Danger Danger

When I moved to London I began to ride my bicycle around the city the day after I arrived. I didn’t immediately read the rules of the road, but I should have. Roundabouts are confusing but there is a method to them. I also assumed that it was OK to ride your bicycle on the sidewalk (or pavements as they say here), but that you should yield to pedestrians. That’s true in the state of Washington, and in Seattle, but not in London. I’ve been yelled at a few times by pedestrians to “get off the pavements!” It turns out is not legal to ride on the sidewalk.

So Ok, I was wrong to not understand the rules of the road. And I understand why people walking on the sidewalk are so protective of their rights: it is dangerous to mix people walking and people cycling. I once collided with a man who stepped out of a doorway onto a cycle path in Seattle and he went flying when I hit him. We both fell, I “taco’d” my front wheel in the wreck, but neither of us were hurt. But the speed differential is dangerous. I get it.

But statistically, the danger from automobiles is so much greater to pedestrians than from cyclists. When I hit the guy on my bike, we were both stunned but not hurt and could both get up and continue. But if I had the same accident when I was driving, the guy would have been hurt badly. Why aren’t we all more outraged about this? The danger from cars is real, and omnipresent on our streets. It affects all of us regardless of our station in life.

I thought about this yesterday when the road on my way to work was closed because a van had hit a person in a busy crosswalk and fled the scene. This is the kind of thing I would expect people to be up in arms about but it doesn’t seem to engender the same amount of anger and animosity as people have towards cyclists.

Road closed due to hit and run between car and pedestrian

Road closed due to hit and run between car and pedestrian

This I just don’t get.

Does Cycling Infrastructure Change The Cycling Experience?

I am old enough to remember the first great cycling boom in the US in the 1970’s.  In 1973 there were over 15,000,000 cycles sold in the States. I saved up money from my paper route, and with help from my parents, bought a Schwinn Varsity. It was yellow, and the guy at the shop threw in the fenders at no cost. I remember I paid $92.00 for it, which seemed very expensive back then.

Schwinn Varsity Catalog

I grew up in Portland, Oregon and I don’t remember there being “cycling infrastructure” at that time. It didn’t seem necessary really – I don’t think there were as many people driving all over the place all the time, but I might be wrong. But I remember the Mayor of Portland riding his bike to his office – he lived on the hill above us and I sometimes saw him riding down the hill while on my way to school. Cycling was not seen as an unusual activity. I would ride all over the neighborhood to friends’ houses, head up Mt. Tabor in NE Portland, go on bike camping trips up the Columbia Gorge, and jet down to the airport with my dad to watch planes take off and land. Cycling was something people seemed to do just for fun.

Now we are in the next great cycling boom – and with that has come the non-existent “war on cars”, and the assault on people who ride bicycles. Municipalities spend a fraction of their transportation and road budgets on improving the safety of the roads by trying to make space for people to ride their bicycles, and that is changing the perception of the status quo. I believe this causes stress in many car drivers, creating tension between them and bicyclists: It’s not the same as it used to be! Get out of my way!

I’ve also had the pleasure of living in Seattle for many years, a city which prides itself on leading the way in progressive policies to improve cycling accessibility. All over the city you see a growing, connected network of bike paths, bike lanes, separated bike lanes, and “sharrows”. Cycling has become an easier mode of transportation and it does feel safer than when I first moved to the city in 1986.

This summer I moved to London on a work visa. London is a much bigger and crowded city than Seattle by far, but it shares with Seattle some of the progressive ideology around cycling infrastructure. I was surprised to learn that Londoners are as connected to their cars and driving as any place in the US. Sure, there is a very good transit system of underground (the Tube) and overground rail, and a good bus network, but I’ve witnessed the worst traffic jams I have ever seen here. I don’t know how or why Londoners do it.

Still, cycling is a great way to get around if you can avoid the more egregious traffic spots. There is a good network of bike routes around town. Like Seattle it suffers from issues with the disconnected nature of the network, a mix of old and new ideas, and some obvious “just squeeze it in” situations. I come across many examples of well meaning, but totally misguided attempts to make things “safer” for cyclists. These appear to be designed by traffic engineers who haven’t ever traveled by bicycle – or on foot for that matter.

