A cougar attacked a group of five people biking on a private trail northeast of Fall City shortly after noon Saturday. The group fought the wild cat, eventually using a bicycle to pin down the young 75-pound male until help could arrive, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (“WDFW”).
“The people on scene took immediate action to render aid, and one of our officers was able to arrive within minutes to continue medical aid and coordinate transport,” said WDFW Lieutenant Erik Olson in a statement. “We may have had a very different outcome without their heroic efforts.”
A 60-year-old woman sustained injuries to her neck and face, but is in stable condition. WDFW spokesperson Becky Elder told The Seattle Times that the group “did everything right in fending off the cougar.” The terms cougar, mountain lion, puma, and panther all describe the same species of large wild cat.
Cougar attacks are exceedingly rare, and Elder told the Times that there have only been two fatal cougar attacks on record in the state. But one of those deaths occurred in similar-sounding circumstances. Nearly six years ago, a cougar attacked and killed SJ Brooks while they were biking on rugged roads north of the Mount Si conservation area. Their riding partner Izzy Sederbaum was injured trying to fight the cat. Brooks was the Founder of Seattle’s chapter of Friends on Bikes, a group for women, trans, femme and non-binary people of color. They were a rising leader in creating a more inclusive bicycling culture, and their tragic death was made even more painful by all the national media attention due to the unusual circumstances.
The King County Sheriff’s Office described the location as a wilderness area along Tokul Creek about five miles north of the City of Snoqualmie, according to NPR. That vague description puts it more than five miles from where Brooks was killed in 2018. Both attacks occurred on rugged roads or trails near the border of mountain wilderness and human residential development.
Two attacks within 6 years is still a rare occurrence, but it is wise for people going biking on old logging roads and remote trails to review resources on what to do when you encounter wildlife. It is also worthwhile to take a wilderness first aid course, especially if you bike or hike in remote places often. Wilderness first aid is typically a beginner-level course, so no previous first aid training is required.
If you can make it happen, moving by bike is the best way to move. We did it back in 2017 when we moved from the Central District to the U District/Wallingford, and it turned a very tedious task into a fun day full of smiling bike riders and bewildered on-lookers. And the most surprising part of the whole thing was that it was much easier and faster than packing and unpacking a U-Haul or doing a bunch of runs with a car.
JiaYing Grygiel wrote a story this week for the Seattle Times’ At Home section (will be in print Sunday) about eco-friendly moving, and it was a lot of fun to talk about our move by bike. It’s such a good memory, and I’ve had people who helped tell me it was one of their favorite group rides.
And moving by bike isn’t just for homes! One of my favorite Cascade Bicycle Club events ever was in 2014 when they invited folks to help them move their office stuff halfway across Magnuson Park all by bike. I remember a couple folks at Cascade thinking it would be little more than a photo op who were then surprised when everything was moved in just a couple hours. That experience helped give me the confidence that it would not only be possible to move houses by bike, but also fun.
So I’ll repeat what I told Grygiel: If you want to try moving by bike, feel free to reach out to me at [email protected]. I am happy to answer any questions you have, post about it on our events calendar and help spread the word. And if I can make it, I’d love to join, though I will expect pizza and beer at the end.
Since then, Back Alley Bike Repair‘s small but unique shop in the middle of a Pioneer Square alleyway has been a vital resource for people biking downtown as well as a hub for the bike scene. So it was heartbreaking news to receive a note from Ben Rainbow that they are shutting down after 12 years.
They are already cutting back service, and things will be on sale from now through the end of March.
“It’s been a wild ride and although this notion has weighed on me for the better part of a year,” said Rainbow. “I wanted to honor what we were able to accomplish and end things on my terms and a high note.” He said he’s keeping his plans for what comes next under wraps for now, but that he’s “super excited.”
The shop recently launched a limited run bike in collaboration with RatKing Frames called The Lost Highway. It’s a high note to go out on.
The closure is just latest in a troubling trend of Seattle bike shops closing their doors as the bike industry as a whole is confronting a hard swing back after years of high demand and low stock. This means it is a good time to buy a bike, but it also means that bike shops are struggling to keep the doors open and wrenches turning.
There I was, fresh coffee in hand, reading through my morning news when I saw my own site mentioned in a story by Ryan Packer at The Urbanist regarding an ethics complaint against the City of Bellevue’s friendly and hard-working Mobility Planning and Solutions Manager Franz Loewenherz. Surely this must be some kind of mistake, I thought, because this is the first I’ve heard of this. As a supposed party to this alleged unethical behavior, you’d think I would know about it.
I have requests out to the City of Bellevue to get a copy of the complaint and any other relevant documents about their ongoing investigation (UPDATE: I have the complaint. See the UPDATE section below). But I suppose I’m in the privileged position here of being able to search my own email for the evidence. So that’s what I did, turning up a grand total of one email thread from Loewenherz since 2021. It was a September 7 email to me, Vicky Clarke from Cascade Bicycle Club, Katherine Hollis of Eastside Trail Partners and Chris Randels of Complete Streets Bellevue telling us that the Bellevue Transportation Commission would be holding a meeting in a week about Bike Bellevue. Transportation Commission agendas and presentation materials are posted publicly online in advance of every meeting, so this wasn’t secret information.
