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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Bike lane behavior

Drivers now notice ever-emerging stripes and symbols designating bicycle lanes adjacent to vehicular lanes.  Though those markings may soon be snow-covered, readers have questions about operating automobiles amid them.

Bike lane proliferation is generally a good thing, with a goal of improving safety for bicyclists attempting to mix with motor vehicle traffic.  While our region contains paved bicycle-specific trails for exercise and recreation, cyclists commuting to work or running errands often use arterials.  Most cities promote such use by engineering and marking designated bike-only lanes to accommodate riders.

And therein (bike-only) lies the basis for an answer to a question from reader T.M. regarding restrictions of entering a bicycle lane marked with a solid white line.  He wondered, “Can one legally pull into the bike lane to get around a left turning vehicle when there is only a single lane? I feel I should not intrude into the bicycle lane but have been honked at for not doing so.”

Like T.M., I think that automobile intrusion into a bicycle lane by a motor vehicle is basically wrong.  Coupled with the solid white line, it would seem obvious not to cross into the bike lane (Washington Driver Guide states you should not drive to the right of the edge line).  Nevertheless, the move would be in the interest of safe, efficient traffic flow, and Revised Code of Washington law 46.61.115 allows for a passing a left turner on the right, “Upon a roadway with unobstructed pavement of sufficient width for two or more lines of vehicles moving lawfully in the direction being traveled by the overtaking vehicle.”

This seems to be a gray area as I am unable to find a statute specifically forbidding the bike lane pass on the right.  If I decided to make such a pass and were cited for it, I would defend myself as having “unobstructed pavement” and making the pass in the interest of safe and efficient traffic flow.  As mentioned, the move must take into account the possible presence of bicycle traffic, just as one would check for automobile traffic before changing lanes.  Otherwise, it seems exactly like crossing the solid white “fog line” to make the right-hand pass allowed past a stationary left-turner described in RCW 46.61.115.

So I would normally wait behind the left turner until they make their turn, but if in a hurry I might pass to the right if safe.  I would not be intimidated by a horn honk, however, since that driver could pass both vehicles on the right if they insist on proceeding.

A similar quandary arises when vehicles are making right turns across bicycle lanes at intersections.  Drivers understand that solid lines are generally not to be crossed, so it causes confusion in these situations.  Some states have specific statutes regarding bike lanes and their access by motor vehicles, but Washington does not.   Also, some bike lanes employ dotted lines near intersections to legally allow moving to that lane for right turns.

In Oregon, for example, lawmakers have deemed it safer for right-turning autos to be in the bike lane when preparing to turn right.  That way, approaching bicyclists don’t have to contend with vehicles suddenly turning across the bike lane, and simply line up behind them.  If right-turning cars stay to the left of the marked bike lane, they are a potential hazard to riders going straight ahead.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at