Wednesday, March 16, 2016

BikeWalkLee Column: Who has the right of way?

 We're in peak season and not only are the roads congested, so are the sidewalks and shared use paths. BWL's column provides some tips on who has the right-of-way and when. As Ken says at the end of the column, "It comes back to the basics – be predictable, be visible, be sensible and be nice. Practice those, and everyone can share the road or walk or lane comfortably."

BWL's Column in News-Press "Go Coastal" section, March 17, 2016

Let’s take them in order of vulnerability, just to make it easy:

Pedestrians: Everyone else is supposed to avoid colliding with them, even if they’re not behaving properly (that’s not etiquette, it’s the law). At intersections and in crosswalks, they have the right of way (at least if there are signals saying so or, if no signal, they give others enough time and distance to react). If you share a sidewalk with walkers, yield to them (we’re talking to bicyclists here – if anyone in a motor vehicle is sharing that sidewalk, you have made a serious directional mistake and need to get back on the roadway right now).

Cyclists: No matter where they are riding, they get the right of way over everyone but pedestrians. If they are on the sidewalk, they are viewed as pedestrians (albeit second-class pedestrians) – so that’s easy. If they are on the roadway – whether on a bike lane, a shoulder or sharing the road – they still have rights as vehicles and should be treated as equals. So, unless you regularly buzz, cut off or otherwise harass your fellow motorists, you don’t get to do any of that to cyclists. (An aside: Cyclists, it makes it a whole lot more likely that your fellow vehicle operators will treat you with some respect if you don’t break vehicular rules… such as blowing through stop signs/lights, riding abreast when conditions do not allow, going the wrong way, etc.)

Average motorists: Everyone else in a vehicle should know how to negotiate rights of way with their fellow vehicles… that’s what that driver’s license test was all about, remember? So we won’t dwell on that here, except to note a couple of unique circumstances that warrant attention: Motorcycles, because they can be harder to see (so watch for them); semis, because they have some unique issues (chiefly in turning and visibility) that deserve attention; and other lumbering and large vehicles, because the laws of physics can make sharing the roadway with them interesting, since they take longer to speed up, slow down and turn… and must drive accordingly.

Golf carts: A special case around here that warrant their own category because they can violate the rights of every other road user once they escape from the golf course. Contrary to the habit in some neighborhoods, carts are not meant to be driven on any sidewalk or bike lane… just because they fit doesn’t mean they’re legal. Nevertheless, if they are driven on said areas, they should yield to every other walking or biking user because the carts are the motor vehicles here, putting them on the low end of the rights scale. Similarly, carts are not meant to be driven on any old roadway, unless said roadway has been designated for their use (which usually means other traffic will go slow enough to allow them not to impede the flow). There are very few public roadways that allow carts to travel legally; look for a sign allowing such use before you assume it’s OK.

One final thought on rights: Common sense and courtesy always need to be aggressively exercised when it comes to transportation interaction. You may have the right to be there doing what you’re doing, but if the operator of a two-ton motor vehicle doesn’t see you (or doesn’t know what you doing when you dart in front of them), you may end up being dead right.

It comes back to the basics – be predictable, be visible, be sensible and be nice. Practice those, and everyone can share the road or walk or lane comfortably.

Ken Gooderham writes this on behalf of BikeWalkLee, a community coalition raising public awareness and advocating for complete streets in Lee County — streets that are designed, built, operated and maintained for safe and convenient travel for all users: pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit riders of all ages and abilities. Information, statistics and background online at

Ready to ride or run?
Run: Want to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a 5K? Head to Naples for the inaugural St. Patrick’s Fun Run, which starts (appropriately) from Rip Tide Brewing Co. ( On Saturday, you can join the 5Ks set for Lehigh ( and Cape Coral (
Ride: The Cape Coral Critical Mass ride is Friday night, March 25; the Fort Myers ride rolls out the Friday after that (with a later start time at 8 p.m. after a gathering time of 7:15 p.m.); both are family-friendly slow rolls just perfect for this time of year.

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