A short path flooded with water March 6 heads under U.S. 2 and guides bicyclists eastbound onto the highway’s unprotected shoulder near the junction with Highway 204 in Lake Stevens. A sign guides cyclists down this spur to keep them from having to cross highway traffic before merging onto the shoulder. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

A short path flooded with water March 6 heads under U.S. 2 and guides bicyclists eastbound onto the highway’s unprotected shoulder near the junction with Highway 204 in Lake Stevens. A sign guides cyclists down this spur to keep them from having to cross highway traffic before merging onto the shoulder. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Yes, it’s legal (and risky) to bike on WA highways — with big exceptions

A reader asked about the legality of biking on the shoulder of U.S. 2 after a run-in with law enforcement.

Bill Kusler, of Snohomish, enjoys cycling for his work commute and other routes around the Lake Stevens area.

But a ride around this time last year got the attention of law enforcement, who advised him it was a limited access highway where bikes were not permitted.

“I have ridden on the (U.S.) 2 shoulder on my bike dozens of times leading me into Snohomish,” Kusler wrote in March 2022. “… This has obviously left me confused.”

Legally, people can bike almost anywhere along U.S. 2, Washington State Patrol trooper Kelsey Harding said. A notable exception is the trestle between Everett and Lake Stevens, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation.

State law treats bikes as a legal vehicle and lets bicyclists use most roads including highways and interstates. A big exception is from south Marysville through Tacoma on I-5.

But even following the law, Harding wouldn’t recommend pedaling on a highway where heavy vehicles, high speeds and human behavior leave little room to survive if the latter lapses.

“Just because you can, it’s not necessarily the safest idea,” Harding said. “There are some better options. It’s not that we don’t want people to do it, we just want people to be safe.”

RCW 46.61.755 requires cyclists to obey the same rules as drivers, such as signaling turns, having front and rear lights at night and not delaying traffic.

A sign diverts bicyclists to a short path that leads to the shoulder of eastbound U.S. 2 near the junction with Highway 204 in Lake Stevens. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

A sign diverts bicyclists to a short path that leads to the shoulder of eastbound U.S. 2 near the junction with Highway 204 in Lake Stevens. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Cycling club BIKES of Snohomish County doesn’t organize rides on highways because of the danger, vice president Jim Stewart said. Other routes, even if they’re longer than the highway, make more sense to him.

“U.S. 2 is considered unsafe for our bike rides, even though it is legal,” Stewart said. “There’s constant heavy and fast traffic. Unless you’re an experienced, somewhat macho bike rider, it can be terrifying.”

Kurt VanGelder and Lynn Schoenfelder were support cyclists for Lynn Salvo, a Guinness World Record holding cyclist who pedaled from Anacortes to San Diego. During that successful record attempt, she made an emotional stop in Everett in September 2021 to reclaim the wedding ring of her brother, an American fighter pilot killed during the Vietnam War.

They missed a turn on the Centennial Trail in Lake Stevens and ended up going down Highway 204 toward the trestle. The plan was to take the road underneath and parallel to the trestle then join the pedestrian path from 43rd Avenue SE.

But they forgot to change the settings on an app, which led them onto the trestle.

“We were terrified,” Schoenfelder said. ”Once we were on there, we really didn’t have a choice.”

They pedaled 15 to 20 mph, “as fast as our legs would let us,” next to traffic zooming by at 55 mph or faster. They could have been cited, and Schoenfelder said they would have deserved it, except that they did it unintentionally, she said.

Drivers heading south Monday exit Highway 204 and pass under U.S. 2 in Lake Stevens. Cyclists attempting to follow U.S. 2 eastbound are directed by a sign to a short path that goes under an overpass before reaching the shoulder of the highway. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Drivers heading south Monday exit Highway 204 and pass under U.S. 2 in Lake Stevens. Cyclists attempting to follow U.S. 2 eastbound are directed by a sign to a short path that goes under an overpass before reaching the shoulder of the highway. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

In less busy areas, highway biking is a part of life, though it can catch drivers by surprise to see someone pedaling in the lane or along the shoulder. That leads to 911 calls, including 19 that the state patrol got about cyclists on U.S. 2 between February last year and this year, Harding said. Most of the time, troopers just make sure they are OK, she said.

“Be predictable, stay the course, do not swerve,” Schoenfelder said when asked for highway riding advice. “If you’re holding a lot of cars up, find a place to pull over and let drivers pass.”

Schoenfelder and Stewart each recommended a rearview mirror, either attached to the helmet or handlebar. Stewart uses a rear radar that beeps when a vehicle is coming up to it. Those devices can cost $200.

BIKES of Snohomish County members want better options to cross U.S. 2 and more clear routing and signs, Stewart said. More broadly, they hope for more and safer bike infrastructure, specifically protected bike lanes, across the county.

Where separated paths aren’t feasible, they’d like more room on the shoulders since rumble strips can be dangerous for bike tires, Stewart said.

Have a question? Call 425-339-3037 or email streetsmarts@heraldnet.com. Please include your first and last name and city of residence.

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