Sustainability is about ecology, economy and equity.- Ralph Bicknese

The Hazards of Biking in Seattle

I can’t be the only SPU student to watch this skit of Portlandia and immediately think of its similarities to  my own neighborhood. And I can’t be the only one who has nearly been run off the road by Seattle bikers, especially around the Fremont Bridge and Ballard Bridge (where a bicycle handle sharply bruised my arm last spring).

Since May is National Bike to Work Month, this issue of street safety in Seattle becomes even more prevalent. Crowds of bikers, new and seasoned, are filling the city’s pavement, which provokes some mixed feelings in me.

Caution: mild rant ahead.

First off, let me say that I love it when people bike instead of drive. I love biking’s ecological and health benefits, and the community it creates. But while I commend Seattle’s increased efforts to make the city more bike-friendly and the recent increased number of bikers, I also worry about some of their unintended consequences.

More bicyclists mean more congested trails and bike lanes, which breeds road rage. This can come in any form of transportation. Around SPU, I often see bicyclists, drivers, and pedestrians react rudely to each other. And as a daily walker myself, I sometimes become the target for vehicles’ frustrations. And this, in turn, makes me mad.

This culture of street contempt is a growing concern for Seattle. The Seattle Bike Blog, for instance, has posted more than one column advising cyclists how to manage their anger on the road.

Of course, many cyclists claim that their aggressive behavior is a defensive tactic to keep themselves safe from cars, which is another problem facing the Seattle streets. Some drivers lack a general awareness of the space around their cars, which is VERY dangerous if a bicycle is in the lane next to them. Some added toughness is a natural reaction to this problem, but it can generate a constant state of ire. Riding defensively is one thing, but entitled riding is not okay.

My main problem with this issue is that aggressive people on the road — regardless of their mode of transportation — make me want to avoid the more vulnerable modes of walking and biking. And it is such a shame that I can’t fully enjoy my city because of a few jerks.

To make the roads safer for everyone, we only need to follow some simple etiquette rules for cyclists and pedestrians:

  • Always pass on the left, using bells and voices to alert those in front of you
  • Walkers and slow-moving bikes stay to the right and allow others to pass
  • Be alert and aware of others around you
  • Travel at a safe speed, slowing down to meet the conditions of the road/trail
  • Mutual respect for those on the road

What are some solutions you have for making pathways and streets safer for SPU students, bikers, and drivers alike?


Author: Sara Kenning

Sustainability Assistant at Seattle Pacific University's Office of Facility and Project Management

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