Bicycle riders are reluctant to mix with motorists, and for good reason. In Seattle, which has the most cars per capita of densely populated cities in the United States, bicyclists don’t feel safe on the road – despite a growing number of designated bike lanes and a goal of becoming “the most bicycle-friendly city in the country.” And while the city’s steep hills, rain, and streetcar tracks make cycling that much more treacherous, it’s the constant threat of a car-bike accident that puts both drivers and cyclists on edge.
Nonetheless, the number of Seattle bicyclists is likely to keep increasing. Several competing bike-share companies debuted in Seattle over the past few months, thanks to the Seattle Department of Transportation’s unique bike-share pilot program. This move has potentially increased the number of bikes in Seattle by about 8,000, and the number will grow if the program is successful.
Motorists must learn how to share the road, and recreational and commuter cyclists must be conscientious about how they navigate the city.
How to improve cycling safety
Bike defensively: Don’t assume that motorists are looking out for you. Expect that someone is going to open their car door in the bike lane. Expect a car to run a red light. Expect sudden turns. Expect that bus and truck drivers will not see you.
Avoid cycling on bad days: It’s easy to make bicycling mistakes even on a good day. Not sleeping well, sickness, stress – any distractions can put you at greater risk of being involved in an accident.
Be smart: Use designated bike lanes. Travel with traffic and not against it. Obey traffic signs and signals. Do not use your phone. Do not wear headphones. Make yourself visible with bright gear and reflectors. Be extra aware when bike lanes intersect with parking garages.
Wear a helmet: Everyone in Seattle is legally required to wear a helmet while riding a bike, and can be ticketed for not sporting a helmet. The bike-share companies inform users of the helmet law, but riders are individually responsible for securing their own headgear.
The argument by many is that even if a cyclist is wearing a helmet, poor infrastructure for bikes will continue to be a problem. Helmets might protect you in the event of a crash, but two-way protected bike lanes could dramatically decrease the number of bike-car accidents entirely.
Cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities, and are expected to follow the same rules, as motorists. If both groups are well informed about their respective traffic laws, and cultivate awareness of and respect for each other, the road can be shared with fewer accidents and less frustration.