yield_to_peds_resize.jpg
Quick quiz: Are cyclists allowed in crosswalks and on the sidewalk? Answer after the jump.
It's every parent's nightmare: You're in a crosswalk, lawfully crossing

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When Downtown Cyclists Hit and Run

yield_to_peds_resize.jpg
Quick quiz: Are cyclists allowed in crosswalks and on the sidewalk? Answer after the jump.
It's every parent's nightmare: You're in a crosswalk, lawfully crossing with the light, holding your six-year-old's hand, when somebody runs the red. In a flash, your son is bleeding on the pavement.

That's what happened at First and Pike last Friday the 13th. According to felony hit-and-run charges filed in King County Superior Court, Christopher Lopez and his wife, Abigail Echo-Hawk, were accompanying their two young sons across the red brick intersection at about 6:30 p.m., heading west toward the Pike Place Market. Then, as Echo-Hawk told King 5 News, "The bike came out of nowhere, just flying down the street. Before I could reach for Noni, he was gone. He just did a 360 in the air." (Noni, or Antonio, is her younger son.) "It was horrible. Blood started flying everywhere." His broken jaw wired shut at Harborview, Antonio may require another surgery. Also damaged were the already strained relations between downtown pedestrians and cyclists...

According to the police report included in the prosecutor's charges, 32-year-old Rafael M. Araneta was proceeding southbound on First Ave. when he reached a line of cars stopped at the red light where the Lopez children were crossing with their parents. After "passing stopped vehicles on the right," Araneta "failed to stop for the red light and struck [Antonio] Lopez, knocking Lopez to the ground."

That sounds like one or two misdemeanors even before Araneta allegedly struck the kid, right? How many downtown pedestrians and motorists haven't wondered about cyclists passing on the right or riding through the chaotic First and Pike plaza when all four lights go red? What laws are in effect? What laws are being broken? (Already the flame wars have erupted among the comments on the Times and P-I stories, plus defensive tut-tutting at the Cascade Bicycle Club.) More on that below, after the state laws Araneta is charged with breaking.

The filing by King Country Prosecutor Dan Satterberg continues that after Araneta allegedly struck the child, he "got back on his bicycle and attempted to flee southbound on First Avenue, but his path was blocked by [an eyewitness] and other citizens." That's right, he was chased down and held by an irate mob of pedestrians until two nearby cops took charge of the scene. And hence the main two felonies being prosecuted under state law: 1) vehicular assault, and 2) hit and run. Araneta, who is homeless and unemployed, is being held in King County Jail until his arraignment on Dec. 2.

It's a very unusual case. Spokesman Dan Donohoe of the prosecutor's office says there haven't been any similar bike-pedestrian vehicular assault cases in several years.

In a statement made to arresting officers, Araneta said he saw the light was red and that he (in his own words) "should have known better" than to cross against it. The police report adds that "he had no brakes and no headlight on the cycle."

Those, too, are frequent complaints among downtown pedestrians, particularly during our dark, wet winter months: How can they possibly see and react to an oncoming cyclist who may not stop, or may not be able to stop?

And what does "no brakes" mean? We're waiting for clarification from the SPD, though it does not appear likely from the prosecutor's brief that Araneta was a hipster on a fixie. (That is: a fixed-gear bicycle designed for track riding and no sudden stopping.) It appears more likely, but has not yet been confirmed, that he was simply riding a beater with missing or defective brakes.

Under Seattle Municipal Code 11.44.160 and 200, cyclists should have lights after dark and brakes at all times. (Though some fixie riders will argue that halting their rear wheel's rotation in a controlled skid is tantamount to braking.)

But, had Araneta not allegedly hit the boy, had he halted at the red light then weaved among the pedestrians in the intersection, would he have broken any laws?

According to Department of Transportation spokesman Rich Sheridan, "The intersection at First Avenue and Pike Street does possess an all-way walk for pedestrian crossings. When that signal phase occurs, pedestrians can move directly across the street or diagonally across the intersection."

However, SMC 11.44.100 states that, "A person operating a bicycle across a roadway upon and along a crosswalk shall have all the rights and duties applicable to a pedestrian under the same circumstances, but shall yield to pedestrians upon and along a crosswalk." Ergo, cyclists need to stop at the red, then can proceed slowly while yielding to peds.

What about cyclists on the sidewalk? Per SMC 11.44.120, it's legal. But among other qualifying language, it's stated that "every person operating a bicycle upon a sidewalk or public path shall yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian thereon, and shall give an audible signal before overtaking and passing any pedestrian."

Passing on the right? SMC 11.44.080 is vague, but it's apparently legal: "The operator of a bicycle may overtake and pass a vehicle or a bicycle upon the right only under conditions permitting such movement in safety."

Araneta isn't being charged with any of those lesser municipal offenses. If he were, running the red light and failure to yield to pedestrians would be the chief infractions. After that, his lacking brakes and lights. His felony case, if it goes to trial, may take months before a court date. In the meantime, at First and Pike (among other intersections and crosswalks), the unhappy standoff will continue: Pedestrians uncertain if cyclists will stop, and cyclists unaware of the damage they can cause by failing to stop or yield.

 
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