Care needed to allow bicyclists and auto drivers to share the road


I was cycling down Chuckanut recently with my usual companions.

A woman driving down Chuckanut told us through her passenger window that we had no business on Chuckanut and we shouldn't ride there anymore.

Remarkably the woman stopped at the next pull out to engage further.

She said that Chuckanut Drive had been built for cars and therefore bicycles didn't belong there.

I said Chuckanut hadn't been built for cars. I have a blown-up picture on my kitchen wall of Chuckanut before it was paved. There are three people with bicycles and wagon tracks but nothing indicating cars.

Bicycles came before cars. The good roads movement was started by Col. Pope, owner of Columbia Bicycles. Having good roads made automobiles practical, not the other way around.

I don't think the woman I was talking with heard me or believed me.

Since I am wrong half the time I checked with Jeff Jewell, the Whatcom County historian.

Jeff confirmed some of what the picture indicated. Chuckanut Drive was built around 1911. There were a few cars in those days but Chuckanut unpaved was not passable by automobile.

A woman with a bicycle in the picture taught in Bow Edison and spent the weekends with her parents in Bellingham. She commuted by bicycle.

Cars became real transportation after World War I ended in 1918.

Chuckanut Drive became a scenic alternate route of the Pacific Highway. The business loop of the Pacific Highway came through Bellingham.

I remember in the 1970s when one Sunday a month Chuckanut was closed to non-local automobiles and families with bicycles ruled the road.

Discussing whether bicycles belong on the road, let's look at the other objections.

The biggest objection to bikes on the road is taxes. Everybody knows bicycles aren't taxed and thus don't belong on roads.

Bicyclists don't pay gas taxes. However, roads are astronomically expensive. Gas taxes are absurdly low. Money for roads comes from sales taxes and property taxes. Federal income taxes pay for interstate highways.

As former bike-pedestrian committee member Dan Remsen said, "when you buy a bicycle you don't get a wallet card exempting you from paying taxes."

People who don't drive cars subsidize roads and parking and ambulance services and emergency rooms and police for people who do. And most people who bicycle also own a car and pay tabs and gas taxes and parking tickets.

All forms of transportation are hugely subsidized, including airports and ferries. Thus the demand that Amtrack pay its way just on ticket prices or go broke is nonsense.

Now the legal question.

Bicycles are legal on both streets and sidewalks. The Revised Code of Washington says bicyclists on the road are to behave as vehicles and on the sidewalk as pedestrians.

However the downtown retail core is not a safe place for bicycles on the sidewalk.

The police have plenty of leeway to ticket unsafe or illegal behavior.

Bicyclists have as much responsibility for safe and legal behavior as any other vehicle.

I have seen too much unsafe behavior by bicyclists. Usually this involves testosterone-poisoned young men new to cycling and not wearing helmets.

Many of the cyclists on the road are new and inexperienced.

Black clothes and no lights is suicidal. Lights are so cheap and good now.

The most dangerous maneuver in cycling is leaving the sidewalk and entering the roadway even in a crosswalk. Make eye contact.

My two terms on the mayor's bike-pedestrian committee taught me a main reason for obeying the law even when ignoring it seems safe: ignoring the law irritates drivers beyond belief.

Traffic calming benefits everyone, especially unprotected humans sharing the roadway with-over armored cars.

Waiting for the light is part of traffic calming and part of the social contract.

I have been cycling Bellingham and Chuckanut for 40 years and the safety and consideration of car drivers has improved immeasurably, especially in the last 10 years.

Drivers have gotten used to trail crossings and other bicycle-car interfaces. Most drivers now are going way beyond legal requirements to take care of cyclists and pedestrians.


Bo Richardson has commuted by bicycle in Seattle and Bellingham since 1956. He worked on the Bellingham mayor's bike-pedestrian committee for two terms, and helped with Bike to School and Work Day for seven years. He participated in the road bike leg of Ski-to-Sea nine times and has toured in Germany, Canada, Alaska and rode from Bellingham to Salt Lake City.

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