The industrial crossing where a Seattle bicyclist died Wednesday has been dreaded for years by riders who know how easily a tragedy can happen.
Bicyclists position themselves different ways in the hectic street while short-haul truckers make turns to pick up their first loads of the morning.
Seattle police said a 54-year-old man was riding a black road bike north on East Marginal Way South about 7 a.m. Wednesday when he hit the left side of the trailer of a truck that was turning right from South Hanford Street onto Marginal.
Police have not released the identity of the cyclist, who died at the scene.
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Witnesses said the trucker, a 53-year-old man, didn’t realize what happened until he was flagged down north of the crossing, KING 5 news reported.
Though city data show few accidents there, that might be because experienced bicyclists generally go to unusual lengths to avoid entanglements, cyclists say.
“What we need is a separated cycle track,” said Don Brubeck, founder of West Seattle Bike Connections. “There should be a safe option. The number one disincentive for bicycling to downtown is the unsafe condition of East Marginal Way.”
Cyclists and the city government have recognized the need for changes, for at least five years.
When bicyclists arrive from the West Seattle Bridge Trail, they turn a corner toward downtown and find themselves on a sidewalk west of Marginal Way. Then they judge how to cross the busy truck route to either reach a northbound bike lane or to pedal toward Sodo.
“I ride this twice a day. It really could be anybody,” said Bob Anderton, an attorney who specializes in bicycling law. He commutes through there and said it was shocking to see the downed cyclist. “I have no idea what happened,” he said.
Cyclists often bypass the intersection by pedaling on the sidewalk west of Marginal Way, where they continue north past a little-used dock entrance. When they get a few blocks north of Hanford Street, riders cross Marginal diagonally to reach the northbound bike lane, whenever a safe opening appears.
“It’s all free form, and there’s five places where people cross, and because of that, it looks crazy to the typical truck driver,” Brubeck said. He said he’s nearly been hit by a turning truck, so he now avoids the intersection.
About 12,000 vehicles a day use the corridor, while in a May 2012 official count, 286 bicycles passed from 5 to 7 p.m.
Dongho Chang, city traffic engineer, said that before Wednesday that stretch of road had only one collision in the past five years. “It’s clearly not a dangerous intersection,” he said.
That incident happened to Louise McGrody, outreach director for the Bicycle Alliance of Washington, injured in January 2008 when a trailer became unhitched from a pickup. McGrody bicycled past the fatality scene Wednesday morning.
Talks are under way between the Port of Seattle and the Seattle Department of Transportation, which eyes Marginal Way for “major separation” of bikes and motor vehicles, in a forthcoming Bicycling Master Plan update. Cycle tracks, which are now being built on Broadway and on Linden Avenue North near Bitter Lake, use a curb or barrier to divide bike lanes from the roadway.
Mayor Mike McGinn said he is directing Seattle Department of Transportation (Seattle DOT) chief Peter Hahn to look for immediate ways to improve the route.
“My heart and thoughts are with the family and friends of the victim. These tragedies hit hard on everyone involved: the driver of the truck, the first responders and those who had to witness the aftermath. It hits me hard, too,” McGinn said in a statement.
The Cascade Bicycle Club’s policy director, Craig Benjamin, said a future street rebuild, to accommodate heavy freight loads, creates an opportunity to improve the bicycling route, as well.
“It’s tragic that it may take a loss of life to have these safety improvements taken seriously. It doesn’t have to be this way,” the club blogged Wednesday.
In the Seattle metropolitan area, there were 11 bicycle fatalities from 2007 through March 2013.
Ironically, May is National Bike to Work Month; and it was announced this week that Washington state held onto its No. 1 ranking from the League of American Bicyclists as the most bicycle-friendly state in the country.
Gov. Jay Inslee will speak Thursday morning at a Cascade breakfast.
West Seattle Bike Connections is organizing a safety meeting where truckers and bicyclists can share each other’s perspectives, Brubeck said.
Truck drivers are friendlier and more observant than in the 1990s, said Aaron Goss, owner of Aaron’s Bicycle Repair in White Center. Haste by either truckers or cyclists causes a hazard, but it’s safe to ride slowly using the sidewalk, he said.
In recent years, the state built a half-mile of full bike trail alongside the Highway 99 tunnel portal, while the city widened sidewalks near the West Seattle Bridge route and made other improvements.
But Goss criticized the Hanford-Marginal crossing as poorly designed and faulted the city for failing to make better connections as part of the Spokane Street Viaduct project.
“Seattle DOT has to get bicycle infrastructure (as) part of their thinking — we still have to work on that,” Goss said.
Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or email@example.com.