Kelly Sullivan/The AS Review
Many Bellingham cyclists have experienced being honked at on the road and yelled at when riding on the sidewalk. In both scenarios they have the right of way, but learning how to share the road with pedestrians and motorists can be tricky.
Ben Rathkamp, a member of Western’s cycling team, said that knowing the rules is one of the most important things a cyclist can do to ride safely.
Rathkamp said that drivers aren’t always thinking about when a bicyclist has the right of way. He said he has almost been side-swiped a number of times by a car trying to pass him on his bike. Since motorists are required to give bicycles enough room when passing them, he said he doesn’t understand why motorists don’t pay attention to this rule.
In addition, although it is legal for two cyclists to ride side by side on the right side of the road, if doing so is not safe then you probably shouldn’t being doing it, Rathkamp said. He added that while it is legal for a cyclist to not wear a helmet, to be safe you should anyway.
Bellingham attorney Ziad Youssef said that bicycles don’t require insurance and cyclists will not be charged the same as a motorist would when a traffic infraction is committed. However, if a cyclist is behaving dangerously, such as failing to signal a turn or coming to a complete stop at an intersection and their actions cause an accident, then they can be charged with negligence and held liable for damages.
Youssef said that a common question he receives is whether or not a cyclist can be charged with riding while under the influence. The answer is no, however if the biker is in imminent danger due to their intoxication, the police are required to take them into protective custody or release them to a sober friend.
Bellingham Police Department Public Information Officer Mark Young said he has responded to many collisions involving a bicycle and a car. The majority are caused by the cyclist failing to stop at a red light or stop sign, he said.
Patrol Sargent David Richards said that twice within the last month he has been driving home and has almost hit a cyclist riding down the street in his lane without a light on the front of their bike.
Richards said he frequently pulls over cyclists because they are not properly equipped for riding at night. At night, cyclists are required to have a white light that can be seen up to 500 feet away, attached to the frame of their bikes. Having the light on the frame of the bike and not on the cyclist’s helmet is the only legal way to ride at night, Richards said. Bicycles are also required to have a reflector on the back of their bike frame.
Warnings are usually issued to unequipped cyclists at the discretion of police officers. After receiving a warning, the bicyclist is then given 14 days to provide evidence at the Bellingham Police Department that they have purchased the proper lighting for their bike. If they fail to produce proof they will be fined $103, which is the standard fine for all biking infractions.
Making sure that cyclists understand the proper way to handle the aftermath of a traffic accident is another issue Richards deals with. He said he will often arrive at the scene of an accident involving a bicyclist and a car and the bicyclist will have already left the scene. If any person involved in an accident leaves the scene, then legally they can be charged with a hit and run.
Richards said when cyclists disregard traffic laws it causes contention between themselves and motorists and contributes to general lack of respect towards cyclists.
Throughout November, Bellingham police and local businesses are working together to promote lawful cycling. Some local bicycle shops are even offering a 10 percent discount on bike lights until the end of the month.
For a listing of Bellingham bicycle laws, visit the city of Bellingham website at www.cob.org and search for municipal code title 11, chapter 48.