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Cyclists, motorists owe each other mutual respect

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It takes two to tango, or, in the case of Flagstaff motorists and bicyclists, tangle.

From edgy online duels to fatal collisions, the two groups seem to be poles apart in their understanding of the rules of the road and each other.

Flagstaff police are caught in the middle, attempting to make the streets safer through both enforcement and education after a rash of serious accidents in recent weeks.

The problem isn't likely to go away by itself. If anything, it will grow as the college student population surges and the slow economy prompts more residents to hop on a bike rather than maintain a second vehicle.

Flagstaff already has 2,000 bike commuters according to an ADOT survey, the most of any city in Arizona. Throw in students getting back and forth to school and a growing cadre of outdoor enthusiasts who have adopted the bicycle as their primary mode of in-town transportation, and it's clear that everyone -- cyclists and motorists alike -- has to make cycling safety a higher priority.

The city has made a good start toward that goal with its dedicated bike paths and widened bike lanes. The FUTS is a nationally recognized off-road trail system that puts Flagstaff at the forefront of bike-friendly cities nationwide.

But even the most persistent trail and path rider in Flagstaff at some point will have to enter traffic if they are traveling into residential or commercial areas. And that means cyclists need the right equipment to make them as safe as possible around much larger and faster motorized vehicles. The list includes:

-- An approved helmet (required by law for children under 18)

-- Appropriate (high visibility) clothing

-- A white headlight on the front and a red reflector and/or light on the rear.

-- Properly functioning brakes that are checked regularly.

Next comes a basic knowledge of the rules of the road and a willingness to obey them. The rule of thumb that a bicyclist has as much legal right to the pavement is true in most cases. But because a cyclist will always lose in a collision with a vehicle, common sense and an instinct for self-preservation must be thrown into the mix.

Some of the rules for cyclists include:

-- Follow all traffic signs and signals

-- Ride the same direction as vehicle traffic

-- Ride in a straight line and as far right as possible

-- Use bike lanes where provided

Those sound straightforward enough, but in fact some fall into gray legal areas that has even the cycling community confused.

For example, a recent Daily Sun story on cycling accidents drew 125 comments on our website within a week, many of them discussing the pros and cons of a cyclist taking over a traffic lane when it is too narrow for a vehicle and a bicycle to occupy the roadway together.

How narrow is too narrow? Some set the minimum at 14 feet, others at 11.

But what if, as a result of a cyclist riding in the middle of the lane, traffic backs up? Could he or she be cited for obstructing a public thoroughfare? And even if they couldn't, is it really safe to deliberately ride in the middle of traffic?

As for bike lanes, there is still disagreement within the cycling community over how aggressive cyclists should be in insisting on 3 feet of leeway if there is room in the bike lane to move to the right. Should motorists be forced to choose between veering into the oncoming traffic lane in order to pass or slowing down to the speed of the cyclist?

Those and several other questions, including whether cyclists should walk their bikes through crosswalks, appear to be unresolved. We hope the police department and the cycling community reach enough of a consensus to issue some recommendations soon, even if they vary based on specific road conditions and configurations.

Meanwhile, listed above are a few of the traffic infractions for which Flagstaff police say they will be citing cyclists and motorists as part of stepped up enforcement. Readers with further questions may contact Lt. Ken Koch at 214-2538 or

-- Bicyclists riding on the sidewalk when prohibited by posted sign. (e.g. downtown area)

-- Bicyclists riding the wrong way in the bike lane.

-- Motorists failing to yield to a bicyclist riding in a designated bike lane (3-foot rule)

-- Motorists and bicyclists failing to come to a complete stop at posted stop signs.

-- Motorists and bicyclists failing to stop for red traffic lights.

-- Bicyclists under the age of 18 not wearing a helmet.

-- Motorists exceeding the posted speed limit in residential neighborhoods and in designated school zones.

-- Bicyclists crossing the roadway in an unsafe manner.

-- Motorists failing to yield right of way to bicyclists when making a right turn on a red light/stop sign after a stop.

-- Motorists driving in designated bike lanes.

-- Bicyclists riding on a sidewalk (where allowed) and failing to yield the right of way to pedestrians or vehicles when crossing driveways.

-- Bicyclists riding at night without a white headlight visible from a distance of at least 500 feet.

-- More than one rider on a bicycle (unless equipped for additional riders; e.g. tandem bicycle)

-- Following too closely.

-- Motorists failing to stop before crossing sidewalk when emerging from a private driveway or alleyway.



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