“Calmer traffic is just the beginning,” argues The Economist in a short article this week calling for protected bicycle facilities. To illustrate their point, they point to the death of Mike Wang, who was struck and killed in a hit-and-run in July:
DYING while cycling is three to five times more likely in America than in Denmark, Germany or the Netherlands. To understand why, consider the death of Michael Wang. He was pedalling home from work in Seattle on a sunny weekday afternoon in late July when, witnesses say, a brown SUV made a left turn, crunched into Wang and sped away.
The road where the 44-year-old father of two was hit is the busiest cycling corridor in Seattle, and it has clearly marked bicycle lanes. But the lanes are protected from motor vehicles by a line of white paint—a largely metaphorical barrier that many drivers ignore and police do not vigorously enforce. A few feet from the cycling lane traffic moves at speeds of between 30 miles per hour, the speed limit for arterials in Seattle, and 40 miles per hour, the speed at which many cars actually travel. This kind of speed kills. A pedestrian hit by a car moving at 30mph has a 45% chance of dying; at 40mph, the chance of death is 85%, according to Britain’s Department of Transport.
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The article then goes on to look at protected bike facilities, making the point that in many northern European cities, Wang would rarely have been exposed to fast-moving traffic. This is a similar argument to the one we made, arguing for a redesign of the South Lake Union segment of Dexter, which is currently designed to carry far more motor vehicles than it currently does.
The city is currently working on wide, buffered lanes for the section of Dexter between SLU and the Fremont Bridge. Paving work on the third and final section of work is set to begin next week.
The article ends by comparing bicycle safety in Portland to Seattle. While their comparison is a little misleading (both regions have, unfortunately, seen people killed while biking in recent months), their point is taken.
A few American cities have taken European-style steps to make streets safer for cycling, most notably Portland, Oregon, which has used most of the above ideas. The result: more bikes and fewer deaths. Nearly 6% of commuters bike to work in Portland, the highest proportion in America. But in five out of the past ten years there have been no cycling deaths there. In the nearby Seattle area, where cycling is popular but traffic calming is not, three cyclists, have been killed in the past few weeks.