One day when I was crossing under the Alaskan Way Viaduct and heading toward the waterfront to pick up some lunch, a throng of cyclists was coming from the south on the sidewalk, having just disembarked, I assumed, from the Bainbridge Island ferry at Pier 52. Since I have almost been clipped by cyclists speeding down that path, I was treading slowly and looking for an opening between bikers when a cyclist coming the other direction said (very politely, but chiding nevertheless), “You might want to watch where you’re going.”
Jeez. I was watching. No matter how gently he said it, I felt the kind of defensive outrage of having been spoken to like a child.
I don’t know about you, but whether I’m on foot or in a car or even on a bike, I am freaked out by not knowing what to expect. That’s why, along with all the beautiful trails and cool places to ride featured in this month’s cover story, Matthew Halverson’s examination of a treacherous stretch of Westlake Avenue and the city’s response to it makes for compelling reading. One person whose comments resonate for me was John Mauro, director of policy, planning, and government affairs at Cascade Bicycle Club. Drivers, he acknowledges, really worry about how vulnerable cyclists are and tend to lose it when they’ve had a close call.
Emotions are heightened when cyclists zip through intersections while cars and pedestrians obediently wait for the green light, ride (legally) on sidewalks when it suits them, and generally choose which rules to follow, if any. Wait—before you fire off any letters—I’m not pointing fingers, I’m just trying to get at why there’s so much tension among those who choose a different mode of transportation, whether on foot, on a bicycle, or in a car. I recently read a persuasive defense of bike riders’ self-defined road behavior, in which a rider made the case that traffic lights timed for cars can be harrowing for cyclists trying to get through an intersection, so they pick their own moment. Fair enough. Traffic signal timing is one more way a bike-friendly city like ours could be taking cyclists’ needs into account.
Sharing the road is a scary thing. And getting used to sharing it is a process. So I think it’s good news that Seattle has begun to update its bike plan and add more greenways for bikes on side streets.
And here’s my fantasy: If only the city would make similar adjustments for pedestrians. Zoning codes that would require developers to leave room for wider sidewalks would be a start.