Category Archives: Roads

Make Your Own Bike Box

Sure, Seattle has now added a few bike boxes, but until we get more, you’ve got to be ready to make your own.  How?  Ride through traffic to the front of the line and plop in front of the lead car at the front end of the crosswalk. Presto – instant bike box!

Not recommended for every intersection, but it’s great on one-way streets like WB Pine, where three lanes of cars are constantly switching lanes and diving into right or left turns.  Far better to be in front of that traffic than trying to navigate from behind or in the midst of it.

Sorry, Burke Gilman Users

I like to get out on the Burke-Gilman trail for 20-40 mile spins on the weekend, but invariably I get my share of nasty looks – and this week, a rider actually caught up with me, patted my shoulder and reminded me I should say “on your left” when passing.  I was too dumbfounded to do anything but nod and ride on.

You see, I probably should say “on your left”, and slow down when I get behind a pack of slow, inexperienced riders and wait for an opportune moment to pass.  But used to my daily rides in the streets, I’m all about preserving momentum and avoiding obstacles.  And you other riders on the trail?  You’re obstacles.  As are the pedestrians, baby strollers, joggers and everyone else.

I try to put on a more mellow headset when I get on the trail, and for a time I can adapt.  But when I’m going, and I’ve got a line to pass, I’m usually going to do so – even if it’s a little close for your comfort.  Sorry again – and in advance, for next time.

Seattle’s First Bike Box

We got our first bike box last night, on eastbound Pine at the corner of 12th. I’m pretty excited, as it’s on my daily commute and is one of the more dangerous corners for cyclists. In my early days of bike commuting, I had two near-misses at this corner from cars turning right without looking for bikes. I’ve since learned to just claim the lane, which the bike box makes easier and more obvious to do.

Here it is in all of it’s shiny green glory.  The car in the second photo was a little unclear on the concept:

Share the Road?

Interesting post from “bike lawyer” Steve Magas on the mentality of “share the road” and the history of right-of-way for all vehicle types.  Although I doubt very much that well-intentioned signs contribute to motorist attitudes toward cyclists, Steve’s point about the “right of way” vehicle (i.e., the vehicle in the lead) is one that all riders and motorists need to consider.  The lead vehicle – be it bike, car or buggy – has the right of way, and vehicles behind it need to be observant to the lead vehicle’s actions.

share the road signs

(although I will say that I think the sign with the car following the cyclist is far more effective than the one with traffic side-by-side, which reinforces the implication that cyclists should ride on the shoulder at all times)

So – observing the rights of the lead vehicle means that cars shouldn’t honk a cyclists who’ve taken the lane, and bikes should consider the actions of cars in front of them, even if the cyclist has a bike lane.  God knows I’m guilty of not being as good about this as I could be when I’m on my bike.

On Being Assertive

This report from the UK largely mirrors what we see here: A feeling amongst drivers that bikes don’t belong on “their” roads.  What’s equally interesting is the point made in the article about the conflict between two different types of riders – those favoring “assertion” and those on the “avoidance” side.    Assertive riders want to claim their space in the road; “avoidance” riders would rather not mix with traffic (but have little choice, given the lack of dedicated cycling infrastructure).

As we’re not going to be getting parallel bike infrastructure anytime soon, let me offer up the obvious:  All “avoidance” riders need to get more assertive.  We all start up nervous about mixing with traffic, but if you stay that way you really shouldn’t be riding in the streets.  Nervous, cautious cyclists are a danger to themselves, other riders and even drivers.  They risk getting doored (or suddenly swerving into the lane to avoid getting doored) and they invite drivers to try to pass them in places where passing isn’t safe.  They brake for phantom dangers, stop in blind spots at right turns and ride in the “fog lane” where drivers can’t see them.

Now, by “assertively” I don’t mean “like a jackass” or “stand on your rights, even when a bus is squeezing into the bike lane to make a stop.”  I mean being visible and predictable – which adds up to being safe.

A Suggestion on Where You Might Put Your Horn

I ride on Capitol Hill every day; the drivers are generally polite and accustomed to sharing the roads with bikes. It may be that this general amiability, familiar as it is, is what makes the odd instances of boorish driver behavior harder to tolerate.

