Now that it’s summer and the roads and trails have been swept, walkers and bicyclists have become more common. The completion of the Homer Spit trail from Kachemak Drive to Land’s End has brought more traffic to the new trail winding along the harbor. With more users has come conflict, and a push by bicyclists and walkers for more safety awareness.
Think you know the rules? Take this short quiz.
1) You’re driving on East End Road toward Kachemak City. A bicyclist is ahead of you riding on the right side of the road and with traffic. You should:
a) Tell the bicyclist to get off the road and use the multiuse trail.
b) Stay behind the bicyclist and not pass until it’s safe to do so and there is a passing zone as indicated by dashed yellow lines.
c) Stay behind the bicyclist and not pass until it’s safe to do so, even if there’s a solid line and a no-passing zone, giving the bicyclist about 3 feet of room when passing but not going completely into the opposite lane.
2) You’re driving east on Pioneer Avenue by Homer City Hall at Kachemak Way and approach the crosswalk. A pedestrian is on the sidewalk on the north side of the road and starting to enter the crosswalk. You should:
a) Speed up and ignore the pedestrian.
b) Don’t stop until the pedestrian is ready to get into the eastbound lane.
c) Stop and let the pedestrian cross.
3) You’re walking on the Homer Spit by Coal Point Trading Co. and you see your friend across the street on the boardwalk. You should:
a) Dash into traffic and expect cars to be traveling slowly and stop for you.
b) Look both ways and cross when safe.
c) Walk to the nearest crosswalk, look both ways to make sure cars see you, and cross in the crosswalk.
If you guessed c) for each question, you’re a good driver and pedestrian. If you guessed a), you might want to brush up on Alaska’s traffic and driving laws.
In May, Homer Mayor Beth Wythe proclaimed May 12-16 as Bike to Work Week. In her proclamation, Wythe said, “The city of Homer, Alaska, recognizes the bicycle as a legitimate roadway vehicle and therefore is entitled to legal and responsible use of all public roadway facilities.”
That’s not just the opinion of Wythe — it’s the law.
“Drivers should know that bikes can use the road,” said Homer Police Chief Mark Robl.
With that right also comes responsibility, Robl said. Bicyclists on the road have to obey all traffic laws just as if they’re in an automobile. That means signaling for turns, stopping at signals and stoplights, and using bicycle headlamps and taillights at dusk and night.
Not everyone recognizes a biker’s right to the road.
Catriona Lowe, a member of the Homer Cycling Club and an advocate for bicycle commuting and use, rides East End Road year round, putting in from 3 to 10 miles a day on her rides to and from work and running errands. She mentioned an incident this spring where a truck driver veered toward her and leaned on his horn to spook her. Lowe has a rear-view mirror and had seen him, and so was not startled.
When Lowe saw the driver again, she followed him to his work site, got his license number and description, and reported him to police. Robl said no charges were filed, but that when he talked to him, the truck driver had strong opinions about bicyclists using the road.
Lowe said she rides with traffic and as far to the right as possible.
“I’m trying to be courteous, where I’m safe and where I’m affecting the other people as little as possible,” she said.
Drivers coming up on bicyclists should slow down if unsafe and can pass on a solid line as long as they don’t go fully into the oncoming lane, Robl said. Drivers also should give the biker about 3 feet of room. Bicyclists also can ride two abreast and can move into the middle of the lane to avoid potholes, sand on the shoulder and to make left-hand turns.
Drivers need to be aware of things like mirrors or lumber that sticks out from their vehicles. Lowe mentioned almost getting clipped by a lawn mower in a pickup truck bed.
“The handle was sticking out. It was pretty close,” she said.
Bicyclists making left-hand turns can get into the middle of a lane just as if they were a car, Robl said. Lowe said at the Lake Street stoplight taking a turn from Lake Street onto the Sterling Highway, she rides in the center of the left-turn lane.
“Really, I’m treating myself as another car,” she said.
