Ask BikeNerd: Baffling Bike Lanes and Basic Maintenance

By Josh Cohen August 13, 2010

This week's Ask BikeNerd delves into the minds at the Seattle Department of Transportation and gets at the logic of their bike facility selection and designs. It also offers some advice for wannabe bike mechanics.

Michael asks a two-parter: 1) Why did SDOT decide to put in a bike lane and a sharrow on the relatively high-traffic, high-speed Cherry St. instead of the parallel, lower-traffic E. Jefferson St.? And why did they stripe the bike lane on the downhill side and the sharrow on the uphill side instead of vice versa, the way they normally do?

I posed this question directly to SDOT. SDOT Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Manager Sam Woods explained:
Cherry Street was identified as a bike connection in the Bicycle Master Plan (BMP).  The BMP actually called for sharrows in both directions between 12th Avenue and 21st Avenue. However, after studying traffic volumes on Cherry Street, we determined that the existing space could be better utilized and that we could accommodate the current car volumes with one lane in each direction. Realigning the lanes also allowed installation of a new marked crosswalk at Cherry and 16th Avenue, and should result in lower vehicle speeds along the roadway.

Jefferson was not originally recommended in the BMP, but we identified it as a good connection and presented the idea to the Bicycle Advisory Board.  They agreed that the connection on Jefferson made sense, so we added it to our 2010 work plan.

We continue to study the configuration of Cherry.  We originally kept the bike lane eastbound so that a shift of the center line would not be required. We’ve heard a lot of feedback from the community on that decision and we’re currently studying several options.  A decision about changes, if any, will be made within the next few months.

It's worth noting that since Michael first asked his question (SDOT took a while to get back to me), the city has added a bike lane and a sharrow to Jefferson St. between 9th Ave and 19th Ave, which covers some of the same east-west stretch as the new facilities on Cherry St. do.

Jeremy asks: Where do I learn how to do basic maintenance on my bike?

The answer depends on your personal comfort level and how you like to learn.

Sheldon Brown (Image from

If you're the type that likes to just read a few instructions and have-at-it on your own I'd suggest looking at the Park Tools web site and Sheldon Brown's web site (for those who don't know, Sheldon Brown was a brilliant bike tinkerer in Massachusetts who put together and maintained an encyclopedic website full of bike history, technical information, riding tips, etc).

Both sites have thorough step-by-step guides for any mechanical problem you might come across---from changing a flat tire to rebuilding a loose-ball hub. Park Tools also sells a repair manual with the same information. I prefer to get the book greasy during those mid-repair moments of panic, rather than my computer. These two resources have treated me well, but it's worth noting that the learn-it-on-my-own technique has led to a few hat-in-hand trips to the bike mechanic for help over the years.

If you'd prefer learning from the guiding hand of an experienced mechanic, Seattle has no shortage of classes.

- Cascade Bicycle Club offers three basic maintenance classes on fixing a flat, working with chains and derailleurs, and adjusting road brakes. Each class costs $35 for members, $40 for non-members.

- Bike Works offers Adult Basics Classes, a six-class series covering all aspects of basic bike maintenance in a "safe and nonjudgmental environment." The series runs from Oct. 5-Nov. 9 and costs $120 (or less with commitments to volunteer.

- Wright Brothers Cycle Works offers a four-session basic maintenance class covering tires, brakes, shifters, and derailleurs for $60. The summer basic maintenance class ended in July, however, so you'll have to wait for a while until the class is offered again.

- REI has a free basic maintenance class at the flagship store on Aug 17th from 7:00-8:30 p.m. The class covers fixing flats, lubing your chain, and making minor adjustments on the bike. Reserve a spot in the class online.

That's it for this week's Ask BikeNerd. As always, send your bike-related questions to [email protected]
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