Pedestrians and Cyclists meant to share the same space. Safe from autos, but dangerous for pedestrians, and not ideal or direct for Cyclists.

Pedestrians and Cyclists meant to share the same space. Safe from autos, but dangerous for pedestrians, and not ideal or direct for Cyclists.

I see infrastructure like this all over London. A cycle lane is situated off the road on a wide sidewalk. On the positive side, it provides effective separation between cars and cyclists, but it puts pedestrians in harm’s way, and it means cyclists must slow way down to use the path. Often the track runs for less than a block, and then unceremoniously drops you back onto the street. Well meant, probably expensive to implement, but not useful really for anyone trying to get from point A to B, (note the cyclist waiting at the light in the street). This kind of thing causes unnecessary ill will: The naive person driving a car thinks “Why aren’t they using the bike lane?,” while the person on the bike thinks, “Who would design something this idiotic?”

London does have some excellent cycle networks that let you travel quite a long way across London. Some of them are designated by blue painted lanes as cycle highways. Others lead you on less busy streets around the city, like the “greenways” Seattle is finally embracing.  I rode one cycle highway from East London into the center of the city on a Sunday. It was great. There were plenty of cyclists using it. It’s well marked and lets you take a direct route to where you want to go. All good. But everywhere in London, drivers just park in the cycle lane with impunity. It’s endemic. Why go to the trouble of installing this safety structure if you continue to allow cars to park there without penalty? To be fair, on Sunday it’s legal to park in parts of these lanes, but you still see it all over London, any day of the week. It makes no sense, not to mention unsafe. Bicyclists have to squeeze between cars and London’s huge double-decker buses. Those things are massive!

Blocked Cycle "Highway"

Blocked Cycle “Highway”

This is when a cyclist might justifiably ask, Why bother to spend money this way if you don’t enforce the regulations? When riding in London, I constantly have to be alert for cars and scooters blocking the bike path so I can then move over into the other lane to get past. It’s aggravating, and a good example of a dangerous situation being created with public funds meant to prevent a dangerous situation.

Blocked Lane ahead

Blocked Lane ahead

I’m still learning about how bikes fit in here in London. When I lived in Seattle, I welcomed new bike infrastructure being put in, but also felt it wasn’t always necessary. I knew how to avoid bad traffic areas, and learned how to get across town on the disconnected network of bike lanes, paths and safer-feeling side streets. I also knew which bike lanes sections to avoid (I’m looking at you, 2nd Avenue!). But now that I am in riding in a heavily populated world capital, I can see how good bike infrastructure can improve safety and facilitate navigation (don’t get me started about street signs in London). Cycling is a vital part of transportation all over the world. Making streets safer for all users of the road can be accomplished, and in places like London and Seattle, it will happen.

How is bike infrastructure being managed in your city? Do projects like these work for you?

Does size matter?

One of the barriers to encouraging bicycling as a mode of travel in the US is the perception that cycling is not “safe”. The fear of injury, and the insecure feeling of being run off the road by cars is one of the main factors many people cite as the reason they won’t take up bicycling on the streets. They certainly won’t ride to work, or even just a mile to run an errand.

When I was a kid, we played in the street all the time. Basketball, baseball, tag, or whatever game we were into at the time. We ran around in front of our houses with little fear of being run down – we knew to pause and let cars pass – but in general, it wasn’t a huge concern.

I think the same thing applies to cycling. When I was a kid, I regularly rode my bike from my house to my best friend’s house which was six blocks away. I never worried about the safety of the ride, nor did my parents really, (as far as I know). But these days when I ask friends who tell me they would like to ride, but won’t because they don’t feel safe, what do they report that feels unsafe?  It’s cars and the feeling of the inequity of sharing the road. It’s a mismatch when you are on street: just you versus a multi-ton vehicle. I wonder, what’s changed since the days of my youth on the streets of Portland, Oregon? For one thing, the size of the cars and trucks that crowd the streets now. And the 60’s and 70’s are well known for  gas guzzling muscle cars, and big luxury cars like the Buick Electra “Deuce and a quarter”.


I recently reflected on this when I borrowed a full-size pickup to pick up a load of mulch and to make a run to the transfer station, or the dump as we used to call it.


This truck is a Toyota Tundra. It is incredible how large this thing is. It’s at least six and half feet off the ground, and is probably two feet longer than my old Toyota mini-van which was huge in its own right.

