Richey: Civil disobedience on two wheels

Every time I ride my bicycle around Sequim, I break the Washington vehicle law by not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign.

  • Tuesday, May 13, 2014 8:01pm
  • Opinion

Every time I ride my bicycle around Sequim, I break the Washington vehicle law by not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign.

What!? But wait. Before you throw me in irons and toss away the key, hear me out.

I have been cycling for decades, pedaling well in excess of 40,000 miles in all sorts of weather and riding conditions, allowing me to present myself as an aware, safe rider. I also can attest to Newton’s First Law of Motion. While moving, a bicycle is a very efficient machine, moving at impressive rates of speed with nothing more than human power. However, starting from a dead stop requires significant energy to get moving again.

Because of this simple fact, I treat a stop sign as a yield sign. I slow down, check for the right-of-way of other vehicles and then continue on my way, unless I have to yield to another vehicle, requiring a complete stop.

This technique, used by most experienced cyclists, increases safety and minimizes the effect of a bicycle needing more time to get under way from a dead stop, but it also irritates the non-cyclist, who thinks I’m just a scofflaw. As a matter of fact, if you observe police officers on bicycle patrol, most of them use this riding style.

In all my years of riding, I have only been hit by another vehicle once. I was struck from behind at a stop sign, while at a dead stop, by what I had to assume was a very impatient driver.

Several months ago, I read about the Idaho Stop as Yield law for cyclists. I was amazed at a state that actually recognized a safety issue, and flying in the face of politics as usual, passed the law in 1982.

It very simply applies the logic of cyclists being allowed to legally treat a stop sign as a yield sign and a red traffic light as a stop sign. I got so excited that I immediately sat down and penned a letter to my intrepid threesome in Olympia. That was over four months ago and I have heard nothing, so I’m assuming our legislators are deep in the mire of dealing with hookahs and pot shops. It also makes me wonder why I see their addresses everywhere.

The bottom line to all of this? According to the U.S. Department of Transportation 2011 statistics, there were 677 nationwide fatalities involving bicycles. Of these, 11 were in Washington, creating a rate of 1.61 deaths per 1 million population. In contrast, Idaho suffered zero fatalities. What is holding us back?

If passing an Idaho-style law prevented even one fatality, it would be worth it.

I would encourage all Washington cyclists and cycling groups to speak up about making it safer to ride.

Now, if you still insist on punishing my flagrant violations, I insist on equal treatment for automobile drivers that pass me, leaving less than 3 feet of space, and drivers that pass over double yellow lines on hilltops. Seems fair, doesn’t it?


Bob Richey is a Sequim resident.


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