Riding a bicycle on the streets of Salt Lake City is a bit like being a second-class citizen in the United States.
The infrastructure, old and well established, was never built with you in mind. Now accommodations have been made for you, bike lanes added, green share-arrows painted on the streets, and legally, you have equal rights — but the experience of riding on that pavement is anything but equal.
Traditionally, bicyclists and motorists have hated one another. Normally, this amounts to little more than name-calling or a passive-aggressive blare of the horn, but on occasion this animosity can even cause an auto accident. From your friendly neighborhood cyclist to you, here’s what all drivers in Salt Lake City should learn about cycling in order to avoid an auto accident — or a call to your lawyer.
Bicycles Are Legally Considered Vehicles
Contrary to popular belief, bicycles are legally considered vehicles. Like all other vehicles, this means that bicycles belong on the street — not the sidewalk. This also means that bicyclists must follow all rules of the road the same way as any other vehicle, which includes stopping at stop signs and red lights.
In some locations such as Idaho, bicyclists are legally allowed to make the “Idaho Stop” — a rolling stop at red lights or stop signs — when no other traffic is present. In Salt Lake City, however, this is not the case; so if you get into an auto accident with a cyclist who ran a red light, your lawyer could find the cyclist at fault.
No Bike Lane? No Problem
Bike lanes are a nice addition to any major city, working to encourage more members of the populace to choose a mode of transportation that doesn’t add to the notorious Salt Lake City air pollution problem. However, a bicyclist is by no means required to travel in a bike lane. Bicyclists can travel wherever there is road — outside of thoroughfares with minimum speed requirements, such as highways — and are not restricted to riding only on streets with bike lanes.
In some situations, a bicyclist may leave the protection of a bike lane in order to make a left turn. Making a left turn is by far the most dangerous maneuver for a bicyclist and is most likely to result in an auto accident, so keep an eye out and avoid a call to your lawyer.
Bicyclists May Take Up the Full Lane
Any lawyer will tell you that Utah state law requires bicyclists to ride as far to the right as possible in most circumstances; however, there are some exceptions to this rule. Bicyclists may take up the full lane when preparing to turn left, traveling in a narrow lane, avoiding road hazards such as potholes or other debris or when traveling through an intersection next to a right turn only lane.
The caveat to this is that bicyclists may ride no more than two abreast, and only if it does not impede traffic. To best avoid an auto accident situation, bicyclists should ride in single file.
Motorists Must Allow 3 Feet When Passing
Another Utah law prohibits the operation of a moving vehicle within three feet of a moving bicycle. This means that when passing, a motorist must give a bicyclist three feet of space — even if he or she is riding in a bike lane — or risk a confrontation with a lawyer.
The reasons for this are straightforward. Potholes and uneven surfaces, while harmless to the average motorist, can be very dangerous for bicyclists. If a cyclist needs to swerve to avoid a potential road hazard, he or she should be able to do so without swerving right into a neighboring car.
In addition, purposely passing too close to a cyclist is considered passive-aggressive behavior and is generally frowned upon. The legal distance in Salt Lake City is three feet — motorists should respect this if they want to avoid an auto accident or an awkward conversation with their lawyer.
The Sidewalk Is Really Not a Good Alternative
While a lawyer would agree that it is not illegal to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk in Utah — except in some locations in Salt Lake City, such as Temple Square — riding on the sidewalk is not a great idea. Sidewalks are designed for pedestrians: They are simply not wide enough to safely fit both a bicyclist and a pedestrian.
Think of a mother walking with a child in a stroller on the sidewalk. Is there enough space next to the stroller for a bicyclist to pass safely? Chances are, there probably isn’t; plus, bicyclists can travel at speeds up to 25 mph — certainly not a safe speed for passing a pedestrian.
Biking in Salt Lake City has many advantages — Utah even ranks as one of the top five bike-friendly states in the U.S. However, just as bicyclists have a responsibility to ride safely and avoid an auto accident situation, so too do motorists. Whether in Salt Lake City or elsewhere, avoid an auto accident situation and a call to your lawyer by keeping an eye out for bicyclists on the street and treating them with respect.