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Bicyclists, pedestrians must safely share the road

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, Oct. 12, 2012, at 4:56 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012, at 7:04 a.m.

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Bicyclists and pedestrians share sidewalks, trails and paths. That will be especially true this month, which is Walktober.

Bicyclists always should yield to pedestrians. They are supposed to give an audible signal, such as “Passing on the left,” when passing a pedestrian.

Bikes should be equipped with a white light on the front and a red reflector on the back.

Bikes are not allowed on sidewalks in the city’s central business district, which is bounded by Lewis Street, the Arkansas River, Elm Street and Washington Avenue and Douglas Avenue from the Arkansas River to Seneca.

City ordinance requires motorists passing a bike traveling in the same direction to give at least three feet of clearance “and shall not again drive to the right side of the roadway until safely clear of the overtaken bicycle.”

Neighbors John Maxwell and Travis Lake often walk Lake’s two dogs, Murphy and Mack, on 13th Street near West Street.

On a recent night, Murphy, a cockapoo, got quite a scare when a bicyclist ran into him. The bicyclist also had a scare: He fell off his bike.

As Wichita celebrates Walktober, a month that encourages people to get out and walk for exercise and stress relief, how motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians share the road becomes even more important.

Maxwell contacted The Eagle wondering what the “rules of engagement” are. Who has the right-of-way on a sidewalk — the pedestrian or a bicyclist?

Pedestrians are king, said Lt. Doug Nolte of the Wichita Police Department. They have the right-of-way.

“Someone on foot has the right-of-way to bikes and cars. Someone on a bike has the right-of-way with a car,” Nolte said.

But not everyone follows the rules they likely learned in grade school.

Some bicyclists in Wichita say motorists aren’t always friendly to those on bikes, and some pedestrians, such as Maxwell and Lake, say they’ve had bad experiences with bicyclists.

Just as motorists are supposed to give bicyclists three feet of clearance when passing, bicyclists are supposed to give pedestrians some wiggle room. They also are supposed to give an “audible signal” before passing a pedestrian, city ordinance says.

Lake said the recent incident wasn’t the first time he and Maxwell — as well as the dogs — were startled by a bicyclist

“Some of them don’t have lights on their bikes, and when we walk along the river, we don’t see them,” Lake said. “Some of them say whatever they’re supposed to say, but a lot of them don’t.”

Since the near-accident last month, he’s been trying to walk earlier when it’s lighter outside.

City ordinance says bicycles should have a white light visible from at least 500 feet on the front and a red reflector on the back of the bike.

Janet Bahl is an avid walker and also has had bad experiences with bicyclists. Through The Eagle’s Public Insight Network, Bahl suggested a story about interaction between walkers, joggers and bicyclists on paved city trails.

“I have been in accidents and near accidents on the trail due to bikers not giving signals of their passing behind me. Most don’t even speak to me when I pass them after I’ve acknowledged. A simple ‘on your left’ or ‘at left’ or ‘behind you’ would be fabulous,” she wrote to The Eagle.

Bahl, who sometimes walks with her dogs, recounted a walk last year in which a cyclist “zoomed” toward her without acknowledging he was going to pass her. Bahl said her dog lurched a bit, and “the guy lost control of the bike and fell off near me.”

Bahl said her first concern was that her dog’s leg had gotten stuck in the bike’s wheel. But the dog was OK.

She said she asked the bicyclist whether he was OK.

“He biked off in a huff,” she said.

Bahl joked that she probably looks like she’s paranoid because she often looks behind her as she walks. She does that, she said, because of experiences with bicyclists who passed her from behind without announcing themselves.

“I don’t know that I can say even 10 percent of the bikers do that,” she said of the city ordinance requiring bicyclists to give an audible signal.

“I’m forever turning and looking back,” she said. “It just scares you to death because they’ll just whiz by.”

Nolte, the police lieutenant, said, “We would hope the bike riders would be cognizant of someone on foot.”

Police officers could issue a citation to a bicyclist who ran into a pedestrian “based on the fact that they should have obviously yielded the right-of-way.”

Avid bicyclist Tony Merck says he does shout out an alert to pedestrians, has lights on his bike and follows traffic laws.

He said motorists often don’t give bicyclists enough clearance and recalled one instance “where a guy passed real close. I thought I saw something go past my head. When I looked back, I saw a glass bottle rolling down the ditch. They had thrown a beer bottle at me.

“I’ve known people who’ve been physically run off the road riding a bicycle. It’s pretty scary.”

He said he doesn’t encounter too many pedestrians when he bikes at the park. But he said he thought signs designating where bicyclists should bike and where pedestrians should walk would help avoid problems.

He bikes between 500 and 700 miles a month and used to bike to work. Now he rides mostly in Sedgwick County Park.

“There were a couple times there, I don’t know how I made it,” he said of using his bike to get to work.

Reach Deb Gruver at 316-268-6400 or dgruver@wichitaeagle.com.

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