While I can understand the occasional driver inadvertence or mistake (“they’re just thinking about Christmas,” as my friend Lisa used to say), something about a driver honking at me makes my blood boil.

I’m not talking about a honk I’ve earned – if I’ve done something stupid or inadvertent (yes, people on bikes transgress as well), I’ll take the honk with equanimity.

But that’s rare. The honks that really get me, that make me want to stop in traffic, roll back to the driver’s window and make sure they understand – in the event they haven’t been told before – what an insufferably moronic tool they are, are the impatient, yippity honks of drivers behind me, aghast that I have TAKEN THE LANE.

As anyone who has spent any time riding in the city knows, it is often safest to take the lane. You’re more visible, you’re out of the “door zone”, and you’re not encouraging drivers to attempt to pass you unsafely. I almost always take the lane when going downhill or riding on narrow residential streets.

This should be no affront to drivers, as it would be if a cyclist were, say, to take the lane riding uphill on Pine. Yet, yet, yet. I’ve been honked at on Aloha when I’ve taken the lane to make a left turn; honked at downtown when I’m riding faster than most traffic but not fast enough for the impatient jerk behind me; and honked at in numerous other places for having the temerity to prioritize my personal safety over the right of a driver to go as fast as they want, unsullied by the vision of driving behind a bike.

But this morning’s honk, the inspiration for writing this screed, was the prizewinner. I thought at first the honk was intended for someone else: I was descending Olive Way, a narrow street, lined with cars and one lane in each direction. It’s also only about four blocks long and ends in a stoplight. Why would anyone honk at a bike under such circumstances, especially one that’s probably exceeding the speed limit? But then a second, more insistent honk followed, from the gasping roach of a car behind me. For some reason, the reptilian brain of the driver was telling him “must . . . beat . . . bike . . . to . . . stoplight.”

With age and judgment I’ve conquered my impulse to throw back a quick Philly salute, content to offer an incredulous look while riding blithely onward. But one thing is sure – your impatient little road raging honk isn’t going to get that bike out of your way.

Cycle Track for Broadway?

As plans for a streetcar down Broadway develop, CHS Capitol Hill Seattle reports that SDOT is considering including a “cycle track.”  Presumably the cycle track would run down the center of Broadway, along with the streetcar.

I think I like the idea of a cycle track; there aren’t any in central Seattle (or elsewhere in the city, as far as I know), but Portland has been experimenting with them.  The idea is to create a traffic-separated lane for bicycles, sort of a bike path attached to the road.  Cyclists on a bicycle track are thus not contending with cars or doors, at least until they try to exit the cycle track.

It would certainly be a step up for bicycle infrastructure in the city.  While Seattle likes to tout its bike-friendliness and hundreds of miles of bike routes, most of these are indifferent or downright dangerous “improvements.”  For example, the lion’s share are sharrows, those ubiquitous painted stencils of cycle-and-chevrons.  Painting a few sharrows and calling it a bike route is hardly progress.

seattle sharrows

Others are worse; the bike lane down Pine attempts to squeeze cyclists into a narrow space next to parked cars, often occupied by delivery trucks and continually bedeviled by right-turning cars and brazen pedestrians.  For riders, it’s far better (and safer) to  just claim the lane and gain some visibility and maneuvering room.

pine street seattle bike lane

In fact, the only bicycle route I can think of in downtown Seattle that offers a positive alternative to just riding in traffic is the uphill bike lane on Pine.  While it suffers from the same narrowness and proximity to parked cars as its counterpart across the street, the speed differential makes all the difference.  I’m a lot less concerned about getting doored when I’m standing in my pedals, climbing the hill, than when I’m bombing down it.

My biggest concern with the cycle track is, in fact, the lack of maneuverability.  How easy will it be to ride around slower cyclists, or groups of club-going pedestrians when they cross the cycle track?  I wouldn’t be surprised to find that, just as with the downhill bike lane on Pine, it’s better to just keeping riding amidst the cars.

Sorry, Pedestrians

I’ll admit that my focus on staying safe while riding has caused me to infringe on the rights of Seattle’s famously inept pedestrians to wander aimlessly about.  Occasionally I might have even made someone walk around my bike (or at least detour around my back wheel) in a crosswalk.

So, to the young jogger who reminded me this morning that I was in the crosswalk at Broadway, thank you.  I will take that under advisement.