind you is stopping at every one," he said. "Don't even get me started about bicyclists talking on cell phones."
Neilson, a freelance stage manager, says he doesn't believe that drivers are breaking the law as much as cyclists. "If cars were disobeying the rules of the road as much as bicyclists, there'd be carnage out there," he said.
Neilson's bottom line is one that many drivers share -- for cyclists to err on the side of caution: "Go with the side of physics. Your 80-pound titanium is going to lose when you hit the smallest compact, right or wrong."
Alana Sorem sees cyclists going the wrong way down one-way streets, but what frustrates the part-time Metro bus driver most is cyclists riding in the "bus only" lane on Bothell Way.
"Double solid yellow lines mean 'do not pass,' except, apparently, for bicyclists," she said.
She said when she comes around a blind curve on a hill going 40 mph in a 60-foot-long bus, she sometimes finds a cyclist going 10 mph. "I veer into the other lane to avoid hitting them sometimes. I have to slam on the brakes and the passengers are jostled," said Sorem.
She's spoken to a few about this, but was flipped off once and ignored other times.
Mike Bishop, 33, drives more than an hour each way from Gold Bar to Ballard for work and worries most about not seeing cyclists at night.
"I've almost hit a couple that had no tailights, headlights or reflective clothing at night," said Bishop, who works at a seafood wholesaler. "You can't see them until you practically run them over."
He thinks people on bikes should have flashing front and rear lights for night riding.
He admits he once hit a cyclist who was turning right -- because he didn't look. The bicyclist was unharmed.
Bishop used to bike a lot himself. "It's great for their health and for the environment and to get more cars off the roads," he said. But, he's loathe to do it now. "I'm just too afraid to even try and ride on the roads."
Brandon Adkins feels similarly. An occasional recreational rider, Adkins, 27, says: "I'm too chicken to ride on the street. I ride on the trails."
Like others, he sees cyclists ignoring laws.
He's irked when cyclists ride to the front at a stoplight, and then drivers who just passed them must now pass them again. "It's kind of annoying, because it backs up all that traffic. It seems like they're causing a big delay."
He's seen people honk at cyclists or pass them aggressively and thinks that's wrong too. "Everybody's guilty. Just as many motorists as cyclists will disobey traffic laws," said Adkins.
Tessa Dul, who lives on Capitol Hill, agrees with that. Dul, 30, sees cyclists run red lights on a hilly overpass to downtown and worries because drivers can't see them on parts of the hill. "If it were me -- knowing that I had less steel around me -- I'd err on the side of not getting hit."
RULES OF THE ROAD FOR CYCLISTS
Cyclists have the same rights and duties as drivers of cars, with a few exceptions.
Both must follow the speed limit and exercise care not to hit pedestrians. Both must use turn signals -- blinkers for cars; hand signals for cyclists.
Pass to the left of another car or bicycle at a safe distance.
Cyclists going at a speed slower than the flow of car traffic are asked to ride as near to the right side of the right lane as is safe (they also may ride in the left part of the left-most lane on a one-way street with two or more lanes).
Cyclists may ride two abreast in roads or on sidewalks.
Cyclists using the sidewalk must ride in a "careful and prudent manner" and yield the right of way to pedestrians as well as give them an audible sign before passing.
Cyclists must yield to pedestrians in and along a crosswalk.
One hand should be on the handlebars of a bike at all times.
Helmets are required by city law for cyclists.
In the dark, bicycles must have a lamp on the front visible from at least 500 feet and a red reflector on the rear visible up to 600 feet from behind (they can also use a red light).
You can find these rules at www.seattle.gov/transportation/bikecode.htm
Our cyclists and drivers suggested ideas to improve safety on the roads, including:
More bike paths and lanes; and better signage and intersection engineering
More traffic enforcement of laws for cars and bikes
Better visibility for cyclists, including lights in front and behind, and reflective vest or clothing at night; or a tall bicycle flag during the day
Licensing cyclists or requiring them to carry insurance
Including information on bicyclists in the state driver education guide and test
Classes on how to ride in traffic from schools, clubs or bike manufacturers
More following traffic laws by everyone, and more patience