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Chokepoints: Why bicyclists don’t have to use bike lanes


This a grab-bag edition of Chokepoints where we answer a variety of traffic-related questions.

The first comes from KIRO Radio listener Stephanie.

Q: How are you supposed to use two-way left turn lanes?

A: Two-way left turn lanes are those center lanes on a road with multiple lanes. They are marked with solid and dotted yellow lines. They provide a safe place for people to turn left and to merge with traffic.

Stephanie wanted to know if a person turning into that center lane from a cross street must stop and wait for traffic. The answer is yes. You must pull into that lane and wait for an opportunity to merge into traffic. You should get up to speed before merging.

By law, you are only allowed to be in that lane for 300 feet. Drivers often violate this law when approaching a left-turn signal where traffic in the through-lane is backed up.

We received several emails after our bike lane story last week.

Q: Are bicyclists required to use the protected bike lanes?

A: No. Bicyclists are not required to use the protected bike lanes, at least in Seattle. They can use any traffic lane.

I asked why, and the Seattle Department of Transportation said there is no policy concerning this because the city council hasn’t taken it up. A spokesperson also said it’s too soon for a policy because the entire bike network isn’t complete. Any rules that may work in one area might not be appropriate in an unfinished corridor.

So, even though the city is creating lanes specifically for bikes, riders do not have to use them.

Q: Can flaggers use their phones while directing cars?

A: One KIRO listener thought it was a little hypocritical that drivers can’t use their phones, but he continually sees traffic-control flaggers using their phones while directing traffic. By law, they cannot.

The law requires project managers or employees make sure their flaggers “do not use devices that may distract the flagger’s vision, hearing or attention. Examples of these devices include cellphones, pagers, radios, and headphones.”

So if you see a traffic flagger on his or her phone while directing traffic, they are breaking the law.

Q: When do drivers have to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk?

A: The rules say that drivers can turn in front of a pedestrian, as long as that pedestrian is not within one lane of your half of the roadway. You must stop if that pedestrian is in your half of the roadway.

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