And it’s not my imagination: take a look at this picture of the Tundra next to an older truck at the Transfer Station. It’s mammoth in comparison to this good old Ford truck that was big enough for the same kinds of jobs 30 years ago, and still is today.


When these giant vehicles pass you on the street, on your  bike or on foot, the sun is blocked out momentarily. It’s ridiculous how over-sized they are and surprising how ubiquitous they have become on our streets. Giant pickup trucks and massive SUVs are everywhere across American cities. People use them as “commuters”. Nutty!

It’s no wonder new cyclists feel unsafe. Imagine being 10 years old riding a bike in the street to school while one of these squeezes past. It’s incredible that we have allowed this to happen.

But that is where we are in America. What makes you feel unsafe on the street?

Elliott Bay trail nears completion!

ImageThe work on the Elliott Bay bike trail is nearly complete. Tonight, the south-bound portion was open which is pretty exciting if you’ve been riding through the crazy construction zone for the last few months.

I expect the north bound section will open in a the next day or two.


This is going to be a very nice, safe improvement for people who ride from the south end into Pioneer Square.

The biggest improvement is with the north-bound section: bikes will continue from the current bike lane straight through onto the new section. It keeps you out of the way of trucks pulling onto the new overpass near the Bertha Big Dig. It’s been pretty unpleasant for the last few months, crossing a few lanes of truck traffic, threading your way onto the bike path. It’s been downright dangerous at times as noted elsewhere

SDOT is really making room for bicycles and people on our streets, a sign that things are improving here in Seattle. This is also a very nice improvement for pedestrians walking to and from Pioneer Square.  Another reason to enjoy living here!



Bike Share coming to Seattle this summer

Puget Sound Bike Share is coming this year – in September – just in time to miss the usual, wonderful summer weather!

Personally I think it will be great to be able to grab a bike to run quick errands around town during the day, or as a way to safely navigate place to place in our various wonderful neighborhoods around town. I’m sure we’ll all figure out a way to make it work even with our stupid helmet laws in place. There have been complaints raised by people in other cities about how well the system works (see Citi Bike complaints from the BikeSnobNYC guy about availability of bikes and parking), but generally it is fantastic idea. I was in London and Paris over the holidays and saw tons of people using the bike share bikes there, even in the cold winter weather.

What are your thoughts on how this might work out?

April 2014

500 bikes, coming right up!

Wondering why you haven’t heard from us for awhile? We’ve been busy pulling together all the pieces for a 2014 launch! That’s right – by September of this year, you will be able to get around Seattle via 500 bikes docked at 50 stations in Capitol Hill, South Lake Union, Downtown and the U-District. Some details about our plans moving forward:

Who will be supplying the equipment?  
We will be purchasing our station equipment from the newly formed 8D/Alta Bicycle Share joint venture partnership. An order for bikes will be placed with a well-known global manufacturer later this month.

Has all the needed funding been secured?
It sure has! Over the past few months, we’ve confirmed a number of additional supporting sponsors as well as a local presenting sponsor. Stay tuned for our big announcement with the Mayor next month!

Drumroll please…

In May, we’ll be unveiling the official program name and logo along with the bike color, and we’re certain you’re going to love it. Chances are, these bikes will soon become an iconic fixture around our City.

Help Others Stay Informed!

With so much exciting news on the way, encourage those you know to sign up for our mailing list and help your friends and coworkers stay informed.

We want your input

Weigh in via the online map

Now live, this public input tool is an opportunity to tell us where you think a bike share station would work best in your neighborhood. Navigate through pre-approved station locations and vote for those you feel are most suitable for that particular area.

We look forward to your suggestions!

Attend a planning workshop

Throughout the month of May, we’ll be hosting neighborhood planning workshops. These workshops are an opportunity for the public to learn more about the program’s launch timeline, functionality, installation, ongoing operations, membership, etc. and most importantly, to weigh in on station locations. Workshop dates and times to be announced soon.

Cyclists: Striking fear in the hearts of drivers everywhere

I was thinking about going out for a bicycle ride this morning when I saw this article by Seth Norman on the opinion page in the Seattle Times: Cyclists strike fear in a driver’s heart.

