Bicyclists share their perspective in response to Traffic Lab’s question about how safe they feel on Seattle’s streets compared to other places where they’ve ridden.
When it comes to bike routes, Seattle is years behind cities such as Vancouver, B.C., and Portland, but is similar to Denver. Poor road conditions are a danger to cyclists, but most drivers are courteous toward those on two wheels.
That’s what some people said in response to Traffic Lab’s request last month for stories from Seattle-area bicyclists and pedestrians on how safe they feel here compared to other cities.
The request was part of a project featuring a story and interactive map showing where the most bike and pedestrian accidents have occurred in Seattle over the past 10 years.
Research by national safety advocates says the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area is one of the country’s safest metropolitan regions for people on foot.
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Comments from bicyclists and pedestrians across the city ranged widely, from somewhat agreeing that Seattle streets are safe to focusing on ways they think the city’s driving culture or street design should improve.
Most of the responses comparing Seattle to places elsewhere focused on biking. Here’s a selection of comments, some of which have been edited for length and clarity.
‘Seattle is OK as a bike city’
I grew up in the Netherlands, which is bike-central. I have biked over the years in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, British Columbia, the Netherlands and France. For the last 16 years, I have commuted to work by bike in all seasons — originally to downtown and now to Lower Queen Anne. And, like most bicyclists, I also drive motor vehicles.
For the U.S., Seattle is OK as a bike city. (Many U.S. cities are plain hostile.) Most Seattle drivers are courteous, if a bit clueless about how to safely share the road with bicyclists.
Still, there are poorly maintained and designed streets for bikes, as well as dangerous bike lanes. The road engineering in Seattle appears to treat bike usage as an afterthought, an add-on, without taking the effort from the outset to create a truly safe and efficient multimodal design that is optimized for all users.
Some newer bike facilities are marked improvements over past installations, but are still well below world-class standards.
The city’s Bicycle Master Plan will help, if it’s ever built. Also, drivers are generally driving at safe speeds and safely around bikes, and there is good signage to help bicyclists find their way. As the city’s number of bicyclists grows, bikes and cars are starting to learn how to coexist. Some major local employers are offering good incentives and facilities to encourage bike commuting.
— Mark Weiss, Seattle
Years behind some cities, ahead of others
As far as comparing Seattle to other cities, we seem to be a few years behind cities like Vancouver and Portland, which have safe and connected bike routes. We are decades away from countries like the Netherlands, which have national bike routes that include many miles of cycle tracks alongside roads. Fortunately, Seattle is ahead of some U.S. cities. The only other city I’ve cycled in is Denver, which has some nice trails but not many protected bike lanes. And, like Seattle, they don’t yet have a connected network.
— Nick van den Heuvel, Ravenna
This East Coast transplant is impressed
Just moved here from Pittsburgh, so I thought I’d add my two cents. I’ve been bike commuting for many years prior to moving here and have been very impressed with biking in Seattle. Partly, it’s that Seattle drivers seem generally very conscientious (I’ve noticed this while driving as well as biking). But mostly, I think it’s that there’s been an obvious effort to build decent bike infrastructure. I’m no expert, but the vibe I get is that having the infrastructure creates a positive feedback loop in which more people bike due to the infrastructure. Then, cars get used to cyclists and drive more carefully, which encourages more people to bike and so on.
— McKean Evans, Capitol Hill
Portland? ‘There are bike lanes everywhere’
I am a bike commuter (and competitive cyclist) in Seattle for a three-month consulting project. I’ve also been a bike commuter in Portland and Washington, D.C.
For a major metropolitan city in a developed country, the conditions of the roads/asphalt in Seattle are dangerous. The patches and potholes and cracks in the roads radically increase the safety risk I face every time I get on a bike. Also, it is clear the bike lanes were an afterthought in Seattle.
On my bike commute home, I pass by several construction sites, where sidewalks are entirely removed to allow construction staff to park. Pedestrians are routed into the bike lane at great risk to themselves, as well as the cyclists who get pushed into traffic.
It is to the advantage of a city like Seattle with such great traffic problems to increase the number of bike commuters in order to decrease its number of cars (which would also decrease the damage to roads mentioned above). But to do so, the city needs to invest in proper and safe bike lanes.
When I am walking around downtown, I often encounter cyclists on sidewalks. I’ve had many close calls as a pedestrian. Also, sometimes while cycling, I am forced to use the sidewalk when there is no bike lane. Before moving to Seattle, I had never biked on a sidewalk. In Portland, there is never a need to — there are bike lanes everywhere. And everyone is safer as a result.
— Kendra Goffredo, downtown Seattle
For bikers, Seattle and Denver seem similar
I commute by bicycle from Lake City to Pioneer Square. My route includes the Burke-Gilman Trail, going across the University of Washington campus to the Fremont Bridge and riding on Dexter Avenue to Bell Street to Second Avenue.
In all, I do a little over 100 miles each week, every week, year round, rain or shine.
I have been in Seattle two years after moving from Connecticut. I did not ride bike there because, well, there really isn’t bicycle infrastructure where I lived and worked and the commuting distance was a bit far. (Fairfield to White Plains, New York). Before that, I was a bike-to-light-rail commuter in Denver.
In many respects, Denver and Seattle have a lot in common regarding bicycles, such as the cities’ enjoyment of outdoor activity and bicycle/pedestrian infrastructure.
I remain impressed every day I ride by just how observant, respectful and courteous Seattle drivers are to bicyclists. Indeed, I’d say that Seattle drivers are better at anticipating and yielding to the needs of bicyclists than drivers elsewhere.
Of course, it isn’t all rosy. Seattle’s downtown construction has frightening implication for cyclists.
There are numerous times along Second Avenue where I have had the bejesus scared out of me because I cannot tell if construction work is going to throw me into traffic and just how cars are going to respond.
The truth of it is, I enjoy riding 100 miles a week in Seattle because every day I encounter scores of bicyclists, pedestrians and drivers sharing Seattle’s trails and streets with courtesy and respect.
— Neil Strandberg, Lake City
‘We don’t want to spend the money’
I have lived here about 43 years. I refuse to commute to work by bicycle because it is too dangerous and hilly and too wet and too dim half the year. It is not worth the change of clothes for only 6 miles of riding.
Seattle is too idealistic when they assume that bicyclists are in the right and will survive melding with traffic on piecemealed bike-road improvements (sometimes confusing). We don’t want to spend the money to build long-lasting bike infrastructure. Brooklyn, New York, seems successful with lots of cyclists, but it is flat with alternative routes and many people don’t have cars. San Francisco has a plan to ban personal cars from a major commute route to, in part, improve bicyclists’ safety. This is a lot safer for cyclists and also for the car driver who wants to get home without hitting them.
— Paul Cohen, Ravenna