Loewenherz then sent a follow-up email September 15 after the public meeting saying that the meeting happened, and then another on September 18 with a copy of a mass email Bellevue had sent out about the online feedback portal along with a link to a media story about it. And that’s it. That is every piece of communication Seattle Bike Blog has had with Loewenherz in recent years. We ended up posting our story September 20.
I have no idea what the complaint is here. It’s pretty common for officials to give relevant stakeholders and media a heads up about scheduled public proceedings regarding a project they have been following. Seattle Bike Blog has “Seattle” in the name, but we cover the whole region including Bellevue. We have many readers who live, work and travel through Bellevue, and we’ve covered essentially all the city’s major bicycling planning efforts in the past 14 years or so. At times we were the only ones covering this stuff. If you’re trying to reach people who ride bikes in Bellevue, it makes sense to contact Seattle Bike Blog. The other people copied on the email were members of organizations working on biking issues in Bellevue, also groups you’d want to contact if you were collecting feedback on a bike plan. It would be negligent NOT to contact local bike groups when collecting feedback on a bike plan.
It’s especially surprising to see an ethics complaint against Loewenherz because at least in all of my contacts with him since 2013, he’s always been such a cautious and by-the-books kind of city staffer. The Bike Bellevue plan is ambitious, but it’s been developed through a very drawn-out and careful process. It’s a follow-up to the city’s 2017 “Bicycle Rapid Implementation Plan” and 2018 downtown protected bike lane pilot project. Those launched six years ago and were themselves follow-up efforts to the Vision Zero plan Bellevue started in 2015 in part to address shortcomings in Bellevue’s 2009 Pedestrian and Bicycle Plan. Loewenherz is typically very careful not to skip steps in the public process, which can be frustrating to safe streets advocates who want to see a lot of changes as quickly as possible. Loewenherz has a lot of patience, and that patience has paid off in the form of some significant bike projects even in difficult locations within Bellevue’s downtown. Someone trying to move faster may have hit a brick wall of opposition long ago.
I have no inside information about the ethics complaint or the investigation. Maybe there’s some other damning piece of evidence that doesn’t involve Seattle Bike Blog, but I’m not aware of anything at this time. I’ll follow-up when I learn more. As for now, the Bike Bellevue effort seems to be on pause, according to Packer at The Urbanist. Hopefully this pause does not last long because Bellevue has a lot of work to do to make all these streets safer.
The complaint was also submitted as part of the 250-page public feedback summary (thanks Hanoch and Ryan for pointing me to it). The complaint (PDF), filed by Bellevue resident Phyllis White, requests that the city remove Loewenherz from the Bike Bellevue project and restart the entire outreach process. The specific code the complaint accuses Loewenherz of breaking was BCC 3.90.040, which states, “No city employee shall engage in any act which is in conflict with, or creates an appearance of conflict with, the performance of official duties.”
The complaint includes screenshots of the email thread I described above as well as two emails that did not include Seattle Bike Blog. It specifically cites 5 alleged unethical acts, though they do not actually seem to be entirely distinct from each other. I am not a lawyer, though, so take my word with a grain of salt here. But one detail that really stands out is that the complaint latches onto the fact that Loewenherz opened one of the emails with the phrase “Hi Team.” The complaint then erroneously refers to any of the advocates he is communicating with as “his team.” This was just a casual, informal greeting, like saying, “Hi guys,” or “Hey y’all.” Everyone on that email already knew Loewenherz from his many years of work for Bellevue, so the casual tone did not seem out of place or inappropriate to me. As one of the people on the email, I can assure you we were not a team beyond the fact that we all work on safe streets issues. This complaint is reading way too much into that one word.
The only real new (to me) information in the complaint are two emails in which Loewenherz shared some public comments with a couple people including Complete Streets Bellevue and Eastside Urbanism. There is also an email in which he tells some advocates that they have revised the way they talk about parking impacts in response to feedback. Loewenherz includes the phrase “sharing in confidence” when sharing the public comments, which complaint alleges as evidence of “acknowledged impropriety.” But these were public comments, key word: “public.” I don’t think it’s unethical for a public official to share a public comment. There’s also no further context around these emails, so it’s impossible to come to a conclusion based solely on them. Perhaps he was asked about them? Of course it does look shady when someone says, “sharing in confidence,” and I have no insight into why he used that phrase. Again, this is just the complaint, and I have no access to his defense or the other elements of the investigation. But based on my previous experience with Loewenherz, I know he’s someone who is very hesitant to go around putting people on blast, so that’s what I assumed he was trying to avoid when I first read the emails. But again, I have no inside information about this.
