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Stranger: This is why we need protected bike lanes downtown

The Stranger’s Dominic Holden happened on the aftermath of a collision on 2nd Avenue’s notoriously dangerous bike lane downtown yesterday. The person hit was scraped up and shaking, but was not seriously injured.

However, Holden notes that this collision is not rare, and makes the case that we need protected bike lanes (AKA cycle tracks) downtown to prevent these all-too-common kinds of collisions in the future.

From Slog:


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This is yet another example of why Seattle needs protected bicycle lanes, lanes that are separated from vehicle traffic by some sort of physical barrier. Sometimes they’re called cycle tracks. They’re found in cities around the world to prevent exactly this sort of collision from happening. On Second and Fourth Avenues, the primary thoroughfares through downtown Seattle where the lanes are counter-intuitively on the left side of the street (because buses pull over on the right), the traffic is all one direction and it moves fast. I’ve ridden on both, and, well… accidents like these have nearly happened to me about a dozen times when drivers have swerved into the bike lane.

We need more infrastructure to delineate where cyclists have right of way, obviously, but there’s a problem.

The city’s Bicycle Master Plan, created in 2007, has barely been funded. At five years into the 10-year plan, we’ve paid for only $36 million of the $240 million goal. That’s less than one-quarter of the funding it needs, while the council finds political unity around spending $930 million for an underperforming freeway tunnel (that contains no accommodations for bikes or transit). Meanwhile, data from the Seattle Department of Transportation and other sources show that, as more people are riding bikes in Seattle, collisions and cyclist fatalities are on the rise. This has to end.

Treating cycling like a political football has to stop. Deferring cycling investments needs to stop. People’s safety and their lives are on the line—and they’re not activists. They’re just people, commuters. Bicycle accidents can’t be eliminated entirely by protected bicycle lanes, and I don’t mean to say they can, but it would have eliminated this one and countless others just like it.

The city has budgeted money for 2013 to create a center city mobility plan that will include cycle tracks. However, we will not likely see anything on the ground in Central Business District until 2014, which seems like forever away when cycling continues to increase despite our backwards, mid-20th Century downtown streetscape.

In the process of making his case, he also brings up a whole other argument: Is riding a bike a political act? That’s a huge can of worms. But it seems to me that as more people ride bikes for everyday transportation, it does become harder to use cycling as a political football. After all, these are your friends, family and coworkers out there biking, not some negative archetype of a supposedly militant cyclist that shock jocks and some Seattle Times columnists yell about.

On the other hand, the more people biking, the more pressure we can put on politicians to take bold action needed to make the city safer and more accessible for even more people on bikes.


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26 responses to “Stranger: This is why we need protected bike lanes downtown”

  1. LWC

    I will continue to eschew the door-zone bike lane on 2nd ave and exercise my legal right to take the full auto travel lane. I’d encourage others to do the same.

    1. Take the lane! Right on.

  2. Robin

    you can also ride in the Bus lane legally

    1. LWC

      I’m not sure if that is the case: the signs don’t explicitly say bikes are OK, and I vaguely recall someone at a SBAB meeting several years ago saying they had received a ticket for riding in the 2nd Ave bus lane. Does anybody have a definitive answer on that?

      1. Robin

        now that you mention it I don’t see anything that says you can bike in a bus lane. does anyone know if you can? and have a link?

      2. Tom Fucoloro

        You can bike in the bus lanes. At least in Seattle. I’m not sure if that’s specifically written somewhere or not (can anyone find the RCW?)

        This came up during the Burke-Gilman closure, since people were biking in the bus lane on 522. Metro and the County determined this was legal, but not recommended. Some bus lanes downtown have sharrows, but others don’t. But either way, I am 95% sure it’s legal.

      3. For some reason I seem to recall that it was primarily WSDOMA that discouraged biking in the bus lane.

  3. Peri Hartman

    LWC: totally agree.
    I ride down the middle lane, and since it’s downhill it’s not too hard to keep up with traffic. I call the bike lane the “suicide lane”. On the left you have car doors which could be fatal at 25-30 mph. On the right you have people making left turns. Totally unsafe.

    If we have a cycle track, my question is: how do you go fast (25-3omph) in it and still safely cross intersections?

    1. Orv

      I don’t think cycle tracks are intended for high speed cyclists; I think they’re targeted more at commuters on cruiser-type bikes.

