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Opinion Northwest

Join the informed writers of The Times' editorial board in lively discussions at our blog, Opinion Northwest.

September 25, 2014 at 6:25 AM

Policing cars, and bikes, on Seattle’s Second Avenue bike lane

Attorney Bob Anderton of Washington Bike Law looked down from his window at the new Second Avenue bike lane striped just beneath his his window. “It warms my heart,” he said.

The 2nd Avenue bike lane at University St. (Mike Siegal / Seattle Times

The 2nd Avenue bike lane at University St. (Mike Siegal / Seattle Times

It also may cost him business. The new protected bike lane through downtown Seattle should reduce accidents on the notorious corridor, where Sher Kung, a young mother and lawyer, died just a week before it opened. 

After initial glitches, confusing signals were simplified, letting drivers and bikers know when green means green. And it’s drawn triple the number of daily cyclists, according to Seattle Department of Transportation.

But it hasn’t stopped a ever-present meme in bike politics: Cyclists ignore the rules of the road, no matter what. KING 5 had a Tuesday story about a shift by Seattle Police from education to enforcement along the bike lane. The first comment: “I can’t wait to see a bike pulled over; but something tells me it’s going to be a while before I see it.”

Seattle Police spokesman Drew Fowler said the story overstated that shift, particularly its suggestion about targeting bikers. “We need to both be riding and driving safely. We’ll be holding everyone accountable. If bicyclists runs a red light, they should get a ticket. If a driver runs a red light, they should get a ticket.”

That’s great, because drivers running red lights, or failing to yield to bikes or pedestrians, kill people. And bikes should follow the rules of the road or face consequences, such as speeding tickets, as The Seattle Times reported last year.

But I suspect the SPD is going to find fewer biking scofflaws with the protected lane and bike-specific signals. In my experience, bikes do rolling stops, or none at all, at stop signs because it takes energy to stop and start a bike. And a lack of certainty about the intentions of a driver behind the wheel of a 2,000-pound car provides incentive for a biker to go when they feel safe.

But data also suggests well-designed bike infrastructure helps with compliance. In the six months after Chicago installed bike signals on the downtown Dearborn Street bike lane last year, red-light compliance jumped 161 percent, according to the Chicago Tribune. “It’s important to have infrastructure that speaks to people who are biking. Otherwise, they feel the roadway was not designed for them,” Lee Crandall of Active Transportation Alliance said.

Anne-Marije Rook of Cascade agrees. She’d like to see a biking education component added to drivers’ education, such as her home country of Holland does. “No one was taught how to safely ride in traffic,” she said.

Source: Seattle Department of Transportation

Source: Seattle Department of Transportation

If the SPD is going to pivot toward stronger enforcement, officers should know the law. The SeattleBikeBlog’s Tom Fucoloro posted a take-down of the KING story’s inaccurate references to biking infractions that do not exist, including one supposedly requires cyclists to walk their bikes across crosswalks (the errors were later corrected without acknowledging mistakes).

Anderton, the bike attorney, has a book he calls “You’re Not Going to Believe This,” with incidents of bikers getting ticketed after being hit by drivers. Among them is the wacky story of a 25-year-old cyclist riding down the then-notorious Second Avenue bike lane (Anderton provided the police reports). Concerned that a driver next to him wasn’t paying attention, the cyclist began blowing a police whistle, so loudly nearby pedestrians heard it. “I thought it was a police whistle and I turned to look,” one witness said in a statement.

The driver nonetheless turned a sharp left across the lane, clipping the cyclists’s back tire. The ticket, however, went to the cyclist … for inattention. Anderton said, “I don’t know how much more attentive my client could get – he was whistling at her!”

Comments | Topics: 2nd Avenue bike lane, bikes

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