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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Drivers, cyclists have plenty to learn about sharing the streets

If you are a total jerk, feel free to skip this. If you are a motorist who despises bike riders or a cyclist who smugly disdains everyone driving cars, feel free to move along. No need to linger here. You’ve already made up your mind. But John Speare thinks that still leaves the vast majority of those who share this area’s roads. And the Spokane cycling advocate believes that if bike riders and car drivers could just sit down and exchange views, everyone might get along better. So let’s talk. In Washington, the law says: “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.” In Idaho, it says: “Every person operating a vehicle propelled by human power or riding a bicycle shall have all of the rights and all of the duties applicable to the driver of any other vehicle.” There’s more. But in a nutshell, that’s the deal. Cyclists have a right to be on the road. And they are supposed to obey traffic laws. Simple, right? Well, not quite. Confusion on the details, the bad behavior of a few, and weird socio-political/lifestyle resentments can produce an Us vs. Them mindset – even though most cyclists are also motorists. Can’t we all just get along? Maybe it would help to air some grievances. One beef many cyclists bring up is actually a result of motorists trying to be considerate.

“Do not stop to let me cross in front of you when you have the right of way,” said Spokane bike commuter Tomas Lynch. “This happens to me frequently when I am at a stop sign, foot down, waiting to cross an arterial. The car on the arterial will come to a stop and wave me on.”

No, thanks.

“I count on the cars to follow the rules of the road so that I can predict what will happen next,” Lynch said. “When they don’t, that creates confusion.

“I understand the intent is to be polite, or perhaps they see me as a pedestrian and feel a legal obligation to stop. Unfortunately, I find this to be a frustration, not a kindness.”

The solution is simple, said Speare. “Treat us like cars.”

Cyclists have a few other requests:

•Don’t pass and then make a right-turn just in front of them two seconds later.

•Don’t admonish them to ride on the sidewalks – it’s illegal in some places around here and inappropriate in many others.

•When parked on the street, please look behind you before opening a car door.

And try to keep in mind the relative risks posed by errant cyclists and careless drivers.

“If you hit a car with a car you make a dent,” said Jeff Everett, founder of a Spokane bicycle club with an unprintable name. “If you hit a bike with a car you make a corpse.”

Of course, there are things cyclists do that annoy drivers. In addition to being illegal, riding four-abreast on a busy street is not great public relations for two-wheel transit.

“The one thing I hear over and over again is that if cyclists rode single file they would improve good will toward them immensely,” said Monte McCully, a cyclist and walker who is trails coordinator for the city of Coeur d’Alene.

The Rev. Brian Prior, a Spokane Valley pastor and cyclist, agreed. Asked for his biking etiquette tips, he made single-file riding No. 1.

Not everyone wants to hear that, though. Spokane Valley’s Patty Magney once rolled down her car window and suggested to a group of bike riders that they should ride single-file. Their response was ugly, she said.

Cyclists illegally riding in the dark without illumination is one of pollster Bill Robinson’s special peeves. A bike rider, he festoons himself with lights and reflective strips.

“I hate stealth riders,” he said.

Spokane’s Kenyon Fields came close to hitting one while driving before dawn last winter. “There was just no way to see him,” he said.

Some of this is arrogance, some of it stupidity. But sources say most people are not idiots.

Cyrus McLean, president of the Spokane Bicycle Club, said he thinks 99.9 percent of the drivers in our area are considerate when it comes to sharing the road with cyclists. But he wishes more of them would use their turn signals in the presence of bike riders.

Crossing guard John Bonnier worries about pedal-pushers who seem unaware of their vulnerability: “They bring to mind the unfortunate soul who slipped and fell from the top of a 50-story building and with each floor passed in flight said: ‘Well, so far, so good.’ ”

Sidney Blomquist-Pankow, 77, used to ride her bike in the middle of the lane when she lived in Arizona. Not here.

“I’m too much of a chicken to ride my bike that way in Spokane, as no one else does it and I hate being sworn at,” she said.

Last month, while nurse Cathy Harris was out for a bike ride on Dishman-Mica Road, a car zoomed up next to her and one of the occupants reached out and struck her. Feeling fortunate that she didn’t crash, she reported it to the police.

Still, she thinks motorists and cyclists ought to be able to get along. “Consideration breeds consideration,” she said.

There remain, however, significant attitude issues. Some drivers simply regard bike riders as self-indulgent interlopers who don’t belong on the public thoroughfare.

Even in supposed cycling meccas such as Seattle and Portland, hostility has spilled over into arguments and roadside fights. There is an ongoing debate between those made angry by the sight of spandex and those who ask “What’s a city for – cars or people?”

Pend Oreille County businessman Buzz Price responded to a query about this topic with the following e-mail:

“There is only one absolute rule that means anything when you cyclists share the road with cars: Force = Mass x Acceleration. While your next of kin may be comforted by the fact that you followed the letter of traffic law, my F-150 will be less impressed.

“Swallow your righteous indignation about being treated like a second-class vehicular citizen and do what Sir Isaac Newton would recommend – keep your ass away from the mass.”

Perhaps it is no mystery why some cyclists believe that begging for bike lanes or in any way giving an inch on the road is simply appeasing those who resent the presence of bike riders and would like to let the air out of their rights.

Dr. Bob Lutz understands the appeal of two-wheel militancy. But the head of Spokane’s Bicycle Advisory Board doesn’t believe an in-your-face posture serves cyclists well.

“We’re never going to gain acceptance if we’re combative in our approach,” he said.

Lutz might argue that a wave is a more effective communication tool than a certain other hand gesture.

Spokane management consultant Lunell Haught, a bicyclist, said she thinks education is the one way to dial back the enmity between some drivers and some cyclists.

In Spokane, Eileen Hyatt has been at the forefront of cyclist training for years. For anyone who wants to get it in gear, she recommends picking up a copy of the Department of Licensing’s Washington Driver Guide and perusing the pages dealing with bikes.

“Bicycling with traffic is a social and visual interaction,” said Hyatt. “When any road user does something unpredictable, it upsets the social dynamic.

“Darting about because of fear, riding up the wrong side of the street, not signaling intentions, or coasting through a stop sign is the social equivalent of cutting in front of someone in the grocery store line.”

And you wouldn’t do that.

There are more than a few state and local laws addressing cyclist behavior – for instance, when a cyclist in Washington needs to be on the far right of the lane and when he or she doesn’t, when a cyclist in Idaho needs to come to a full stop and when her she doesn’t, et cetera.

It’s a good bet, though, that enforcement won’t be the ultimate solution to tension between cyclists and drivers. What we need, some say, is a mature commitment to getting along.

So just what, besides not parking your car in bike lanes, do cyclists wish drivers would keep in mind?

“I wish motorists would pass cyclists with at least a 3-foot clearance,” said Liza Mattana, an every-day cyclist.

“We aren’t trying to take up the road,” said Simon Hartt, a bike store manager. “We aren’t trying to push drivers out. We just need our space.”

“It’s not car against bike,” said cyclist Joshua Kyle Hess. “It’s about the chosen method of getting from Point A to Point B and respecting those choices.”

And maybe park the stereotypes.

“I am not that guy you saw the other day darting in and out of traffic, running red lights, et cetera,” said Tomas Lynch, the bike commuter who doesn’t want drivers to randomly yield the right of way. “Judge me on the behavior you are witnessing and treat me accordingly.”

Several riders said they wished that drivers delayed for a few seconds by being behind a cyclist would put the brakes on their impulse to throw a tantrum.

With any luck, we’ll all get where we’re going.

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