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Bike commuter describes scary experience on Alaskan Way

NOTE: We apologize that there was Bike News Roundup yesterday. We have been hard at work planning Saturday’s Safe Streets Social. Be sure to tell your friends about the ride. Look forward to seeing you there!

At Alaskan Way and S Massachusetts, facing north.

In a letter to Mike McGinn posted earlier today at West Seattle Blog, Kit Newman describes a near-miss experience with a truck on Alaskan Way near Atlantic (just south of the new Alaskan Way trail). A regular commuter from the Central District to West Seattle, Kit says he’s never had a closer call.

From Kit’s letter (Note: The street names have been changed. After talking with Kit, we decided the original streets in the letter were not accurate):

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I live in the Central District at 22nd avenue and Yesler Way. I work at a small architecture firm on California Ave. SW in West Seattle. I have been commuting by bike between the CD and West Seattle most days for the past 4 years. My normal route takes me down Jackson street to the water front and then south along East Marginal way to reach Spokane street and thus over the little bridge to West Seattle.  This incident happened along the southbound lane of Alaskan Way very near the Coast Guard port facility and the US Customs warehouse. Having just crossed the intersection of S. Atlantic St. and Alaskan Way right in front of the entrance to the Hanjin container port terminal, I proceeded south in the southbound lane of Alaskan Way. There were many bike commuters from West Seattle coming the northbound direction in the temporary bike lane along the west side of the street. Seeing the southbound lane ahead was clear of any vehicle traffic,  I elected to ride in that lane rather than against the opposing bike lane traffic coming northbound. The long line of opposing vehicle traffic in the northbound lane of Alaskan was stopped at that time because a freight train was using the rail crossing at S. Atlantic behind me.  

As I proceeded in the clear southbound lane ahead, to my utter astonishment, one of the several 18 wheeler container trucks that were stopped in the traffic of the northbound lane, pulled out of that lane, crossed the double yellow center line between lanes and proceeded to accelerate coming northbound head on to me in the southbound lane! I was so astonished at this, that it took me several seconds to realize that the truck would not stop. He was accelerating the whole time as I could hear the upshifting of the trucks engine as it came at me head on with no extra room to spare. When I finally realized that this truck would not stop and that MY life was at stake, I immediately braked to a halt, unclipped from my pedals and threw the bike over the jersey barrier and dove over after it just as this truck sped past me. Had I not done so, I am convinced that I would be dead now under the wheels of that fully laden truck! Dead. To add great insult to this injury I did see the face of the driver as he sped past. He was grinning triumphantly having scared me out of his way with a classic game of chicken.  I was so consumed in that moment with the urgent need to save my own life that I was not able to get a clear view of the trucks license plate or any other identifying marks. All I do know is that it was a black Kenworth cab, with a container loaded behind it and it was driven by a black man. Perhaps of East African decent.  It reached the north end of the southbound lane and turned left at S. Holgate into the Hanjin terminal. I could not give chase as my bike was damaged in my throwing it over the jersey barrier.  I was hysterical for several minutes before I could compose myself to attempt to continue on to work. I slowly made my way to work with only one front gear available.

In the comments at WSB, several people reported that drivers often cross the double yellow line Kit describes in his letter to get around traffic waiting for a passing train. Meanwhile, we posted a story in last week’s Bike News Roundup about the struggles of short haul truckers at Seattle’s port.

We do not know this driver’s reasons for doing what he did. As Kit puts it, it sounds like complete insanity and disregard for the lives of others. That or “the driver figured I could squeeze by him in that narrow strip next to the concrete barriers you see on the left” in the photo above, he said. But it certainly doesn’t do any good to have a bunch of stressed-out truck drivers who are barely scraping by driving around on our city’s roadways.

One of the truckers’ demands is for some kind of pay for time wasted stuck in traffic. Perhaps here’s another reason for the Port to provide such a benefit: We don’t want to incentivise recklessness on our roads.

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14 responses to “Bike commuter describes scary experience on Alaskan Way”

  1. Todd

    Tom, what’s your point about posting this article? What are you hoping to achieve? Have you never had a close call yourself? Do you always post your close calls here?

    1. David

      Todd, what’s the point of your comment? I didn’t think there was any. But the the point about the article, I think that it was posted because the trucker did drive in such a way that was in clear disregard for another persons life (who happened to be riding a bike) and that is worth publishing on a bike blog. At least it’s being published as a near miss rather than another cyclist death.

    2. Kellee

      Todd- I am glad this article was posted. As a person who rides that route almost every day I appreciate the warning about what happens at that particular stretch. I often do the same thing (ride in the road going south) when the road is clear and there is excessive bike traffic. I haven’t seen a car/truck use the south bound lanes to go north yet, but I have seen a few U-turns in front of me. Yeah, this is a specific incident, but it makes other cyclists aware of yet another danger on that route. I hadn’t even thought of a vehicle coming at me head on. I will now be alert to that. I am grateful for this article. Thanks Tom!

    3. Todd

      My point is there are dumbsh*t drivers everywhere and I run into them everyday. This is not news. Furthermore insinuating the Port should get truck drivers back to work so they don’t bother us is RIDICULOUS. I guess the next time I have a close call with a bonehead driver, I should send Tom an email so I can get posted.

