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I am an avid bike-rider living in Spokane (Washington State). Spokane is a fairly large city, with many bridges built across the Spokane River. One such bridge is the Maple Street Bridge, which was built in the late 1960s and four lanes set to 45 miles per hour and a caged sidewalk on the west side.

In the summer of 2015, I was riding my bike in the right-hand southbound lane, and my presence in the lane angered many of the drivers on the bridge. The speed limit on the bridge is 45 miles per hour, but when a driver encounters me, s/he becomes enraged and flies past my bike faster than the speed limit.

I lost track of how many times people screamed at me as they passed after the fourth time. Also one man drove so close to my bike that his car's wing mirror brushed my jacket. I consulted my Grandmother about the incident later and she told me that riding a bike across the Maple Street Bridge is illegal. However, I thought biking on sidewalks is also illegal, and the City of Spokane is pretty good about letting bikers know via signs where they can and cannot ride a bike. I did not see any such warning sign while approaching the bridge, and the approach to the bridge is about one quarter of a mile long.

This bridge as I have mentioned only has one caged sidewalk on the west side. Once I am on the bridge deck, I cannot turn around and I cannot enter the sidewalk because of the cage.

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Why was I wrong to bike across the bridge?

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    What's your actual question? Is it legal to cycle across the bridge? Most of your question seems more like a rant at the bad behaviour of the motorists you encountered, rather than an actual answerable question. – David Richerby Mar 1 '17 at 21:55
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    Consider inquiring directly with the local authority who controls roads and bridges. That may be the bridge or transit authority, or the council, Its unlikely to be the police, but an email to them might set you on the right course. – Criggie Mar 1 '17 at 23:30
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    Welcome to Bicycles @Tiar. We recommend that new members take the tour to make best use of the site. The road you mention is exactly the kind of road that will get you killed. Those people were trying to tell you that. Use the bike / pedestrian way at the side. – andy256 Mar 2 '17 at 1:24
  • I've thrown out a somewhat rambling answer to match your post, but per David's comment, if you have a specific question you can add, you're more likely to get useful opinions. – SSilk Mar 2 '17 at 2:43
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    My understanding is that Spokane has a very active cyclists culture, and there should be some local organizations that can give you a "localized" answer, for that specific bridge. – Daniel R Hicks Mar 2 '17 at 13:01
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I can't speak for this bridge specifically, but here in Ottawa, Canada, we have at least one similar bridge and in our case, the part you're calling a sidewalk is actually a multi-use pathway from what I can understand, and bikes are expected to use that. As such, I would never use the traffic lanes on the bridge I'm referring to. The sidewalk/pathway part is still narrow so you have to slow way down and proceed very carefully when you encounter pedestrians, but it's worth it to avoid the car lanes on that particular bridge.

One thing I find helpful is to check out the roadway in question on Google Maps with the bicycle layer turned on. In the case of my bridge, it clearly shows the bike lanes on the side of the bridge as dedicated pathways, which may not be obvious to a newcomer to the bridge:

Ottawa Bridge

In your case there are no bikeways of any kind showing: pathways, or even shared lanes (dotted lines) on the bridge:

Spokane Bridge

But there are lanes visible on roads on either end of the bridge. So either your municipality has uploaded incorrect data to Google Maps for the bridge, or you're technically supposed to ride in traffic. However, if you feel unsafe, in my opinion for short distances like crossing a bridge, you should use the sidewalk and proceed very carefully around pedestrians. If it's a tight squeeze, get off and walk your bike when you get close to a pedestrian, or stop while they pass. I also find that very car-oriented bridges like that tend not to get much foot traffic so it's usually not too bad riding the sidewalks for the short distance.

Per the comment below, checking a route in Google Maps, it may suggest a more bike friendly river crossing if one is available. If it does not, you can also zoom out a little and turn on bike lanes to see what other options are around. In the case of your bridge, zooming out we see:

enter image description here (your bridge in red, two bike friendly bridges in purple)

Zooming in on the right hand option, and going to streetview, it has a separated two way bike lane which is quite pleasant:

enter image description here

That's about a 1 mile detour on a short commute across Maple Street bridge:

Route Comparison

Depending on your actual commute length that may feel negligible or may be a deal breaker. If your commute is much longer than that, you may also be able to rejig other parts of the commute so you take that other bridge without adding the full mile difference.

Hopefully some of this helps.

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    Could also suggest alternative river crossings? Other bridges up or down stream? – Criggie Mar 2 '17 at 6:03
  • Good point. I've updated my answer to provide some more suggestions on route planning. – SSilk Mar 2 '17 at 19:21
  • to SSilk: I always thought tha bikes are legally obligated to ride in traffic, but this incident on the bridge made me wonder what I'd heard. Thank you for the detailed analysis for both our cities as well. I also used to live in a house just to the side of Maple Street on the southern edge of Downtown, so that's why I chose the Maple Street Bridge as my route home that day. – Tiar Tenorio-Atoigue Mar 20 '17 at 20:14

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