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Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Petition starts cycling safety debate

Do cyclists endanger themselves and drivers by riding on Chuckanut Drive?

Chuckanut Drive as seen from a car. // Photo courtesy of Chris Hahn

By Benjamin Leung

Chuckanut Drive is the center of a debate on safety and cycling. Ata Berdyev, one of the founders of the social car club Bellingham Car Meet Northwest, started a petition to ban cyclists on Chuckanut Drive on April 26.

As of May 21, over 400 people have signed the petition. They cite reasons such as “cyclists are creating a dangerous situation every time they ride on the road” and “some roads are just not appropriate for bicycle travel” in the reasons for signing.

In 2019, according to the Bellingham Police Department records, there were four accidents on Chuckanut Drive North, none involving cyclists. 

According to Berdyev, he believes cyclists should be banned from Chuckanut Drive as cycling on the road is dangerous for both the cyclists and drivers. On some occasions, drivers are unable to see cyclists between turns, increasing the risk of collision. “In some parts of Chuckanut Drive, there is just no space for a cyclist to be in. Oftentimes, it creates backups, where the drivers cannot pass the cyclist because of how small the roads are,” Berdyev said.

According to Berdyev, if the roads were expanded and a bike lane added, it would make much more sense to allow bikers on Chuckanut Drive. 

Berdyev said he hopes to get at least a couple thousand signatures on his petition to show the public and city government that cyclists on Chuckanut Drive are a problem. 

“I’m currently working on a plan on how to present it to both Whatcom and Skagit Counties’ government officials,” Berdyev said. 

Chris Hahn, a cyclist in Bellingham, strongly opposes the petition. According to Hahn, the majority of people signing the petition are car enthusiasts. “They feel inconvenienced at having to feel empathy and consideration for others, so they want those people prohibited from using a road so they can drive recklessly,” Hahn said.

Chuckanut Drive is a dangerous road for everyone, according to Hahn. 

“Considering how popular Chuckanut is for people looking to drive excessively fast through narrow roads and blind corners, it’s impossible to know if there’s a cyclist ahead,” Hahn said.

Hahn avoids cycling on Chuckanut Drive. 

“I’ve been hit by a car enough times to refrain from cycling on major roads,” he said.

Josiah Tugman, a cyclist and the autocross chair director of the Chuckanut Sports Car Club, hasn’t made up his mind on whether cyclists should be banned from Chuckanut Drive. 

“Sure, they are beautiful places to ride, but the shoulder is just nonexistent and it really seems very unsafe,” Tugman said.

Tugman, who bikes three to five times every week, suggested Old Samish Road as a safer alternative to Chuckanut Drive for cyclists. 

“It has drastically less traffic and is still very beautiful,” Tugman said. “Not nearly as many blind corners with terrible visibility as on Chuckanut Drive.”

Tugman said he can’t act as an official voice of the opinions of the members of the Chuckanut Sports Car Club but thinks most members would likely support a bicycle ban due to the safety risk. 

According to Elizabeth Sjostrom, a transportation planning specialist for the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), WSDOT doesn’t have plans or funding to widen Chuckanut Drive to add bicycle lanes at this time. 

“The planning for this route has focused on corridor preservation, maintenance, enhancing safety and access to scenic vistas,” Sjostrom said. “We have not secured all those funds yet, so we have not explored opportunities for other improvements at this time.”

Sjostrom said WSDOT budgets are hard hit currently, and she doesn’t see bike lanes for Chuckanut Drive as a priority in the near future.


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