Part of the confusion with bicycle riding rules is that when there’s a multi-use lane like on the north side of East End Road, many drivers think bicyclists should only use that. Lowe said one time a driver stopped her to lecture her about using the path, and seemed surprised when she told him she was staying on the road.
One problem with multi-use trails is that they often only go on one side, so bicyclists will sometimes be riding against traffic, as on the East End Road path. Drivers leaving driveways are supposed to stop before crossing a sidewalk or path, Robl said. Lowe mentioned one accident where a bicyclist riding east got hit by a truck making a right turn and going west.
Robl recommended that if bicyclists are riding in the road, they should do so at a fast speed. If they’re recreating, such as riding with small children, Lowe suggested riding on the multi-use path.
Adele Person, a bicycle and pedestrian safety advocate who has worked on the Old Town pedestrian safety changes, said some people have a hard time grasping the difference between commuter and recreational bicyclists.
“When they’re on sidewalks or paths, they’re more like pedestrians,” Robl said of bikers. “They should ride at a speed that’s reasonable and prudent.”
Robl said bikers on paths also should alert pedestrians when they’re passing, with a bell or by saying something like “on your left.”
Bicyclists also can ride on sidewalks except in the central business district, that is, Pioneer Avenue, Robl said.
Even when bicyclists are in the right, Robl suggested riding defensively.
“If they get in an accident with a car, they’re going to take the short end of the stick there,” he said.
Walkers also need to follow specific rules, like walking against traffic when there’s not a sidewalk, said Robl. One rule of the road many walkers don’t follow is using crosswalks. When crosswalks are present, they have to be used if crossing the road within 300 feet of one, Robl said.
“Get down to that crosswalk and use it,” he said.
Failure to use a crosswalk — jaywalking — is a $25 fine.
Drivers have to yield to people entering a crosswalk. As a safety measure, Robl suggested walkers make eye contact with drivers when entering a crosswalk.
Person is one of a group pushing for better walking safety. An employee at Bunnell Street Arts Center, she was part of a push to get a walking lane added to one side of East Bunnell Avenue. At Monday night’s Homer City Council meeting, the council introduced an ordinance designating Old Town as a pilot project for traffic calming that would include speed bumps and a solar-powered speed awareness sign. Like the portable speed-check cart seen in town, a speed awareness sign would show when a person is speeding.
In October, Person wants to designate the month “Walk-tober,” and emphasize walking safety and amenities. For Halloween last year, Person also helped designate Mountainview Avenue and Bayview Avenue in downtown Homer as one-way only streets.
“It was a 99.99-percent success rate,” she said. “People were ecstatic.”
Person said she’d like to see more and better marked crosswalks. Roads like Main Street should have either wider shoulders or sidewalks.
“The infrastructure has fallen behind,” she said.
Safety advocates all agreed on one thing that could make biking and walking safety: following the speed limit and slowing down when in cars.
Lowe suggested more speed-awareness signs.
“The low hanging fruit here is the speed limit,” Lowe said. “If people did the speed limit, we’d have fewer problems.”
Slow down if walkers are ahead, Person said.
“Homer should not be a road-rage town,” she said. “There can be some working out. We’re not taking away from one user group to another. It’s common courtesy.”
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SOME RULES OF THE ROAD
• Bicyclists have a right to use all roads except interstates, should follow the same rules as cars and trucks, and use hand turn signals.
• When riding on roads, bicyclists should ride with traffic as far to the right as possible.
• Bicyclists should use headlights and taillights at dawn, dusk and night.
• When riding on multi-use trails, bicyclists should drive more slowly than on roads and let walkers know that they’re passing.
• Drivers can pass bicycles when safe to do so and on a double line as long as cars don’t go all the way into oncoming traffic.
• When passing bikes, drivers should give them at least 3 feet of room.
• When sidewalks are not present, walk facing traffic
• Wear light colored clothing and reflective patches at night.
• Use crosswalks when available and do not cross roads if a crosswalk is within 300 feet.
• Drivers should yield to walkers entering crosswalks.