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Let’s talk about responsible biking during this pandemic

Photo of a bicycle with a container of disinfectant wipes in the water bottle cage.So I have been working on a video for several days now about biking around Seattle amid the COVID-19 outbreak, but I keep changing my mind about what it should say.

On one hand, I wanted to make something wildly different than the deeply troubling contents of your news feed. I wanted to make something happy, to show that joy and wonder still exists outside your home. The news and the virus hasn’t killed the trees and moss surrounding Interlaken Blvd. And you can still go bike adventuring in Seattle without getting within six feet of another person.

But I also don’t want to downplay the seriousness of what’s happening in any way. I don’t want to come off as if I’m saying, “It’s OK, you can still live your life like normal.” Because you can’t.

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And during the past five days, the public health recommendations and government rules have changed dramatically. What seemed well within the guidelines just five days ago — going for a bike ride and keeping your distance from others — now feels like it is brushing up against the limits. It’s still within the guidance, but only if you are careful about where and how you bike. So let’s talk about that.

There is a decent chance that the guidance in Seattle tightens again soon, and the next step is ordering people to stay indoors. This is because people cannot be trusted to avoid gathering in groups. I mean, I saw it many times on a recent ride. We are social beings, and it’s just so hard to resist. But we need to. The Bay Area just instituted a “shelter in place” rule (PDF), and we should expect that to happen here, too. However, the Bay Area rules specifically exempt “outdoor activity” including walking, biking and running, so long as people follow the social distancing guidance.

So why go on a bike ride right now? This is an extremely stressful and anxious time. Being sedentary is not good for your health. And biking is a way to get out, blow off some steam and get some exercise while keeping a safe distance from others. It’s a chance to stop reading the news for a just a bit and take some time for yourself in the great big world outside your home. And it’s good for your mental health, which is also extremely important right now.

Of course, like any activity, you can be irresponsible while biking. It’s not magically safe. Being on a bike doesn’t make you immune. You have to be smart.

This one should be obvious, but do not go for a bike ride if you feel sick or are coughing or sneezing for any reason. Even if the coughing and sneezing isn’t from COVID-19, droplets in the air are one of the best ways for the virus to spread, and coughing and sneezing are among the best ways to spread those droplets. I am an intense seasonal allergy sufferer, so this one is tough for me. Remember that you can be contagious without showing symptoms. Assume you and everyone you encounter has it.

And for the love of god, don’t blow a snot rocket. It’s gross in the best of times, and downright irresponsible now. Bring a handkerchief or tissue or something. Stop riding and blow your nose safely if you need to.

If you are biking and you see that there is a crowd ahead, consider your options for avoiding it. The guidance is to maintain at least six feet from other people. If you can’t, then you should either wait until it clears up, find a different route, or go back.

That ties into my next point: Go on a ride for the sake of the ride, not the destination. Destinations are good motivators for a bike ride, but be ready to change your plans on the fly if it is too busy to responsibly visit. This happened to my family twice on a recent ride. We went to UW campus to see the cherry blossoms, but it was just a bit too crowded for comfort. So we turned around and left. We then biked to the Arboretum, which was also too busy. So again, we turned around and left. It’s nice that bikes make it easy to do that, and it was still a fun bike ride even without our destinations.

Likewise, this is a chance to try out some of the lesser-traveled routes around town. The Burke-Gilman Trail is of course very useful, but sections can get busy. Maybe explore some unfamiliar side streets. This incredible city never ceases to amaze and surprise me. In so many ways, this quarantine period is a way to break out of habits.

And always give people space. This is especially an issue at stop lights. I know it feels unnatural, but stop well in advance of the person in front of you and the crosswalk. Someone “shoaled” in front of us, which is where you bike to the front of a person or group stopped at a stop light so you can get out ahead of them when the light turns green. Men, especially roadie men, are notorious for this. Don’t do it in general, but especially not right now when the main concern is keeping distance.

And finally, don’t ride in groups. Not even your regular riding group. Like, maybe there’s a way to do it that is responsible and maintains a safe distance at all times, but I dunno. It seems like it would be just too easy to get in each other’s bubbles. Stick to solo rides or rides with people you already share space with.

Do you have any advice to offer to help people keep biking while also being responsible during this crisis? Did a bike ride cheer you up in recent days? Share in the comments below.

Take care of yourself and your community.

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18 responses to “Let’s talk about responsible biking during this pandemic”

  1. Kirk

    They banned biking in Italy and Spain, with the rationale being that if you get hurt and needed medical attention, you would be draining resources needed to fight the virus. I’ll still bike. I’m going to explore the trails from the Mercer Slough out to Snoqualmie Falls. I noticed them from the highway driving back from skiing this year and they intrigued me.

    1. MA

      It’s not just the drain on resources. It’s the last place someone without Covid-19 is going to want to be spending time.

