Council nixes new bike laws - City staff recommends enforcing existing laws

By Ruth Longoria

Is there a problem with bicyclists on the Island? Do Island police target bicyclists? Are drivers rude to bicyclists? Are bicyclists rude to drivers?

Those questions and more were swept under the asphalt at Monday night's regular City Council meeting. Despite previous arguments, accusations and newspaper stories, all those who attended and spoke at the meeting -- including council members, law enforcement, city staff and commuters -- appeared to be of one mindset: ``Can't we all just get along?''

Making Island streets safe for all who travel them -- bicyclists, pedestrians and drivers-- was the aim of the dozens of residents, council members, police and city staff who attended..

``This is a small Island,'' said Mayor Alan Merkle. ``We need to remember that the most egregious behavior, whatever vehicle you're in, is not appropriate.''

City staff spent the past two months discussing two- and four-wheel traffic issues with residents and members of the bicycle community. They also examined what neighboring cities have done to alleviate potential problems. They then presented a list of recommendations Monday night to improve safety and convenience for recreational bicycling and commuting on the Island.

Following comments from residents and recommendations from city staff, the council agreed that staff should implement most of those actions and report back in six months to determine if additional actions should be taken.

``If there's fine tuning or thoughtful tweaks to be done, we'll look at that in the fall,'' Merkle said.

For now, there will be not be any laws added to regulate bicycles; however, staff will post additional signs to enforce existing laws, such as:

? Bicyclists should not ride more than two abreast.

? Slow vehicles (including bicycles) need to pull to side of the road and allow vehicles to pass if there is a line of five or more vehicles being held up.

Adequate time will be given after signs are posted before people will be ticketed for infractions, said Ron Elsoe, Mercer Island public safety director.

``If we have a change in enforcement, we try to give it a week or so,'' Elsoe said. ``We do give out a lot more warnings than citations.''

Signs, such as ``All users stay right'' and ``Watch for pedestrians and bicyclists,'' also will be added to enforce the rules of the road along the I-90 trail, specifically along the path and at main entry points, such as by Covenant Shores and Shorewood Apartments.

Maintenance director Glenn Boettcher said staff will use existing budgeted funds to increase the regularity of sweeping shoulders -- from once a month to once every two weeks -- to remove sticks, rocks and vegetation that would impede bicycle tires.

One issue for cyclists is the number of ``buttons'' marking the edge of the road. Those buttons can be a hazard to cross over. The city staff is considering eliminating some of those bumps. The buttons, also called fog line buttons or turtles, serve as an audible sign to pedestrians and bicyclists and alerting drivers when a vehicle leaves the roadway. The city staff will look at specific areas, such as along straight patches of West Mercer Way, to possibly modify the number and pattern of buttons to give bicyclists a safer way to pull on and off the roadway.

Vehicle parking will remain legal along most of East and West Mercer ways, but ``No parking'' signs will be posted in areas of limited visibility.

Based on the number of pleased expressions on faces, and nods and affirmative vocalizations during the presentation, audience members seemed to agree with staff recommendations. The council also voiced agreement.

``I must say, I rather like your ideas,'' Deputy Mayor Bryan Cairns told the staff. ``What we're relying on is good behavior and decency of people on bikes and in cars.''

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