Washington’s new safe passing law for bikes

Under new law, motorists must give at least three feet of space to cyclists using the roadway.

Washington state is once again trying to prove the status of the most “Bicycle Friendly State” by creating an even safer environment for the state’s resident cyclists.

On Jan. 1 the safe passing law was put into effect making it illegal to pass vulnerable roadway users in a motorized vehicle, without allowing for a safe amount of space. The law was established to make it safer for pedestrians and cyclists alike to use alternate modes of transportation.

“We are advocates of biking and alternative transportation,” said Jill Smith, the community involvement and outreach executive for the city of Redmond. “We have built our infrastructure through trails and bicycle lanes to help support biking as an alternative to driving, whether it’s for recreation or personal trips or commuting.”

Under the new law, drivers must give a vulnerable user at least three feet of space when passing. A vulnerable user could include pedestrians, cyclists, motorized scooters, even a person operating farm equipment. Essentially, if a person is using the side of the road and is vulnerable to injury, drivers must keep safe passing in mind.

The law further states, if one is driving on a roadway with two or more lanes moving in the same direction a driver must merge into the adjacent lane, allowing an entire lane of safe passing distance. On a single lane road the driver must slow down and give at least three feet of passable space. If there is not enough room to give three feet of space in the single lane, the driver must wait for a safe opportunity to enter the oncoming lane to create the safe distance for passing.

“I have people turning right in front of me all the time,” said avid cyclist and Redmond resident Penny Arneson. “They come up alongside me, they see me in the right lane, but they turn in front of me within inches, dangerously close to hitting me, unless I apply my brakes instantly to avoid being injured.”

Cyclists have the ability to ride on the right side of the road where it is safest, even when a bike lane is absent. Drivers must use caution when making turns and remember to check their surroundings for cyclists or pedestrians.

“People feeling safe when they bike is very important too,” Smith said. “Drivers who really know what the best practice is when sharing the road with bicyclists is important. I think it’s great that there is this new law, (and) we can help promote that and educate drivers and bikers on how it’s best to share the road.”

The city of Redmond has long been known as the “Bicycle Capital of the Northwest” and also was recognized as a Silver City by the American League of Bicycle Friendly Cities. Redmond has 59 miles of public trails and 36 miles of roadway with bike lanes on both sides. The city has been recognized as one of the “Best ‘Burbs for Biking” by Sunset Magazine.

Some residents of Redmond have taken advantage of the alternative transportation infrastructure and use a bicycle for their commute. In fact, according to the city, 1.45% of Redmond commuters in 2017/2018, used a bicycle to get to work.

“I care about climate change, global warming, our youth in the world, and currently my carbon footprint is quite small, as I ride my bike most everywhere I go,” Arneson said. “Last year I biked 1,028 miles going to meetings, appointments, parks, stores, downtown and to see family members and friends.”

The summer of 2020 will mark the 80th year of Derby Days and the longest continuous running bike race in the country, the Bicycle Criterium. In addition to Derby Days, the city of Redmond holds and supports many bicycle related events.

“I think Redmond was leading the pack many years ago for biking infrastructure and biking activities,” Smith said. “That’s really where that kind of self designation of Bicycle Capital Northwest came from.”

To learn more about Redmond’s bicycle related events and trail infrastructure, go online to www.redmond.gov/578/bicycling.

For more information on Washington’s safe passing law, go online to www.moveoverwa.org.