  2. Peri Hartman

    France instituted a ban on going outside. It’s allowed for waking the dog, going to work, or buying food. That’s about it. To me, it sounds over-restrictive, as you are harmless and out of harms way as long as you keep reasonable distance from others. The loss of sanity and physical health seems a bad trade-off. (I suspect it will be largely ignored or circumvented – 10 trips to the grocer ?)

    I already went out on bike today. Will probably do again later. It’s cold, but dry :)

    One more comment: we need more police out on traffic control. I was out last night in very light traffic. When I was waiting to cross 105th NE, several cars went by at 40-50mph. This is not safe for anyone.

    1. Ballard Biker

      To me, it sounds over-restrictive, as you are harmless and out of harms way as long as you keep reasonable distance from others.

      The problem is that society was not keeping reasonable distances, leading to the exponential increase of cases, so we now have heavy restrictions.

  3. Damon

    Seems like a good idea to be extra sure you can fix most mechanical problems on the road, including multiple flats. I normally bike with a pretty minimal kit, but if I go out I’m going to start bringing more stuff with me than usual, and I probably won’t go farther from home than I’d be comfortable walking back from.

  4. Kathy

    I just biked from Uwajimaya to Georgetown Brewery on 6th Ave S. There is still plenty of freight traffic in SODO so please be careful biking around those big trucks. I got my St. Paddy’s Day growler filled so I can celebrate at home with my family. I carry a little eyeglass spray bottle full of hydrogen peroxide around so I can spray my gloves, etc.

  5. Janine

    In addition to the snot issue, for fsakes, stop spitting.

  6. Dave

    Cold air on your face and deep breathing might prevent the virus from taking hold

    1. Ice

      What? No. Proof please. This comment is pseudoscience

      1. Dave

        Respiratory infections are generally less common in people who do these things

      2. Ice

        That in no way relates to the claim that you made in your first post.

  7. Spot on. I’ve been wavering about this as well and you said basically exactly what I feel right now.

    The biggest thing that makes me caution recommending any riding at all is that I know we have to go through extreme efforts to discourage gathering right now, but there’s a balance to be had and staying away from parks and trails when others are there is what makes most sense to me.

  8. Alex

    “If you are biking and you see that there is a crowd ahead, consider your options for avoiding it. The guidance is to maintain at least six feet from other people. If you can’t, then you should either wait until it clears up, find a different route, or go back.”

    Went out for a ride on Sunday and struggled with this distance. I realized it is essentially impossible to ride on any trail in Seattle and avoid everyone by a distance of 6′ or more. Two people walking side by side probably leaves less than 6′ margin to pass safely on most trails. Let alone groups.

    I’ll probably hang it up for a few months, unfortunately.

    1. Ballard Biker

      Was bike commuting this week until we were told to work from home today. The Westlake path and the BGT between Fremont and Ballard were jam packed. I was glad I was a cyclist, because it would be downright impossible to maintain 6 ft if I was on foot.

  9. Janine Blaeloch

    I am now riding in the street much more than I normally do, because there is far less traffic and also because on the Burke and Sammamish River trails, there is a very noticeable increase in traffic, particularly families walking. It is great that everyone wants to get outside! But much harder to maintain distance on those congested trails.

  10. Breadbaker

    I live in Kent, so the Interurban and Green River trails are generally uncrowded, though there were clumps of people, mainly families but some teenagers, too, enjoying the fine weather Tuesday. Everyone, and I mean without exception, upon seeing me or my bell, moved to the side of the road and gave me adequate space. It was quite impressive.

    Today I had to walk five miles along Central Ave. (I had to leave my car to be serviced, something that could not be avoided; the service center was using gloves and we all maintained distance) and what you said about being careful applies to walking, too. Twice, large trucks making left turns across traffic did not look to see that there was a person crossing the driveway they were heading into. A pedestrian. This wasn’t a crosswalk, it was a driveway. They had their focus on the break in traffic in the lanes they needed to cross and paid zero attention to the sidewalk.

    I think I passed five people on the sidewalk. We all gave each other adequate space without making a big deal of it.

  11. notgniffubqp

    Ah yes, the bicycle…ever always a magnet for gross overreaction and terrible policy.
    You better not take a shower, might slip; prevention the better part of valor, or lather, or something like that. You heard it here firstly.

    And, of course, there is the strangely underreported moratorium on automobile accidents – about time you say!

    Or what-about the bus? Last time I rode one (last night) all the seats were still in place with no preventions, or even warnings, on how passengers sit/arrange themselves.

    But they are cutting service, so, by definition, more people on fewer busses. By design?

    Don’t go repeating this, but if I ran ST and/or KCMetro I would double the buses and halve the passengers; so crazy it might just work.

    And, do not get me started on grocery shopping and the total lack of the possibility of social distancing when strolling the aisles. Self-checkout quickly becoming the most direct route to self-infection, if you ask me.

    But we will stop those bicycles…

    In all seriousness, take care.

  12. JAT

    Spain: 1800 auto fatalities in 2018… 58 Cycling fatalities. Let’s outlaw cycling during the pandemic!

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