As for the final email, he is informing some people who are doing outreach to building managers that Bellevue has updated one of its infographics related to impacts to parking in response to feedback. The complaint alleges that in the email he was trying to “avoid having to disclose such impacts by using Eastside Urbanism as a communications proxy,” but it seems to me that he was instead informing them of the updated graphic. Of course Eastside Urbanism doesn’t have to follow the city’s official language because they are an independent group, but I don’t see how updating the info and then sending that updated info to people is a problem. And it is quite a stretch to claim that Eastside Urbanism could possibly be considered a “communications proxy” to the City of Bellevue. They have 195 followers on Twitter, a Meetup page and a Discord server (and sound like a great group to join if you’re into urbanist issues on the Eastside). They are the kind of people who probably ask Loewenherz a lot of questions because this is the stuff they’re into. These are urbanism geeks (again, no offense intended, I use that phrase as a compliment). I mean, who else could possibly care about Bellevue updating the language around parking impacts on page 5 of the Bike Bellevue Draft Concepts Guide?
So the allegations here are that Loewenherz, the city staffer tasked with developing and carrying out the Bike Bellevue, sent notices of public proceedings to bike media and advocates, used the word “team” in a casual manner once, shared public comments, and shared updated language about parking impacts. We’ll see if the ethics investigation thinks these are violations, but I sure don’t see it.
But in the spirit of throwing around wild accusations, this all sounds to me like bike lane opponents trying to disparage a public servant’s reputation and honor in a desperate effort to subvert the official process because they know they are losing. Loewenherz runs such a tight ship that the only thing they can hope to do is to take him down personally because his work is too careful to attack on its merits.
Taylor McKenzie Gerlach set a goal for herself: For the darkest month of the year, she would bike every trip that was 30 minutes or less. She was new to bike commuting during a Seattle winter, but she found inspiration and help from middle school science teacher Jessica Levine. Levine was featured in an excellent Commute Seattle video in 2022.
Taylor documented the experience for Outside, and it’s wonderful. It sounds a lot like my first winter biking in Seattle, which was the experience that inspired me to start this blog. There are challenges, of course, but the rewards are plentiful and perhaps unexpected.
I won’t lie, traveling exclusively by bike during Seattle’s winter sounded questionable on paper. But once I tried it, it wasn’t all damp leggings, waterlogged socks, and sweaty puffy jackets. My month-long experiment kicked off with some rules: if Apple Maps told me a location was accessible in 30 minutes or less aboard my nineties steel frame mountain bike, then I’d be biking, rain or shine.
The end of daylight savings time hit hard this year. As sunsets marched back towards 4 P.M., my energy levels sank. Prying myself from bed each morning felt like an Olympic event, and and my productivity surfaced in fickle waves throughout the day. Perhaps mandated movement and fresh air would break up my days and unlock consistent energy. If anything was going to save me from the deep winter blues known in the region as the “Big Dark,” I told myself, maybe it was bike commuting.
Seattle’s new City Council held its first Transportation Committee meeting Tuesday, and every member in attendance was a new Councilmember. The only returning Transportation Committee member is Dan Strauss (D6), but he was excused Tuesday because he was in Olympia on city business. Chair Rob Saka (D1), vice-chair Joy Hollingsworth (D3), and members Bob Kettle(D7) and Tanya Woo (interim citywide) were there to hear an introduction to SDOT’s work from SDOT Director Greg Spotts.
The meeting was an opportunity to get a sense of the committee’s early dynamics. Only Saka and Kettle spoke at any length from the dais about their transportation opinions. Councilmember Woo asked questions about community outreach and Sound Transit station siting, but did not pontificate. CM Kettle’s bike lane misinformation ended up being the most notable takeaway from the committee’s first meeting, unfortunately. More on that below.
Saka opened reiterating some things he told Seattle Bike Blog recently, namely that he has “a heavy focus” on bridges and streets. “Representing District 1, which includes West Seattle, one of my goals is to make sure no other community in Seattle experiences what we experienced with a protracted closure of a critical bridge,” he said. “I also want to focus on safety and comfort of pedestrians and making real tangible progress on our Vision Zero goals in part through a once-in-a-generation investment in new sidewalk infrastructure.”
Before turning the mic over to Director Spotts, Saka also acknowledged the $1.2–$1.7 billion elephant in the room. “I look forward to a spirited discussion about the size and direction of the upcoming transportation levy with you all and members of the public.”
Meet up in the center of the park at 7ish. Leave at 730. Every Thursday from now until forever rain or shine. Bikes, beers, illegal firepits, nachos, bottlerockets, timetraveling, lollygagging, mechanicals, good times.ShareMastodonTwitterFacebookRedditEmail
Ballard-Fremont Greenways meets monthly on the 4th Wednesday of the month. Join the google group for monthly meeting information: https://groups.google.com/g/ballard-greenwaysBring your enthusiasm and ideas to share with the group or just stop in to say hello[…]