It’s a bit out of my way, but I took a detour this morning and rode into work along the entire length of the new 2nd Ave bikeway, which opened bright and shiny and new this morning.
For those not familiar with Seattle, the bikeway runs down a particularly busy street in the heart of downtown. It replaces a traditional bike lane that was the scene of a tragic death just days ago. Like most bike lanes in Seattle, the old 2nd Ave lane was dangerous for putting riders directly in the “door zone” of parked cars. And it was doubly dangerous because it ran downhill, on a busy one-way street also running downhill, and was on the left where fewer drivers would expect to see bikes.
The new bikeway is still on the left, but it’s separated from traffic and benefits from a system of bike-specific lights designed to prevent collisions with left-turning vehicles. This morning had a bit of a festive air, with lots of riders trying out the bikeway, and earnest volunteers from Cascade Bicycle Club cheering riders along and offering ready-made postcards to send to the mayor thanking him for adding this bit of cycling infrastructure. The bikeway needs a little more work – better demarcation between the uphill and downhill lanes, and some surface smoothing in a lot of places – but it’s certainly an improvement over the old lane . . .
if you like riding in the bike lane.
If this morning was any indication, riders are going to rely on the bike signals at their peril. I had not one, but two cars blow through red turn signals (and green bike signals) across my path. Fortunately for me, when I do ride in bike lanes, I always ride assuming cars can’t see me – which means never, ever, ever going through an intersection when a car traveling the same direction is next to or slightly ahead of me.
I fear that the bikeway has the potential to make matters worse, at least until a critical mass of riders are passing through downtown. At several intersections, a line of parked cars separates the bikeway from traffic. That’s great, but it also prevents left-turning vehicles from seeing downhill bicycle traffic, and vise-versa. If those vehicles don’t mind the left turn signal (as the cars did to me this morning), there will be more collisions on 2nd.
For riders, the bikeway can’t be a panacea. It’s not a replacement for critical thinking. Those little bicycle signals may look pretty, but riders will continue to need to pay close attention to what vehicle traffic is doing.
And for me? The next time I ride downhill on 2nd, I’m going to do what I’ve always done – take the lane.