      1. Tom Fucoloro

        It doesn’t really matter what bike you have, but it’s true that maximizing top speed is not a primary goal for cycle tracks. It’s possible you will have to ease up a little if you are used to hauling ass, but that’s a small price to pay for safety and making the city more inviting for tentative people who would like to bike, but would not feel comfortable cycling with heavy traffic.

        As for safety at intersections, bike-specific and left-turn-only signal phases are probably going to be needed in many situations. There might also be turn restrictions and things as needed. Those details will be worked out during the design process, but I’m confident that a safe solution can be found.

      2. Orv

        Yeah, I think that makes sense. Realistically if you’re able to maintain 25-30 mph, you’re in moped territory and might as well move along with vehicle traffic.

      3. Tom Fucoloro

        Yes, and according to WA state law, you will still be legally allowed to take the general traffic lane if you choose to.

      4. Peri Hartman

        Thanks, Tom & Orv, for the clarification. I was not sure who the cycle tracks were oriented to. I suppose it does make sense not to use them if you’re going near traffic speed.

  4. Orv

    As long as Critical Mass is still doing their thing, bicycling will continue to be seen as an act of anti-car protest.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Critical Mass is very small these days. I went to one or two last year and I would say the biggest I saw was 20 people, many of whom were just commuters who joined up on their way to somewhere else.

  5. A

    Another part of the problem is that people who have no business operating heavy machinery in proximity to the public see driving as their only option. Drivers licenses are handed out like candy, driving is seen as a right as opposed to a privilege, which is why you see so many “accidents” and road rage. I’m of the opinion that private non commercial motor based traffic has no place in urban cores. Leave the driving to the professionals and send the incompetent amateurs out into the suburbs where they belong.

    1. Orv

      A lot of the fatal accidents described here are with commercial vehicles such as dump trucks, so I’m not sure that would help.

      1. A

        If you believe that private non commercial autos aren’t a major issue and that the only problems are the ones reported here you must not ride a bike.

  6. I ride down 2nd Ave every morning and yes that bike lane is useless. Drivers completely ignore it or just use it for a sweet parking space.
    As for the buses: I used to occasionally ride south on Lake City Way from Lake Forest Park in that bus lane and on numerous occasions a bus would lay on the horn or pass dangerously and unnecessarily close when there was no other southbound traffic. And I’m riding on the right side of the lane too. I’m curious as to what the actual traffic law is. Not that a cyclist had another choice when the Burke Gilman was closed though.

  7. Breadbaker

    I think we’d have a much safer and saner downtown if no one, cyclist, car, truck or bus, drove 30 mph. The rage I see between cab and pedestrian, between SOV and bike and the buses I see ploughing through intersections at red lights do not contribute to a healthy environment. We have a very small downtown, and thinking of our downtown streets as places to accelerate only adds to the frustration, while not really helping anyone. Stand at Fifth and Union some afternoon and watch the cars gunning through the intersection to get one light ahead to turn onto I-5 and tell me you don’t agree.

    1. Mike Lindblom

      Hi Breadbaker — You’re onto an interesting idea. Can’t remember the last time I drove 30 downtown, but have often bicycled 25 mph there, to stay clear of the buses. I would like to hear more about your personal experiences downtown. Call me at 206-515-5631 anytime today, please.
      Mike Lindblom, Seattle Times.

      1. Tom Fucoloro

        I think I saw something in the past couple years about the average vehicle speed downtown. I think it was like 5 mph, but I don’t remember exactly. Anyone have that link?

        Underlying all this is the problem that downtown streets and signals are designed and timed to maximize access to highway on-ramps. However, downtown is not a series of highway on-ramps, it’s a place (our region’s most important place, probably). We need to seriously rethink how our downtown streets work, and I’m hopeful the upcoming center city mobility study looks into this.

  8. LWC

    I did some poking around last night, and could find nothing in the Seattle Municipal Code or the Revised Code of Washington specifying whether or not bicycles are permitted in bus only lanes when there is no explicit mention on the signs. It would be very nice to have this clarified, as it seems that several of us are confused about the law! Is there any authority that would be a good contact on this?

  9. Off topic, but: is this going to warrant a link in the Bike News Roundup, or a full-fledged post?

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Yes! More BMP posts coming soon…

  10. Jesse o

    I got pulled over by a SPD motorcycle cop a year ago for riding in the bus lane on 2nd and union at 7:05AM on a Monday morning. No ticket but a written warning.

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