Bicyclists, motorists go by same rules

The Daily Courier/Nathaniel Kastelic
Prescott Mayor Rowle Simmons leads a group of bikers south on Arizona Avenue to City Hall during the annual Bike to Work with Mayor Simmons in Prescott May 18, 2007.

The Daily Courier/Nathaniel Kastelic Prescott Mayor Rowle Simmons leads a group of bikers south on Arizona Avenue to City Hall during the annual Bike to Work with Mayor Simmons in Prescott May 18, 2007.

Kimberly Sylvester of Prescott Valley went bicycle riding with her 11-year-old daughter one day this past autumn.

Her daughter pushed the signal button at the intersection of Robert Road and Highway 69 and waited for the crosswalk signal to say it was OK to cross. Sylvester's daughter crossed first on her bicycle. But while Sylvester followed, a driver turning right onto Highway 69 hit her.

"I went to the hospital because I had a ripped ligament in my knee," she said. "The insurance company denied my claim saying that I ran into the car. They won't pay my medical expenses."

Since that fateful day, Sylvester has had surgery and physical therapy, and lost her job because of the accident.

"I have three more months of physical therapy and my food stamps will run out in six months. I can't get a job. I need to find someone who saw this happen," she said.

The Prescott Valley police officer at the scene did not cite Sylvester or the driver. But he did tell her that when using a crosswalk without a bike path, a cyclist has to dismount to cross.

"I have never seen anyone get off of their bike and push it through the crosswalk," she said. "Where is the law stated? A bike is considered the same as a car? It doesn't make any sense to me. That driver didn't even stop to see if anyone was behind my daughter."

Sylvester's story is a reminder of the reality when cyclists and motorists share the road.

Sgt. Steve Francis of the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office sees both sides of a cyclist's dilemma.

"Bicycles have to follow all of the rules of the road and act just like a vehicle, including stopping at a stop sign," he said. "We have a lot of crashes when bicyclists run a stop sign. It is also unlawful to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk. And people must get off of their bike to cross a crosswalk."

Cyclists routinely break the law by riding against traffic, riding on sidewalks and riding through pedestrian crosswalks, according to Prescott Alternative Transportation. These "crimes" are typically the result of a lack of knowledge on the cyclists' part. Parents still routinely teach kids to ride on sidewalks and against traffic.

Prescott Alternative Transportation notes that as more riders take to the roads, enforcement becomes more important.

"Motorists are much guiltier of minor traffic infractions than cyclists," Prescott Alternative Transportation's website, www.prescottbikeped.org, states. "How many motorists don't push speed limits? Turn right into traffic where prohibited? While riding, bicyclists are routinely harassed, spit at, honked at, pushed off road and have garbage thrown at them."

The website has links to Arizona Bike Laws and Bike Safety from the Arizona Governor's Office of Highway Safety and the Ten Greatest Myths About Bicycling in Prescott.

Francis said that once the rider establishes him or herself on the roadway, vehicles must maintain a minimum distance of 3 feet when passing a bicycle. The safest place for a cyclist to be is on the shoulder of the road when a vehicle is passing. "Three feet is half the width of a vehicle," he explained. "Most vehicles are 6 to 8 feet wide. And to be even safer, a motorist should move over into the other lane of traffic if is available. There is no reason to crowd a cyclist."

For the record, state law requires cyclists to ride with traffic on the same side of the road. It does not require wearing helmets, but Francis recommends using one, which will help in case of a crash.

"We also require that all bicyclists wear bright and reflective clothing," he said.

"We do have a law that states from sundown to sunup a bicyclist has to have a headlight, and it is best if it is a flashing red light on the rear of the bike."

For additional information, visit www.prescottbikeped.org.

Contact the reporter at jtwaddell@prescottaz.com