Peace man

As one who rides a bicycle to my workplace every day, and who rides longer distances for recreation frequently, the title grabbed my attention. It is heartening to read that Mr. Norman is fearful of the violence and damage that can be caused by an automobile and is cognizant of the inherent dangers of driving. I agree that riding a bicycle in traffic on our shared public roads can be potentially hazardous.

He writes:  “Fear: Yours really should run rampant, I think, but here I refer to the trepidation of drivers steering massive machines that — mishandled in one moment — will leave you crippled, maimed or dead.”

I don’t feel fearful most of the time while riding my bicycle but I do appreciate when people who are driving cars are empathetic to others they encounter.

And “…you are so fragile, a slow antelope pacing an elephant herd.” This is an inapt analogy: in the wild, antelopes can easily outrun a herd of elephants. But with cars and bicycles it is the opposite. Common sense, as well as countless traffic research studies, show that slower mandated speeds for auto traffic is far safer for all users of the road. Lower speed equals less death, and fewer injuries when there are crashes. But this isn’t the reality on our streets.

He says, “You trust that I’m not oblivious, distracted, half-tanked or a full-blown sociopath eager for sport. Your faith bewilders me, frankly. While I don’t challenge your legal or moral rights to ride, sometimes I wonder about your sanity.”  I find it disturbing that Mr. Norman assumes that drivers behave so poorly, choose such risky behavior, and are so misanthropic that running people down with a car is considered “sport”, and then finds that people who ride bicycles are the ones who are insane.

What I find insane, is that in the US, there are over 30,000 people killed yearly in car crashes, and that auto drivers frequently are not held responsible when those crashes involve  pedestrians and people riding bicycles. In a list of causes of death worldwide compiled by the World Health Organization, death by automobile is in the top ten, just behind diabetes. 

I think that we should all be held accountable for following traffic laws. And while I feel that the laws of the road should be modified to better accommodate more than just automobiles, I still feel you need to be safe no matter how you use the road.

Mr. Norman cites the frustration of sharing the road with others and describes how he breaks the law in order to be a considerate and safe driver. He asks for forgiveness for, “grinding my molars when a pair of cyclists pedal side-by-side on this stretch or a club outing spreads out four deep.”

Many of us purposely move into the middle of lane because it not only doesn’t feel safe, it isn’t safe. There is nothing worse than having a car try to slip by you in a space that really is too narrow to squeeze through. If that cyclist were a car, or an immoveable obstacle like post, most would not risk it. If there are more than two riders abreast, these riders are not following the rules of the road and he should alert the proper authorities. See your local Driver’s Manual for details.

He also hates it when a cyclist darts out of  a bicycle lane. This is a new complaint by motorists. Typically it is that cyclists routinely blow through stop signs. I am more upset when someone driving a car runs a red light scattering startled pedestrians in their wake, but to each his own.

I hope that Mr. Norman will continue to channel his rage-now-turned-to-fear, and push for safer streets for all of us – people walking, people riding bicycles, and people driving – so that he can enjoy his choice of transportation without grinding his teeth, and without fear. That’s all any of us can hope for.

Are bikes traffic?

Are bikes traffic? Off The Beaten Path recently published an interesting blog titled “Aren’t Bikes Traffic?” about whether or not bikes are considered part of our definition of what constitutes “traffic” based on road signs in construction zones. Despite clear legal indication that bicycles are defined as part of what we know as “traffic,”  construction signs are often not helpful in clarifying which road user is entitled to the road.  His photos of a few signs with unclear directives, such as “BIKES MERGE WITH TRAFFIC” where bicycles are already riding in traffic, has made me pay attention to similar signs I encounter on my bicycle rides around town. He’s right: bikes are obviously part of traffic. It would be clearer if the sign said, “BICYCLES HAVE RIGHT OF WAY. PASS WITH CAUTION.”

I came upon this sign blocking the bike lane on Avalon Way in West Seattle the other evening. I have to say that this bike lane is such a nice improvement from what it used to be like cycling up Avalon. But, here is a familiar bright orange diamond sign that signals caution. It says: CENTER LANE CLOSED AHEAD. The sign is directly in the bicycle lane. This  causes anyone riding here to have to veer into the car lane to get around it. The irony is that what this is announcing is that the center lane is closed to traffic. There are still two unimpeded lanes for car traffic to proceed in either direction, but the construction crews didn’t really even consider that this sign completely blocks the lane for bicyclists.

