On rural roads, sharing the pavement requires patience
SNOHOMISH COUNTY — In the cool of morning, with mists rising off the fields and deer feeding in plain view, cyclists revel in summer rides along country roads, but not without risk.
Commuters are still on their way to work, and sharing the roads can be hazardous as bright skies, unexpected obstacles and narrow rural roads can complicate trips for drivers and bikers.
There are some best practices to coexist on the road. The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office has simple advice.
First, “treat a bike like a vehicle,” said spokeswoman Shari Ireton.
If passing a car would be illegal at a certain point, passing a bike is too. That includes along popular routes like the Lowell-Snohomish River Road and Old Snohomish-Monroe Road. Yellow double lines mean the same thing for cyclists and motorists.
Drivers must wait for cyclists to pull over or ride along the shoulder of the road so there is a minimum three-foot distance in separation. The sheriff’s office recommends six feet.
However, bikers who are impeding traffic, as defined by holding up five or more vehicles, are required to pull off the road to be passed. The same rule applies to slow moving cars.
Treat cyclists with extra caution is another basic rule from the sheriff’s office.
Drivers should be mindful that cyclists may see obstacles and move to avoid them that cars might miss. Debris, ruts in the road or approaching animals can lead to collisions if drivers don’t leave enough space or drive slowly enough to avoid the bikers avoiding the obstacles.
Children are at extra risk when sharing the road. While children are not required to wear helmets and other safety gear, experts recommend them.
The Snohomish Kiwanis provided 85 free helmets to children at National Night Out last week to encourage safe cycling.
Modern technology has changed the landscape for cyclists of all ages according to B.I.K.E.S. Club of Snohomish County president Rick Proctor.
New cars with side airbags sometimes have larger blindspots, Proctor cautioned. And drivers or cyclists who might behave carelessly should keep in mind that dashcams may be recording.
Proctor has his own guidelines for enjoyable and safe riding.
“Timing is important,” he said. “I try to avoid riding in rush hour and late afternoons because the traffic goes up quite a bit, so weekends are usually better. I stay off roads after 3 p.m., too. Mornings are a lot more sane.”
When he does ride, Proctor wears fluorescent clothing, saying the bright colors make all the difference.
Riding during the brightest and darkest periods warrants extra caution. For night bicycle riding, state law requires cyclists use a white front light visible for 500 feet and a red rear reflector. Proctor stresses the importance of good lights, including
flashing headlights and taillights.
“What’s legal is not always the safest thing to do,” Proctor said.
For all the cautions, Proctor says most local drivers are pretty good and he has had few problems in what the League of American Bicyclists voted the most bicycle-friendly state.
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