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What’s New for Washington Cyclists in 2020?

What’s New for Washington Cyclists in 2020?

I want to ride my bicycle; I want to ride my bike.— Queen, “Bicycle Race.”

This blog post looks at two recent pieces of state legislation related to bicycling.

Rolling Through Stop Signs

This fall, Washington joins approximately 12 other states in allowing bicycles (and electric-assisted bicycles) to use the “safety stop,” also called the “Idaho stop.” (Idaho was the first state to adopt this type of legislation in 1982.)

Effective October 1, 2020, Substitute Senate Bill 6208 amends RCW 46.61.190(2) to allow a person operating a bicycle on the roadway to treat a stop sign as a yield sign. Does this mean we will suddenly see bicycles bombing through intersections? Of course not! As with any other vehicle, the statute requires the person operating a bicycle to:

  • slow down to a speed reasonable for existing conditions and stop if safety requires it; and
  • yield the right-of-way to oncoming and cross traffic if required to do so.

The new bill is not without its limitations. It does not apply to:

  • intersections controlled by traffic lights; only to traffic signs;
  • stop signs at railroad crossings; and
  • a “stop” signal used by a school bus.

This new law joins existing bicycle-friendly statutes related to obeying traffic control devices such as RCW 46.61.184, which allows a person operating a bicycle to (after using due care) proceed through an intersection controlled by a traffic light when the vehicle detection system does not trigger the light to change.

Safely Passing Vulnerable Roadway Users

The second bill is from the 2019 legislative session but went into effect on January 1, 2020. Substitute Senate Bill 5723 is intended to enhance the safety of persons operating bicycles (and other vulnerable roadway users such as pedestrians, persons riding animals, persons operating certain farm equipment, or as otherwise defined by RCW 46.61.526 (11)(c).

It amends RCW 46.61.110 to require a vehicle that is passing a vulnerable roadway user to move completely into another lane. If there is only one lane of same-direction travel and it is not safe or legal to move completely into the lane of opposite-direction travel, the vehicle must slow down to “a safe speed for passing relative to the speed of the individual [being passed]” and  give as much room as is safely possible, with three feet at a minimum, to the individual being overtaken.

The statute creates some additional fines for drivers who improperly pass vulnerable roadway users. Those additional fines go into a special “vulnerable roadway user education account” to be used by the Washington Traffic Safety Commission to educate law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges, as well as the general public.

Does SSB 5723 affect existing law?

The amendment does not eliminate any of the existing rules of the road. Vehicles were already required to “pass to the left at a safe distance.” Instead, this amendment provides more clarity at what exactly is “safe,” making it clearer what behavior could draw a fine. The amendment also does not authorize passing a vulnerable roadway user if safely passing would require the vehicle to cross double center lines.

MRSC has written extensively about bicycling, including blogs about electric-assist bikes, biking regulations, recreational use immunity, and even electric-assist scooters.

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

Photo of Steve Gross

About Steve Gross

Steve Gross joined MRSC as a Legal Consultant in January 2020.

Steve has worked in municipal law and government for over 20 years as an Assistant City Attorney for Lynnwood, Seattle, Tacoma, and Auburn, and as the City Attorney for Port Townsend and Auburn. He also has been a legal policy advisor for the Pierce County Council and has worked in contract administration.