Q: In downtown Bellingham at certain corners of sidewalks there is one of two symbols. The first is a circle in green with a person standing next to a bicycle. The other is a circle in red with a line through the circle showing a person on a bicycle. What do these mean? Does the green one mean that a bicyclist is allowed to ride on the sidewalk, but must get off at the corners? Does the red one mean no bicycling on the sidewalk whatsoever? They are confusing signs since the two seem to be saying two different things; Please explain. Thanks.
A: You’d expect that if you saw two different signs, each of them would have a different meaning. That’s probably where the confusion lies. These two signs each take a different approach to explaining the same law. If we start by examining the law, both the signs should make more sense.
Generally, it is legal to ride a bicycle on a sidewalk in Washington. However, the state law has a provision that allows local municipalities to prohibit cycling on sidewalks in a business district. Bellingham, like many other cities, has incorporated this prohibition into its municipal code, making it an infraction to ride a bike on a sidewalk downtown.
The city first began marking the pavement of key downtown intersections with the red sign. This marking makes it clear that there is no cycling allowed on the sidewalk, but could also be interpreted to mean that no bikes are allowed on the sidewalk at all. For a cyclist who wants to walk through town with her bike, the red line slashing through a cyclist suggests that bikes are not welcome.
The green sign tries to clarify the message from a more positive perspective. It is intended to mean that cyclists are required to walk their bikes on downtown sidewalks. Bikes are welcome, but riding them on the sidewalks is not.
The city is in the process of transitioning from the red “no bikes” markings to the green “walk your bike” markings. Until they all get switched to the green signs, just understand that they both mean the same thing: you can’t ride a bike on a downtown sidewalk.
“But wait,” you may be asking, “If you’re not allowed to ride bikes on sidewalks downtown, why do I see police officers riding bikes?” I can answer that. The municipal code has an exception. To quote the code, “This provision shall not apply to law enforcement officers engaged in the performance of their duties.” Or in normal person talk, “The cops can ride police bikes on the sidewalk when they’re working.”
While we’re on the topic of bikes and sidewalks, l’ll point out a couple of legal requirements, just as a reminder. When riding on a sidewalk, cyclists should consider themselves pedestrians and follow the same laws as would a person travelling on foot. Also, cyclists are required to give pedestrians the right-of-way on a sidewalk or crosswalk.