      1. Yes, there are lots of dumbsh*t drivers out there. Of that group, however, there is a very small subset that are purposely homicidal. Given the events described here, I’d say it was worth posting.

        I can’t say for sure what would happen if the driver in question was a Metro driver but I can *guarantee* you that management would be *very* interested in this report – had it been a bus driver. I only wish the trucking companies made it as easy to report reckless behavior as Metro does.

  2. Gary

    “Threw my bike over the jersey barrier!” OMG!

    Well at least Kit was thinking fast. As for that insane trucker, sounds like he had just had enough. Not an excuse but when you push people to their limit they do crazy things. Glad Kit was ok.

  3. AJL

    Yes, I agree this belongs here. I have reported this area to SPD (actually the entire length of the street from Atlantic to Spokane St) as a hazard to cyclists due to aggressive driving by both truck drivers and regular motorists. I’ve seen drivers head the wrong way up the street, thankfully when I was using the terrible bike detour that is NOT required in spite of what some think, make U-turns in front of me, use Massachusetts as a “turn around” completely disregarding other street users, use the center turn lane as a parking strip or passing lane, use the bike lane as a parking strip, etc., etc., etc.

    It’s important to discuss now because construction is increasing in the area, the viaduct is due to start a cycle of shut-downs, the first coming up at the end of October, and drivers are getting very impatient at the very time patience is needed (after all, we are building all this new stuff for THEM!) and putting more vulnerable road users at risk. This are is a major link in the south/southwest bike corridor and it needs to be considered seriously.

  4. LWC

    Is there currently any plan to upgrade bike facilities south of Atlantic? The new path north of that is an absolute dream: it seems a no-brainer to continue the separated path along Alaskan Way down to the bridge path, especially with all the roadwork already happening in the area.

  5. AJL

    LWC: Alaskan/Marginal south of Atlantic is due to be re-paved / re-channeled along with the viaduct work…I think a schedule for that can be found on SDOT’s website pertaining to the Viaduct/tunnel project plans (I am too lazy to find link right now). It’s going to be called a “Frontage” road rather than a main artery…it will not be considered a thoroughfare like it is now. Hopefully most traffic will be using 1st and 4th and 99, although that’s up for debate. A bike lane will be installed on either side of the roadway, to/from access will be joined from the new path north of Atlantic. At least those are the plans now – they’ve been discussing it every so often at the Seattle Bike Board meetings too.

    1. LWC

      Thanks for the response! I couldn’t find much detail, but I found a bit of info after poking around at SDOT:
      “Soon, we’ll add additional bike lanes on Alaskan Way S. south of S. Atlantic Street.”
      I’d love to know more.

  6. Thor

    I take this route every day, but will certainly be staying on the Coast Guard side of the barrier from now on when I’m southbound and will instead have to weave through the numerous pedestrians within that little gauntlet in the morning.

  7. jdg

    i’ve ridden with kit on part of the commute to west seattle (its odd, as we are both reverse commuters, as most ppl go from WS to downtown, and thats why i remember him)

    he’s a totally sane and not a reactionary “BIKES ARE RIGHT” type of guy. if he wrote this, it must have been an extraordinary experience.

    when the city first started using this detour, there were police directing traffic for a while.. now its just angry drivers trying to get their job done. this nasty construction has made the truck drivers route to that port really slow. its been a total mess bike-route-wise aswell. slowly its getting better over there, but everyone is at wits end, riders and drivers.

    glad kit is OK

  8. Doug Bostrom

    Using an endless stream of tiny trucks to transfer containers from ship to rail is insane, almost as though somebody spent extensive time and effort figuring out the exactly most stupid and inefficient way of performing that job. No wonder the drivers of these trucks may seem a little crazy sometimes; a deranged personality might be helpful in ignoring the inherent pointlessness of the work.

    Here is the laughably inaccurate way the Port of Seattle describes the process of moving several thousand containers from each ship to rail cars: “We offer fast intermodal infrastructure and fast transfer from ship to rail.” Sure, if by “fast” we mean trucks waiting for trains to pass so they can unload the -single- container they’re each able to carry onto another train, or waiting at traffic signals, or being variously delayed by any of the myriad other suboptimal situations confronting mixed traffic on public roadways.

    Container ships serviced by the Port of Seattle typically unload thousands of containers here. Most of these containers are loaded onto the rail system for onward travel, this transhipment usually requiring a truck to make the extremely short trip to a separately located rail terminal. Having traveled thousands of miles nonstop from their points of origin these containers thus end up commingled with local traffic of all kinds, including bicyclists, in this particular case hapless Kit Newman. This lunacy is multiplied thousands of times per arriving container vessel.

    Mayor McGinn could bring a little more sanity to the situation by turning heat onto the Port of Seattle complete their facility after these many decades of operations. The Port could do this by eliminating the truck hop from ship to rail. To do otherwise is simply to continue wrapping ourselves around the Port’s incompetence, lack of influence or whatever is the underlying cause of this pathology.

  9. […] the scary tale by Kit Newman, who says he was nearly struck by a truck on S Alaskan Way near Atlantic? Well, West Seattle bike […]

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