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A bicycling mea culpa

Anne Wallace Allen 2015Drivers don’t really know the rules regarding bicycles; this I’ve always known. Many will considerately but mistakenly come to a halt on a busy street to let the bicyclist cross, even if the bicyclist is waiting at a stop sign for a break in traffic. They treat bicycles as pedestrians, when Idaho law decrees that bicycles follow almost all the rules applicable to motor vehicles.

But I’m starting to see that bicyclists also don’t seem to know the rules that govern sharing the road with four-wheeled vehicles. They signal mysteriously, they wobble into traffic unexpectedly, and they ride two abreast on the side of narrow roads where surely they are supposed to be single file. No wonder angst builds up on both sides.

This matters. Not only are lives at stake here, but Boise needs to remain the kind of place where bicyclists get along with everyone else. The fewer cars we have on the road, the less gasoline we use, the less pollution we create, and the less money, space and material we spend widening roads and building parking spaces. And Boise’s bike-friendliness is a major selling point for the city. There’s just something liberating about being able to get around without your car, especially now that downtown traffic is clogged with several construction projects.

Alas, I’m one of the bicyclists who doesn’t really know the rules that apply to me. Because I have a vested interest in making sure relations between bicyclists and other road users stay as harmonious as they can, I have started looking for the information that will help me become a more thoughtful citizen of the road.

A lot of guidance for bicyclists was created very recently.

Idaho Transportation Department publishes a lengthy pamphlet called the Idaho Bicycle Commuter Guide that’s full of helpful tips and a refresher on the law (turns out you can’t ride two abreast if it impedes traffic) and lists bicycling safety resources, including a book called Idaho Bicycling Street Smarts.

The ITD has created a small pack of colorful cards called Rules of the Road that contain a wealth of wisdom on Idaho bike laws. From these, I’ve learned a lot. It turns out that bicyclists can be ticketed for speeding, and that they, like automobile drivers, must pull over and stop to make way for emergency vehicles.

Bicyclists are allowed by law to ride on the sidewalk, although doing so irritates pedestrians. They must give an audible signal before passing pedestrians. As a pedestrian I can attest that common courtesy, not law, requires that they refrain from using this signal, be it a voice, bell or a horn, in the pedestrian’s ear as they zoom past.

Rumors that bicyclists are allowed to roll through stop signs in Idaho are true, fortunately for the seeming 100 percent of bicyclists who do so. However, the other rumor – that they can roll through red lights – is less so. According to the ITD’s pack of cards, it’s illegal for a bicyclist to roll through a red light. However, as long as he stops first, he can then carry on through the intersection at his own risk, red light or not. For right turns on red lights, bicyclists don’t have to come to a complete stop.

The law is also more lenient on bicyclists than on drivers when it comes to traveling under the influence; they’re allowed to do it, subject to the same rules that govern walking home in that condition. Some city rules differ on that.

There are too many rules to list here. But for those who would like to learn them, there are helpers aplenty. Dave Fotsch, of Boise Green Bike fame, is a certified bicycle safety instructor who teaches classes. The Treasure Valley Cycling Alliance and Boise Bicycle Project offer occasional classes. And the ITD cards, which are available from the Idaho Walk Bike Alliance, make surprisingly entertaining reading. The common message: go in peace, people on wheels.

Anne Wallace Allen is the editor of the Idaho Business Review.


About Anne Wallace Allen

Anne Wallace Allen is the editor of the Idaho Business Review.

One comment

  1. Nice write up of the current situation here in Boise. I would like to see more positive articles like this as educating the masses can be difficult. Overall Boise is pretty good and the right people are working on solutions with more people listening.