Q: If there is no bike lane, where should bicyclists ride? On the sidewalk or in the street? — Theresa, Gig Harbor
A: As part of the traffic Q&A gig, I happen to really enjoy settling traffic-related arguments between people (especially married couples). Theresa said this topic came up between her and a friend recently, and they got into a heated debate about it.
Unfortunately, no one gets to be a clear winner here: Bicycles can ride in both places.
Since Theresa said she lives in Gig Harbor, I asked Gig Harbor Police Chief Kelly Busey to help us out with this one.
Basically, bicycles get to act like pedestrians, and they get to act like cars.
According to state law: “Bicycles may be ridden any place where vehicles are permitted. They may be ridden on most sidewalks, though pedestrians always have the right of way. It shall be a violation of this section for any bicycle rider to fail to yield to pedestrians, or to ride a bicycle on paths, sidewalks, or streets where signs indicate such is prohibited."
So, bicycles can ride on most sidewalks, but they have to yield to pedestrians.
As far as bicycling in the road, Busey sent us this relevant state law:
RCW 46.61.770 says: "Every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a rate of speed less than the normal flow of traffic ... shall ride as near to the right side of the right through lane as is safe except as may be appropriate while preparing to make or while making turning movements, or while overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction."
So, if you're riding on a two-way roadway, the bicyclist must stay as far to the right as is safe (and can use the shoulder).
If you're riding on a one-way street:
"A person operating a bicycle upon a roadway or highway other than a limited-access highway, which roadway or highway carries traffic in one direction only and has two or more marked traffic lanes, may ride as near to the left side of the left through lane as is safe. A person operating a bicycle upon a roadway may use the shoulder of the roadway or any specially designated bicycle lane if such exists.”
On a one-way road, the bicyclist can ride on either side, but again staying to the far outside edge of the lane, Busey said.
However, he added, there is nothing prohibiting a bicyclist from riding on a sidewalk, as long as the rider yields to pedestrians.