Artist paints scenes of people on bikes mixing with ‘giants’ on downtown streets

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Riding With Giants (#1)

Of all the action on downtown Seattle streets, it was the “fascinating ballet” of people biking among the buses on 3rd Ave that caught William Houston‘s eye.

After painting a series of scenes from area bridges, he found that people biking were his favorite part of the scenes. From an email to Seattle Bike Blog:

After the bridges I started some more epic bustling downtown paintings of traffic. And though I enjoyed doing them, the bikes were my favorite part. I think I finally just sat and watched the madness on 3rd Ave near Pine where there is a fascinating ballet of bike commuters and buses that goes on every day. I grew up riding bikes and racing BMX before getting into mountain biking, so I am very comfortable in the saddle, but I’ve never commuted downtown like that. There’s something very intimidating about the thought of riding sandwiched between buses and cars that gives me pause.

Obviously, this is not an art blog, but his scenes highlight the absurdity that is biking downtown today. When you are on your bike and just gotta get where you’re going, you make route choices that feel most comfortable to you. A lot of people have decided that they prefer 3rd Ave because it’s relatively flat and at least the buses are mostly predictable.

But when you see the scenes through Houston’s eyes, it really looks crazy that this is the best bike route option the city has provided people who want to ride their bikes to work or the game or any of the other thousands of reasons people might head downtown. Of all the reasons why more people don’t bike in Seattle, the uncomfortable and intimidating downtown streets is probably the biggest.

But the people in Houston’s paintings don’t seem particularly worried. Maybe they’ve just become used to the way things are, so they can bike on 3rd Ave as though nothing is out of the ordinary. In the end, they are images of people making it work, even if “it” is a rather strange combination of our biggest urban vehicles and our smallest.

You can check out more of Houston’s work online at his website. You can also see it in person in the Urban Energy exhibit at the Cole Gallery in Edmonds.

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14 Responses to Artist paints scenes of people on bikes mixing with ‘giants’ on downtown streets

  1. Theresa says:

    I loved William’s work and got to pick up my print yesterday! I stopped in at Cole Gallery to pick it up and got to see them in person. I love love love it! It was hard choosing they are all really great.

  2. bill says:

    “it” is a rather strange combination of our biggest urban vehicles and our smallest

    Or a combination of the most careful road users — professional drivers who may lose their livelihood after a collision, and bicyclists who may be killed.

    I reflexively dislike being around busses because they are so huge, but rationally I know the drivers are safer than most other drivers.

    • Ints says:

      For me, riding on 3rd AV is one of the most comfortable parts of my former commute. As Bill says, Metro bus drivers are far more aware and considerate of other users of the road than most SOV drivers and the other usual suspects sharing the streets. Buses and their drivers also seem to be much more predictable when sharing the road with others.

    • Andy says:

      Well put. 3rd during commute hours is one of the safest roads to ride on in Seattle. Not one of the “perceived safest”, but I’d much rather trust our bus drivers than the average motorist – they’re much more likely to have had their morning coffee already and not be distracted texting. The best thing the City could do for cycling downtown is to close 3rd to cars all day long and remove the counterproductive bike lanes on 2nd and 4th.

    • Matthew says:

      My biggest concern with 3rd Ave is the pedestrians that sprint out into the street without warning. I have learned not to ride next to the curb, and I prefer to ride in the left lane if I can, just to get more time to react. I have had a lot more close calls with peds than with buses.

      • Matthew says:

        In fact, sometimes I prefer riding near a bus because peds pay more attention to when there is a bus coming. If you are visible and predictable, buses tend to be safe around cyclists.

      • Andy says:

        The left lane is definitely safer going southbound – makes you more predictable by not needing to change lanes to pass buses. Going up the hill northbound it depends on how fast you feel like going – anything over 12mph or so and the left lane is the appropriate place to be.

  3. Patty Lyman says:

    I kinda call it playing leap frog with the buses.

  4. Zach Shaner says:

    I too ride 3rd frequently, as it’s the flattest route downtown and I’m a young fit-ish guy. I ride in the left lane at all times unless I need to turn right, both to minimize direct exhaust inhalation and because bikes are so much faster than buses during peak. It’s unpleasant, loud, and more than a little unnerving at first, but once you’re accustomed to it it’s miles ahead of the experience on 2nd or 4th. I’m still dying for protected bike lanes, but for now 3rd Ave is the least awful bike route between Pine and Yesler.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      I never got used to biking on 3rd. I’ve done it, but can’t say I personally liked it better than 4th or 2nd (assuming you are not in the 2nd Ave bike lane, which is the worst). In fact, I almost ate it on the metal grates, which stretch across much of the roadway and are slick as ice when wet. Maybe that just left a sour taste in my mouth.

      But I’ve heard from a lot of people who prefer it, like clearly a lot of readers do. And really, it’s not too hard to improve on any of the other downtown options.

      Protected bike lanes can’t come soon enough downtown.

      • Andy says:

        Unless they really goldplate those protected bike lanes they’re still going to be dramatically more dangerous than either riding in the GP lanes on 2nd/4th or riding on 3rd. Being even less visible to left-turning vehicles at every other intersection is a terrible idea without both a significantly expensive design and a commitment to enforcement. Given that SDOT hasn’t yet managed to avoid compromising on a bike infrastructure project, it’s hard to keep much hope that they’ll be able to find both the funding and political willpower to implement it safely.

  5. mimi says:

    I LOVE riding on 3rd avenue with the buses

    and thanks for sharing William Houston’s art with us!!

  6. Wells says:

    The emporer wears no clothes.

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