Cars spin wildly out of control. Bus routes, when they run at all, run sporadically and unpredictably. This can only mean one thing: It has snowed in Seattle.
On a normal day, riding a bicycle can make life in Seattle easier and more fun. It can get you out of many traffic jams, it can make you feel energized and healthy, and it can leave you with more money in your wallet. So can a bicycle also help you get around in the snow?
If you feel comfortable riding on busy streets, the city attempts to maintain a limited network of streets to connect neighborhoods. They prioritize work on these roads so people and goods can still get around. But as you may note in the map below, the prioritized roads tend to be the least bike-friendly roads in the city:
This is an obvious impediment to many people who bike, but do not like riding on the city’s busiest roads, such as Rainier Ave, 23rd Ave, 35th Ave SW and Lake City Way. Even if a cleared road has bike lanes, the lanes are often unusable because they get filled with road gunk and sludge or the plows skip them entirely.
Depending on conditions, trails and unmaintained arterial and residential streets can sometimes be good options. Fluffy snow can be a lot of fun to bike in (though it’s obviously a little slow-going), while watery sludge makes roads extra slick, yet still bikeable.
However, yesterday’s snow left the roads in the Central District (where I live) with an uneven layer of ice that makes biking pretty hard. Though biking on icy roads can be fun, it’s not a very efficient way to get around. Also, you might fall, obviously.
In a city that struggles to keep freeways and major bus routes running smoothly, it’s no surprise that clearing bicycle routes is not high on the priority list. In Copenhagen, the city plows the cycle paths before they plow the roads for cars. As a result, 80 percent of the city’s cycling population bikes year-round.
This isn’t to say that Seattle needs to put a ton of money into clearing bike routes. It really doesn’t snow that often here, and money would be better spent making our roads safer for the 360+ days a year without snow. Keeping the buses running should absolutely be Seattle’s highest transportation priority when it snows. Not only do buses get people where they need to go, but they also reduce the incentive for people to drive. Remember last year?
Anyway, if you are going to bike today, here are a couple tips.
- Be extra cautious when riding over metal grates or covers. They can be very slippery.
- If using a busy street, take the lane and give yourself lots of extra elbow room.
- Go as slow as you need to feel safe. Your safety is more important than trying not to inconvenience someone.
- Check your brakes often. Ice and snow can build up on your brake pads, making it hard to stop.
- Take turns very slowly. This is when you are most likely to slip if there is black ice.
- Walk or take a bus if you need to.
- Use common sense.
- Have fun!
If you have any to add or have any ideas for ways the city could make snowy biking easier and safer, let us know in the comments.