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Making a Cycling Friendly Walla Walla Even Safer

November 2, 2012

By Steve Rapp:

Every once in a while it’s time to review the basics, no matter what the subject is. Riding a bike is no different, and one fundamental of bicycle riding is knowing and obeying the rules of the road. Cyclists and motorists must remind themselves that both factions have rights and responsibilities. Even in the Walla Walla Valley, where traffic is minimal compared to larger metropolitan areas, rules of the road grease the wheels of friendly coexistence.

Bike 300x200Riding a bicycle in the Valley is amazing. From downtown, a rider can go in any direction and within just a few minutes be out on a quiet country road with great scenery. Motorists are used to cyclists and give us space. But on a rare occasion, there is an issue.

Riders deserve the right to ride on roads safely, and enjoy the privileges afforded motorists. But we often forget that traffic laws apply equally to us, too. We must come to a halt at stop lights and stop signs. Just like a slow moving vehicle, we should stay to the right side of the road to allow faster traffic to get by. We shouldn’t litter.

If bicyclists behave accordingly, we can justifiably demand our rightful place on the road. But we’re talking out of both sides of our mouths if we ignore motorists while insisting on respect from them.

I admit that I am guilty of transgressions now and then. I suspect almost all motorists are, too.  But we should try to be squeaky clean.  If motorists see a cyclist violate a rule of the road, they generalize that all cyclists are scofflaws. (Talk about generalizations. Geez.) If we can clean up our image, I think that will go a long way to better relations with all motorists.

Certainly a few complaints of some motorists are unfounded. Cyclists do pay taxes, for example, contrary to accusations. Most of us are drivers, too, purchase gas, and so, pay taxes.  We pay property taxes or pay landlords rent which goes towards property taxes. Sales taxes, income taxes, we pay them all.

Sometimes motorists’ complaints are real head scratchers. Why do they grumble about being held up when they’re turning right away, or when a slow-moving line of traffic is just ahead? They’re delayed a few seconds, at most.

On the other hand, cyclists sometimes move ahead of vehicles lined up at a stop light, thinking by doing so we won’t hold them up and we will gain some time ourselves. Or we cut around cars because we’re more agile with two wheels and a short wheelbase. But we should wait our turn regardless. We have more to gain in amiable relations than we lose in time.

There are always going to be irate motorists, so why bother you may say? They’ve had a bad day at work, had an argument with their spouse, or they’re generally irritable people. I contend that most confrontational interactions between a cyclist and a motorist are the result of a bad prior experience.

Don’t get me wrong. The vast majority of motorists accommodate cyclists graciously. But if better relations prevail, riders stand to gain substantial benefits. For example, if confrontations are reduced, then police and sheriff will know when a situation does come up, they should treat it seriously rather than just pass it off as a another cyclist problem.

Let’s do our part to eliminate those bad prior experiences