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Biking during the pandemic

Screenshot from a Cascade Bicycle Club blog post "Empty Streets and Wide Open Bike Lanes"
Cascade Bicycle Club’s Paul Tolmé recently found light traffic during the downtown Seattle evening rush hour. Read the post.

With the announcement that Seattle Public School will close for at least two weeks and gatherings of 250 people of more have been banned, our region has reached a new level in its social distancing efforts. Events venues have been shuttered, and many businesses are voluntarily shutting their doors. Bike Works, for example, is closed until March 29 and Cascade Bicycle Club’s annual Seattle Bike Swap has been postponed from March 22 to June 14.

The pandemic has also shaken up how people get around. Though public health officials have not (yet) told people to avoid transit, people are clearly feeling uneasy about using it. But people do need to get around, and many people rely on transit.

New York City is encouraging people to walk or bike to get around, and that’s not bad advice for the Seattle region, either. In fact, biking might not just be good way to get around, it might also be one of the best ways to stay healthy and active when so much of the city is closed. After all, being sedentary is also not healthy for your body or your mind.

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If you are thinking about biking to get around for the first time (or starting again after years off the bike), you may find that much of the city is much easier to access by bike than you expect. This is especially true of downtown where the city has nearly completed a fully-separated bike route from Lake Union Park (and the Fremont Bridge) to the International District. You will also likely find that traffic is much lighter than usual thanks to so many people working from home. That’s what Cascade Bicycle Club’s Paul Tolmé found one recent evening rush hour downtown.

One possible complication to biking now is that some bike shops may follow Bike Works’ lead and close. No bike shop (except maybe REI) is anywhere close to reaching the 250-person limit health departments have imposed, but that doesn’t mean they will stay open.

Years ago, we published a “How to bike in the Seattle rain” guide, and that may be useful to any fair-weather riders out there. But this is probably a good time to put together a more general “how to start biking” guide. What questions do you think are important to include in such a guide? If you are just getting started, what questions do you have? Ask in the comments below or email me at [email protected]. I’ll not only try to answer it, but your question will also help me put together a more useful guide for others.

This might also be a good time to share some great just-for-fun bike rides for those who are feeling antsy at home. What are your favorite resources or methods for finding a good recreational ride? Let me know.

Take care of yourself, and take care of your community.

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9 responses to “Biking during the pandemic”

  1. Breadbaker

    As an older person down here in Kent, I’ve found that biking on the Green River and Interurban trails is both healthful and keeps me pretty isolated from anyone else. I’m doing it for recreation and not transportation, but it gets me out of the house without putting me at risk.

  2. Kelly

    Last summer I had to explain to some cyclists in front of me why the light wasn’t changing for them- because nobody was sitting on the bike sensor. An explanation of the different types of signals, and triggers would be helpful to new riders or riders new to the Seattle area.

    1. This would be great for new cyclists, especially since the sensors can be diamond-shaped, circular-shaped, have the little bike symbol with 2 stripes (one for each wheel), or even just be infrared cameras on the light poles. I would add to this the variety of ways a cyclist can go through an intersection, particularly if they are traveling in a protected bike lane, like box turns, using bike boxes to wait for left/right turns onto cross streets, navigating diagonal crossings like on 8th Ave/Virginia or 9th/John, etc.

    2. Yes – this is helpful! I’ve had trouble with sensors in the past, such as going southbound on the Fremont Ave greenway. Going north, the bike trigger detects me every time, but that isn’t the case going south for some reason.

  3. I’ve been bike commuting from Tukwila into downtown Seattle every weekday for the past few weeks, and the 2 things I’ve noticed are: 1) traffic volume is down, and 2) traffic speeding is up. It’s nice having a little more space on the roads, but I do not like that drivers have chosen to use the extra space by driving fast.

    Other than that, it’s been just a bit eery with the weight of the pandemic on the mind.

    1. Tristan

      Sadly, that is expected behavior (see 35th Ave NE road design).

  4. asdf2

    In some ways, unusually light traffic can make riding the bus less reliable, in that buses can be early, and you don’t really know how whether or how much. A connection between two 30-minute routes that typically works just fine or a normal day might be completely mistimed on a very-light-traffic day.

    This week, I chose to avoid the issue by riding my bike instead. The weather was relatively warm. It was windy, but with an e-bike, headwinds don’t matter so much. I don’t know how the bus would have turned out, but the bike is certainly less stressful because you’re always moving and you know you’ll get there.

  5. AW

    Suggestions for a getting started guide:

    * One of the most important things, especially for new riders, is route planning to avoid routes that are stressful for new riders. This section would explain how to read the Seattle bicycle map, have specific guidance for popular routes and suggestions on how to handle specific tricky spots, for example where the bike lane disappears for a few blocks.

    * Guidance on different kinds of bicycles and advice on what kind of bicycle and accessories work well for different kinds of riding.

    * Bicycle riding etiquette. Stay right. Don’t just stop in the middle of the trail. Don’t ride 2 or 3 abreast. The different opinions about when to run red lights and blow stop signs. Use a bell or voice when passing. Always watch out for pedestrians and slower users. Watch your speed especially when riding an ebike.

    * Practical advice about riding in traffic. When to take the lane. Watch out for the right hook. Watch out for BMW and other German cars.

    * Advice on clothing and equipment.

    * Advice on locks and how to keep your bicycle.

    * Guide to the various employers and buildings that provide bicycle facilities (secure storage, showers, etc)

    I am sure there are more.

    1. Andrew

      Speaking of maps, does anyone know when the 2020 SDOT print bike map will come out? I find the PDF a lot easier to use and simpler than the online “interactive” map but have to switch if I want updated information, esspecially downtown. Also, a general reminder that streets that Google marks as bike-friendly doesn’t necessarily mean anything (and that greenways often don’t show up in Google at all) would be good.

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