Seattle – Driving Less

The Seattle Department of Transportation released traffic data for 2009 earlier this week, revealing some interesting nuggets:

  • Less driving - the average number of daily car trips has declined nearly 10% between 2003 and 2009.  Telecommuting?  Working from Starbucks?  Depressed and out of work?  Finally riding the bus because it’s really not that bad and gas is godawful expensive?  Who knows.  One thing we DO know is that at least some of those trips are being replaced with  . . .
  • More biking - commutes by bike have gone up 15% between 2007 and 2009, and I’m one of them.  Of course, that’s off a very low absolute base, so it’s likely accounting for only a small number of the 80,000 daily car trips that have been lost between 2003 and 2009.
  • Drunken youths on bikes = danger. Yep, far likelier to be involved in crashes (I’m looking at you, fixie hipsters).
  • Drivers are bad. Car operators were at fault in the vast majority of car-bike crashes.  Shocker!

I’ve Got Your “Responsibility” Right Here

Great post from Elly Blue on the Washington Area Bicyclist Association’s misguided “Resolution to Ride Responsibly” campaign.   Read the whole post, but there are several important points deserving of emphasis:

1) Those who don’t ride a bike in the city often have no idea why riders do what we do (claim lanes, avoid the glass-and-trash filled shoulders, etc.).  Which means two things – get them out for a ride so they can understand, and failing that, don’t listen to their opinions on bike-riding-related matters.

2) The idea of “riding responsibly” presupposes that cyclists currently ride irresponsibly.  There’s no data to support that, other than the anecdotes of non-biking drivers, who (refer to point 1 above) don’t understand the issues associated with riding in traffic and are suffering from confirmation bias.

3) Making “good faith effort to better follow the law” a central tenet of “riding responsibly” reinforces the notion that cyclists are riding irresponsibly and that current traffic laws make sense for riders.  They don’t, and as Elly points out, our car-centric rules are “riddled with contradictions and gray areas” for people on bikes.

Which is why making an effort to follow the law – or I suppose, to “ride responsibly” – should always take a back seat to riding safely, predictably and visibly.  Regardless of what the law says.

“Quiet” Streets

Capitol Hill – or at least the northern end, where I live – has lots of quiet, residential streets.  One thing about these streets, which struck me as odd when I moved to the area 10 years ago from San Francisco, is how freakishly narrow they are.  Cars can’t pass on many of the streets, requiring a sort of tango where one party has to duck into a parking space so the other car can’t pass.  Even the slightly wider streets require slowing way down to pass.

When I started riding every day in the neighborhood, I would ride to the side on streets without parked cars (like 18th, or Aloha).  Drivers coming up behind me would zoom around me, often perilously close to the cars parked on the other side of the road (and me).  But on my daily rides I started seeing all the kids and pedestrians walking into the streets, the errant soccer balls and blindly-swung-open car doors.  There’s too much uncertainty for high speeds and close passing on these narrow streets.

So now I just ride right down the middle of the street.  I don’t even give the cars an opportunity to try to pass me; 15 mph is plenty fast enough for these streets.  Consider it mobile traffic calming.