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Colbert Report’s Washington unicycle law claims a little ‘truthy’

Last week, the Colbert Report ran a very funny bit about a New York unicyclist’s fight for his right to ride on the sidewalk. In the video, they list four states with laws on the books singling out unicyclists, and Washington is one of them.

“But wait,” I thought, “if I can ride my bicycle on the sidewalk, why can’t someone ride a unicycle?” So I looked into it. It would appear Colbert’s well-known distaste for “books” and “facts” also applies to Washington state law books.

Turns out, there is no mention of unicycles in Washington State law. The law misquoted in the episode (WAC 352-32-075) does not use the word unicycle, but unicycles would likely fall under its definition of “nonmotorized cycles.” However, the law merely states that you can’t ride a bike (or, by definition, unicycle) on state park trails unless they say so. So mountain unicyclists need to stick to mountain bike trails, it seems.

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But what about the rest of the state? Seattle law also fails to mention unicyclists specifically. Considering you can bike on the sidewalks here, you can surely ride a unicycle. However, bicycle laws (and common sense) state you must yield to pedestrians.

The question for Washington unicyclists seems less about whether they can behave as pedestrians (it appears they can) and more about whether they can access the added privileges given to bicyclists. For example, can you legally ride a unicycle on the street?

Washington state law defines a bicycle as “every device propelled solely by human power upon which a person or persons may ride, having two tandem wheels either of which is sixteen inches or more in diameter, or three wheels, any one of which is more than twenty inches in diameter.” Therefore, the road rights available to cyclists would not appear to apply to unicyclists. Tell that to this guy, though.

So rest easy, Washington state members of the Colbert Nation who also ride unicycles. It does not appear our state is out to get you. And as for you long-distance unicyclists… let’s just hope it never comes up.

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4 responses to “Colbert Report’s Washington unicycle law claims a little ‘truthy’”

  1. Nice research. When I taped this segment, the Colbert Report producers told me that in Alaska, it’s illegal to ride unicycle on the sidewalk AND on the street. I think the producers just singled out ever state that mentions unicycles in their legal code at all, since there’s not many. I’m glad that unicycle laws are tolerant in Washington. The pacific northwest is home to some of the greatest unicyclists of all time. Anyway, keep cycling, whether on one or two (or three) wheels.

  2. Chris

    WAC 478-116-051 defines non-motorized vehicles as:

    Nonmotor/nonmotorized vehicle. A device other than a motor vehicle used to transport persons. Nonmotorized vehicles include, but are not limited to, bicycles, skateboards, roller blades and roller-skates.

    But, that’s Chapter 478–116 WAC: Parking and Traffic Rules of the University of Washington, Seattle

    I don’t understand why it’s a big deal that unicycles are left out. Take snow sports for an example people who use snow skates make up a very small percentage (like unicyclists) of winter recreation users at ski areas. Which is why in technical documents a “skier” is usually defined something like a “user of a snow sliding device”

  3. New York State’s code is as follows:

    § 19-176 Bicycle operation on sidewalks prohibited. a. For purposes of
    this section:
    (1) The term “bicycle” shall mean a two or three wheeled device upon
    which a person or persons may ride, propelled by human power through a
    belt, a chain or gears, with such wheels in a tandem or tricycle, except
    that it shall not include such a device having solid tires and intended
    for use only on a sidewalk by a child.

    Unicycles are excluded because they don’t have the requisite number of wheels, and they are not driven by a belt, chair or gears. The story also doesn’t mention the fact that I was stopped at 3 am in one of the rougher neighborhoods in Brooklyn.

  4. In Seattle, bikes are allowed on sidewalks. http://clerk.ci.seattle.wa.us/~scripts/nph-brs.exe?s1=&s2=Riding+on+sidewalk+or+public+path&S3=&Sect4=AND&l=20&Sect3=PLURON&Sect5=CODE1&d=CODE&p=1&u=%2F~public%2Fcode1.htm&r=9&Sect6=HITOFF&f=G

    Seattle defines both bikes and unicycles. http://clerk.seattle.gov/~scripts/nph-brs.exe?s1=&s2=unicycle&S3=&Sect4=AND&l=20&Sect3=PLURON&Sect5=CODE1&d=CODE&p=1&u=%2F~public%2Fcode1.htm&r=2&Sect6=HITOFF&f=G

    Unicycles do not appear in the Seattle Municipal Code beyond the definitions. So perhaps they are indeed the enemy within. I’ve never been able to go far on mine…

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