Head out any weekend morning and you will see walkers, joggers, runners, cyclists and motorists using sidewalks, trails and roadways. With all that traffic, there is bound to be some confusion as to who has the right of way. • Too often, confusion has led to tragedy. The Tampa Bay area is notorious for pedestrian fatalities. A recent crackdown in St. Petersburg on cyclists who failed to obey traffic laws brought the issue to the forefront. Citations have been handed out to both pedestrians and motorists for ignoring their obligations at crosswalks. • Despite the efforts of law enforcement, plenty of people keep making up their own rules of the road. • Sorry, cyclists, but you do have to stop at stop signs, even if it's a drag. Walkers, you can't expect traffic to stop wherever you choose to cross the road. • Motorists, remember, you're piloting a potentially deadly weapon, so you can't just be focused on your own rights. • It's a lot to keep track of, but learning the rules is the best way we know to maintain peace and tranquility on the blacktop. Here are the basics:
• In Florida, a bicycle is considered a vehicle, and as a result, cyclists have the same rights — and responsibilities — as automobiles. That means cyclists must slow down at yellow lights and stop at red lights and stop signs.
• Cyclists are allowed on sidewalks, except in designated areas where they could pose a risk to pedestrians, such as in busy downtown areas. While on a sidewalk, a cyclist must yield to other pedestrians. So if you are on a bike and come across walkers, give them the right of way. (And don't just shout "ON YOUR LEFT'' seconds before buzzing a gray-haired couple walking their dog.)
• Like other vehicles, bicyclists should travel on the right side of the street, and if there's a designated bike lane, they should travel in it.
• A cyclist who is traveling less than the normal speed of traffic — and that's the vast majority of cyclists — should ride as close to the right curb as practical.
• In most cases, cyclists should ride in single file, unless the roadway or bike lane is wide enough to accommodate two riders side by side plus a car traveling in the same direction. Cyclists should not ride more than two abreast except on paths or roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles. Even on Saturday morning. Even when they're all wearing Lycra.
Pedestrians — walkers, joggers and runners — have rights too, and in general, should be given the right of way. But like their pedaling partners, pedestrians also have responsibilities.
• If there's no sidewalk, and pedestrians must use the roadway, they should be on the left side, so they can see oncoming traffic (and presumably dive out of the way if necessary).
• Pedestrians may cross the street mid-block — unless there are traffic signals at each end of the block — but they must yield to oncoming vehicles, motorized and nonmotorized.
• If there's a crosswalk, you should use it. Even if it means walking a half-block to get there.
• If a sidewalk is available, pedestrians must use it. This includes runners who believe asphalt is better for their knees than concrete.
• Speaking of sidewalks, walkers, runners, wheelchair users and, in many cases, cyclists, all are allowed to use them. At the same time. Turn down the volume on your iPod so you can stay aware of what's going on around you.
• Motorists emerging from an alley or driveway that crosses a sidewalk are supposed to yield to pedestrians on that sidewalk. But practically speaking, pedestrians will want to do their own watching under those circumstances.
• At crosswalks, you must stop if a pedestrian has signaled an intent to cross, whether by pressing a signal button, or simply by stepping one foot off the curb.
• If you're driving along and find yourself sharing a lane with a cyclist, you must give him or her the right of way if the roadway is too narrow for you both to travel side by side.
• It doesn't matter if the cyclist is traveling slower than the posted speed limit. They're entitled to be on the road.
• If the road narrows, the motorist should allow the cyclist the time and space it takes to merge left and get in front. The motorist should wait until the roadway opens up again in order to pass the cyclist.
• Florida law requires that a motorist passing a cyclist must do so at a "safe distance," which means giving the cyclist at least 3 feet of clearance.
• A motorist may cross the center line in a no-passing zone to get by the cyclist, as long as there is no oncoming traffic.
• If you're a motorist who can't negotiate these maneuvers without raising a fist and/or yelling at the cyclist, you might need some stress reduction in your life. We hear cycling, running and walking work wonders.
For more information on rules of the road, plus links to other resources, go to www.dot.state.fl.us/safety and www.stpete.org/transportation.
Sources: Florida Bicycle and Pedestrian Law Enforcement Guides