Biking to work, to the grocery store, to a park — it has become so controversial in Omaha. And I had no idea until I read through the comments on some of the World-Herald cycling stories.
Some people praise those who choose two wheels instead of four. You're freeing up a parking space! You're helping the environment! You're saving so much money on gas!
Others are more critical. You're too slow! You don't follow the rules! You look stupid in Spandex!
Both parties have valid points, outside the Spandex comment (but to each their own).
Biking is greener and more economical than driving. On the other hand, it's frustrating to see a cyclist weave through stopped cars and cruise through a stop sign or get stuck behind a bike on a busy one-lane street. And shouldn't they be wearing a helmet?
There seems to be a lot of confusion when it comes to cycling on the street. I decided to talk to the experts and try and separate fact from fiction.
• Are cyclists allowed to run stop signs or red lights?
No. Bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities of a vehicle, which means they must stop at stop signs, red lights and yield to pedestrians, among other things.
• Can cyclists be ticketed for disobeying these rules?
Yes. Cyclists can be ticketed at law enforcement's discretion. It is rare. Just as cars get away with running stop signs, so do people riding bikes.
• Are bikes allowed on city streets?
Yes. In fact, it's illegal to ride bikes on the sidewalk in Omaha's downtown. It is legal to ride on sidewalks elsewhere in Omaha, but it is not required. It can be more hazardous to bike on sidewalks with heavy foot traffic. When cyclists use streets to commute, they are required to drive on the far right-hand side of the road, except when preparing to turn left, passing another bike or when vehicle or road conditions make that part of the roadway unsafe. It's best to ride on streets with multiple lanes, light traffic and that allow for maintaining a reasonable speed. If cyclists are biking at a leisurely pace, going up a hill or there is only one lane, it's better for them to use a sidewalk if there is one (unless you're downtown).
• Are cyclists legally required to wear helmets?
Helmets are only required when on a motorcycle or moped, as a driver or passenger.
• Are cyclists legally required to put lights on their bicycles for night riding?
Bikes must have a front headlight when riding at night but not a rear light. Reflectors are recommended to improve visibility.
• Do cyclists have to pay taxes on their bike in order to use city streets?
No. Bikes cause minimal wear and tear to the streets — significantly less than vehicles. Most people who commute on a bicycle also own a vehicle, so they pay the same taxes as people who only drive cars. This includes road taxes, vehicle taxes and taxes on fuel in addition to income taxes and sales taxes.
Still have questions? You can email Omaha's Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator Carlos Morales at email@example.com. Or, ask me in the comment section at the bottom of the page, and I'll find the answers.
Sources: Carlos Morales, Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator for the City of Omaha; Patrick McAtee, president of Omaha Bikes
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