What's up with that? Walls of cyclists blocking faster traffic worry bike club

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

Published:

 

Why do cyclists sometimes ride two or even three abreast, spilling outside the bike lane, on speedy roads? Are they “making a statement”? Or just clueless? I’m a bike lover myself — frequently pedaling out to Vancouver Lake and Frenchman’s Bar — but those who chat away while blocking 50 mph traffic on Lower River Road just baffle me. Yes, motorists must be courteous and patient; yes, cyclists have rights; yes, we need more and better bike lanes. But this riding style strikes me as either oblivious or intentionally provocative — and dangerous either way. Your thoughts?

—Worried rider

While it may be easy to assume that walls of cyclists halfway occupying the car lane must be intentionally provoking motorists (because what else could they be thinking?), none of the local cycling leaders The Columbian contacted said this is so. Which leaves us a more basic answer: cluelessness.

“They are not thinking,” said Dennis Johnson, president of the Vancouver Bicycle Club, “and they are asking for trouble.”

Such cyclists are clearly in recreation — not commuter — mode, Johnson said, so they’re enjoying one another’s company as well as the ride, with minds apparently focused more on chitchat than on cars in the rearview mirror.

In the what? “Most experienced adult riders use rearview mirrors for safety’s sake,” Johnson said. “Some haven’t discovered the benefits of a mirror yet.” For that matter, Johnson said he’s regularly distressed to see cyclists cruising along without helmets.

Yes, Vancouver has a helmet law. According to the handy website: “Both adults and children are required to wear a helmet when riding a bicycle, roller skates, in-line skates, skateboard, scooter, or unicycle in a public area.”

More to the point, city traffic law says cyclists “shall not ride more than two abreast” except within dedicated bike lanes. The third who spills into the car lane is breaking the law. (But cyclists are rarely cited for, well, anything, according to Vancouver police spokeswoman Kim Kapp.) Washington State law and Clark County code both forbid riding more than two abreast, period. (But the state and Clark County have no helmet requirements.)

Generally speaking, laws and best practices all encourage cyclists who are “traveling at less than the speed of traffic” to stay as far to the right as possible.

Johnson said Vancouver Bicycle Club ride leaders always give a short safety talk at the start of every club ride, including a reminder to stay single file whenever other traffic is around.

But VBC membership, while an impressive 760, certainly doesn’t include all local riders, Johnson said. And people do tend to get carried away in conversation, which is just human nature — and one reason why traffic laws are catching up with cellphones too.

“As much as I and other leaders in the club would like to minimize the impeding of other traffic it still happens, and it is distressing,” Johnson said.

Eric Giacchino, the president of Bike Clark County, said his organization offers a two-week bicycle safety course for middle school kids that emphasizes the rules of the road, including riding single-file.


Got a question about your neighborhood? We’ll get it answered. Send “What’s Up With That?” questions to neighbors@columbian.com.