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My view: Cyclists and motorists can live in unity on Utah's roads

By Chad Mullins

Published: Friday, Nov. 16 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

A cyclist winds his way up the narrow road in Big Cottonwood Canyon Friday, September 4, 2009.

Keith Johnson, Deseret News archives

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We are all aware of the conflicts in our canyons as motorists, cyclists and jogger/pedestrians vie for the same limited road space. The canyon roadways are often too narrow to accommodate active transportation users safely and comfortably, and the travel lanes are not wide enough for people riding and motorists to safely share.

Recently reported incidents of bicyclists (and motorists) failing to stop for school buses and bicyclists failing to safely pass or circumvent people on foot have resulted in the Unified Police Department (UPD) being asked to step up enforcement efforts in school zones and the canyons. The UPD also actively enforces motorists improperly passing cyclists.

Canyon residents are seeking an ordinance requiring bicyclists to ride single file in the canyons. Citizen advocates and government officials are working together to address the issues and find remedies. Canyon road users and the bicycling community can help by sharing and observing the following points:

Under Utah law, cyclists as well as motorists have legal access to the road.

Bicycles on the road are considered vehicles and must abide by the rules of the road.

Both cyclists and motorists must stop for a school bus. Bikers may stop, dismount and walk their bike past a flashing or stopped school bus and then remount and ride on.

Both cyclists and motorists must stop for pedestrians in crosswalks and both are required to safely overtake and pass a slower vehicle.

Riders must yield to the slower pedestrian and pass at a safe clear distance when overtaking pedestrians on the shoulder.

Riding single file to avoid impeding traffic is the courteous thing to do, and conforms to Utah law, "Ride no more than two abreast [on the roadway] and then only if you would not impede traffic (41-6a-1105(3b))."

Groups riding in the canyons should respect the concerns of motorists and canyon residents and not ride in clumps.

Riders should move to the side of the road when safe to do so, allowing motorists to pass.

Motorists should overtake and pass the slower bike vehicles safely and at a minimum, provide 3 feet of clear space when passing.

Safe biking practice dictates that under certain conditions bicyclists should ride near the center of the travel lane, which is in accordance with Utah Law (41-6a-1105(1)(d)(vii)). This is explained in the Cycling Merit Badge Book of the Boy Scouts of America, which states: "On roadways with narrow lanes [without safe bike lanes] … ride in the middle of the right lane. … Drivers need to get the idea that they must move into the passing lane if they want to pass you."

In narrow-lane conditions riding all the way to the right invites a car to try passing you in the same lane, possibly forcing you off the road. Requiring cyclists to ride single file in the canyons fails to address the problem. Solving the problem will require all canyon road users, residents, motorists and active transportation advocates working together to secure funding for roadway improvements for active transportation in the canyons.

The road shoulder needs to be widened on the uphill side to provide separate bike lanes where feasible so that riders and motorists can safely share the road. In narrower sections it may only be possible to provide occasional pull-outs for slower traffic to let faster traffic pass. Efforts to improve bike lanes in Emigration Canyon will take years to implement due to limited funding to acquire the right-of-way, mitigate the environmental impacts and build the needed infrastructure. In the meantime, please ride and drive courteously and respect all road users – treat other users of the road as you would like to be treated.

Chad Mullins is the chairman of the Salt Lake County Bicycle Advisory Committee, SLCBAC.

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