2016: Better Biking in Seattle!

For months I’ve wanted to blog about how much bicycling has improved in Seattle, but then something happens that makes me shelve it until a better day. Seeing as it’s the last day of the year, I don’t want to put it off any longer…even though biking along the Wallingford Neighborhood Greenway earlier today, mere blocks from home, I watched four cars blow through cross-traffic stop signs. So unfortunately my mood today isn’t as celebratory as I’d hope for, but here goes…

There’s a lot of great new stuff! These new things might mean more to me than the average bike commuter since I spend a lot of time biking with kids and encouraging new city bicyclists and family bikers.
Read 2016 Year in Review by Seattle Neighborhood Greenways for a great recap of all that’s new.

The kids are riding their own bikes more and more these days and it’s very exciting…and makes biking uphill a lot easier for me minus their 125 pounds! I made an amazing discovery when we fetched our Christmas tree by bike four weeks ago: the kids have been listening to me all this time! They’re great little city bicyclists. They like to sandwich me as lead car and follow car when I carry precious loads (like a fish tank a year ago) so my seven-year old led the way to check for potholes and other hazards while my nine-year old trailed behind, making sure Fluffy (they name the tree) stayed put.

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Back when they spent the majority of their time sharing my Big Dummy’s deck I spent the majority of my time spewing a steady stream of chatter to keep them distracted from fighting with one another. Some of it was non-bike-related stuff like pointing out cats and squirrels or asking the kids to count dogs or buses. But lots of it was narrating our ride: “We’re going to turning left at the end of this block,” “A hill’s coming up so I’m going to downshift now,” and “Wow, that woman must be in a hurry to skip stopping at that stop sign so that’s why we always carefully check intersections.” Everything is a teachable moment, right? So it was adorable when my seven-year old darted ahead so he could call back over his shoulder, “Mama, there’s a hill coming up! You’re going to watch to downshift when you get right here.” Which is hilarious since the kid refuses to shift out of his hardest gear.

One of the most frustrating things about the nice new bikeways is that none of them connect to other nice bikeways. Which is why Ryan Packer’s Best Bike Infrastructure Of 2016: The Sidewalk for The Urbanist resonates with me. I often apologetically tell visitors that the best thing for bikes in Seattle is that it’s legal to ride on the sidewalk, but at the same time it’s such a shame that it’s necessary for so many people to resort to the sidewalk. Granted, a lot of times it’s just for a couple blocks to transition between bike-friendly-ish streets or in my case for parts of our routes when the kids are on their own bikes. I doubt anyone thinks it’s ideal, but it sure makes it possible for a lot of people to get around by bike in this city.

It’s exciting that Seattle grabbed the number one spot in PeopleForBikes’ America’s best new bike lanes of 2016 for the Westlake Bikeway. We love the Westlake Bikeway and I use it for lots of the Kidical Mass and Critical Lass rides I lead. Unfortunately, the Westlake Bikeway is not without its problems–see Seattle Bike Blog’s As tacks return, Westlake bikeway named nation’s ‘best new bike lane’ for 2016.

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When I ride without the kids I often opt to take Dexter Avenue instead of the Westlake Bikeway so I don’t have to worry about stopping for a tack-induced flat tire. I haven’t picked up a tack myself yet, but I’ve been with three people who have. However, the bike lane on Dexter–paint-separated at some points, flexi-post separated at some, and regular bike lane for the rest–is usually worse. I need to take a few minutes before I leave the house to remind myself to stay calm as I encounter countless delivery trucks and Uber private taxi service cars (usually Priuses for some reason) parked and waiting in the bike lane. On the days I don’t take the time to remind myself to not engage, I get progressively angrier as I pull into car traffic to pass each bike-lane-blocking vehicle. On these bad days I’m sometimes unable to resist the urge to [politely!] point out open parking spots to Uber drivers and ask why they don’t park legally in a spot that’s safer for me. I don’t feel that this makes any difference, thus the pep talks. However, I do think pointing out to people [also politely!] they’re turning right through a no-right-on-red light where Dexter crosses Mercer often does make an impact. I’d love if there were more no-right-on-red intersections (see Seattle Bike Blog’s Banning turns-on-red is an exciting first step to taking back our crosswalks) so people were more used to checking for the signs.

One cool event that highlighted the recent infrastructure changes was the annual Critical Lass ride to Candy Cane Lane. Our route has evolved a lot thanks to the flexi-post protected bike lanes over the Cowan Park Bridge and the contraflow bike lane on NE 62nd Street.

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Unfortunately, when the kids and I went on our own to Candy Cane Lane it wasn’t all sugar plums and kittens in Santa hats. I was excited when I realized we could take the new protected bike lane on Roosevelt on our way home. It’s a one-way street and situated such that it doesn’t make sense for us to use, but heading home from Candy Cane Lane made sense! My Kidical Mass to Celebrate Roosevelt went well, but I have to admit I don’t feel completely comfortable on Roosevelt. It’s better than it was before when it was a regular bike lane (we never used it before), but the intersections are crappy. There are some people (usually vehicular cyclists) who argue that protected bike lanes are never worth installing because they provide a false sense of security. I certainly don’t agree with that, but this particular protected bike lane really makes a case for protected intersections and I hope someday Seattle has some of these! Oh, and better “protection” than flexi posts.

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So this night I stupidly chose to not take our usual hillier, more round-about route from Ravenna to Wallingford because I knew the kids would be excited to ride in the protected bike lane. We were extra cautious at each intersection, slowing nearly to a stop in case a car turned without checking for people on bikes or on foot crossing the street. And then a block before we were due to turn off Roosevelt, we encountered a car parked in the bike lane. We stopped behind him so I could consider our next moves. There were a lot of cars on the street so I didn’t really want the kids to have to ride around it. And another car was pulled into the driveway behind us (but only partially blocking the bike lane) so it wouldn’t have been easy to get up to the sidewalk…not to mention I prefer not to ride on the sidewalk unless it’s really necessary. I parked my bike in the bike lane, asked the kids to wait, and tried to get the driver’s attention by waving at his window several times. He was engrossed in his phone so I tapped on the window only have him to roll it down and shout at me that it wasn’t OK for me to tap on his window. I asked if he could re-park so we could bike through, but needless to say, that didn’t go very well. I took a photo of his license plate and filed a Find It, Fix It ticket with the city. I didn’t expect them to come quickly enough to do anything about the car, but hope that if that spot is a regular car-in-the-bike-lane area, something might change. And in the meantime, we won’t ride Roosevelt again.

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The Roosevelt thing made me nearly forget that a family in a minivan honked at us during the one block we rode on Ravenna Blvd to get to the entrance of Candy Cane Lane. The passenger poked her finger at us (pointing at us to get on the sidewalk?) and after a few-seconds delay, they had space to fit past us. We never get honked at, probably because I tend to choose the sidewalk (best bike infrastructure, remember?) for the spots where this might happen. For this short block, I didn’t want to take the narrow sidewalk in case we encountered people walking to Candy Cane Lane. It’s a very steep short block so it’s harder to ride in a perfectly straight line. Tricky call this time, in retrospect.

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So bike-infrastructure-wise: lots of good, a bit of bad, and that’s 2016! Here’s to more good stuff in 2017. Happy New Year!

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4 thoughts on “2016: Better Biking in Seattle!

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