Blocked Bike Lane

I don’t believe that the workers who placed this sign meant to put people in danger, but examples like this, where non-auto modes of transportation are not considered a legitimate use of the road and are rendered invisible, are all to common.

Be careful of the safety infrastructure out there.

Staying warm while riding long distances in the winter


Staying warm with layers

Riding in the winter is the Pacific Northwest is really fun. It’s nice to get outside as our winters are very dark and often wet. But when it is cold and you plan to be outside for a few hours in the wind, it pays to put on enough clothes that you can be warm, and comfortable.

This morning it was 37 F (3 C) and foggy here in Seattle, and still dark at 7:45 AM. Hardly a polar vortex, but it was just above freezing, with damp wet air. Bone chilling!  How did I stay warm? For me making sure I have enough core warmth helps make sure that my hands and feet will stay warm. So I layered up.

In the picture above, clockwise from top left Pair of lightly insulated, shell gloves. Just below that are thin wool gloves.

Next a wool cap and/or a balaclava. I wear the balaclava when I start out because I can cover my ears. To the right of that, thick wool ski socks. The thickest that will fit with my cycling shoes. Next, thin rain shoe covers to go over my shoes. This adds a little more warmth and if it rains, you are ready.

Below that, 3 winter weight wool jerseys – all the warm jerseys I own. I opted not to wear a coat since it didn’t look likely to rain. You can shed a layer or two and wear a coat, but I inevitably find that half way through the ride, it’s wet and warm under the coat and you are looking for a place to stop and shed the coat. Multiple sweaters work pretty well. Whatever feels comfortable.

Thick wool cycling knickers are next. If it is really cold, I might add a pair of cycling tights over the knickers. Above the knickers are arm warmers, which I wore under it all with a base layer jersey.

That’s it – and it works well. For multiple hours out riding in the cold, I basically dress as if I were cross country skiing. Enough layers to stay warm once you start working up a sweat, and enough breathability to make sure you aren’t in a self enclosed sauna. I don’t find it pays to barely wear enough to stay warm. That is when my hands and feet get the coldest, and that can be very uncomfortable.

So layer up and get out and ride.

Bike lanes in Port Angeles, WA, where bicycling is mainstream

On my way to Victoria BC this past holiday week-end, we passed through Port Angeles, Washington to catch the ferry across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Victoria. Proof that riding a bicycle is becoming mainstream can be seen in the awesome new bike paths Port Angeles has installed through town. Port Angeles is not a super cosmopolitan, liberal seeming town. It is home to a small Coast Guard station, and a few functioning lumber mills. A pretty blue collar place from the looks of it.

But unlike in places like Seattle where bike lanes often seem to be an afterthought even with our awesome Bike Master Plan, in Port Angeles they took what was a three lane main street and installed bike lanes on both sides of the street. I’ve not seen this implemented before. It’s pretty cool and a good indication that riding a bike is beginning to be seen as a normal way to get around town, even in smaller cities like Port Angeles.

bike lanes

bike lanes

Partners on the Road

On my way home in the dark the other night I witnessed an altercation between a cyclist and a car that would have been so easily avoided had the cyclist just heeded some of the advice in this article. You don’t need to roll ahead of cars at a light and then get squeezed when they try to pass you right after the intersection. Regardless of who is “right”, as a cyclist you aren’t going to win the fight in a crash with a car. Be careful out there folks.

Off The Beaten Path


I am always surprised how many cyclists are afraid of cars and their drivers, or have downright animosity to them. I prefer to see drivers as partners in a big game called Traffic.

It starts with the wording: “Share the Road” implies sacrifice. I prefer to think of other road users as “partners” on a team, not competitors fighting for our “share” of a finite amount of road space. After all, we all have a common goal: Keeping traffic flowing smoothly and safely.

Partnership means being aware of each other and communicating clearly. Turn signals indicate our intentions to other traffic. When we approach a “four-way” stop, we can wave a waiting car to proceed before we come to a complete stop. Not only do they get to go earlier, but our wait will be shorter, too.

When a car approaches from behind on a winding country road, we can…

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