Like a lot of us, Madi Carlson watched the devastation of last winter’s Hurricane Sandy with horror: millions without power in New York and New Jersey, thousands of homes torn down to the studs, subways flooded and impassable. But then the Wallingford resident noticed something else in the news coverage. There in the background, weaving in and out of the wreckage, were people on bikes. Some were just trying to get to work or a friend’s house, but others were carrying supplies. In either case they were doing something the car-bound weren’t. They were getting around.
That was all she needed to start mulling the so-obvious-it’s-genius idea of incorporating bikes into Seattle’s disaster preparedness plan. And a few months later, with the help of Cathy Tuttle of Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, she approached the city’s Office of Emergency Management with a plan: Why not simulate Armageddon on city streets and invite the hardest of the hardcore cyclists to test their catastrophe-response capabilities? Using a template established by a similar event in Portland last summer, they’d have to use cargo bikes—which look a little like adult tricycles—to pick up 100 pounds of supplies and carry them up hills and through water and stop along the way to assist “victims,” all while navigating potholes and obstructions. “I’m a biker myself,” says Tracy Connelly, the community preparedness planner who Carlson pitched, “so my initial reaction was, ‘Yes, finally!’ ” It was the perfect marriage of Seattle’s biking culture and the need to plan for the inevitable Big One.
Carlson, Tuttle, and Connelly spent several months devising an exceptionally grueling, 10-mile route through Wallingford and the U District, and on June 22 about 30 cargo cyclists are set to compete in what’s been named the Disaster Relief Trials. Connelly isn’t necessarily ready to make bikes an official means of disaster response, but she is hopeful that the event will open Seattleites’ eyes to the power of pedals in an emergency. “The truth is, it’s a lot easier to deliver messages via bike, and if you need to transport small supplies, it’s easier to do it by bike,” she says. “There’s no one way to respond to disasters.”
Published: June 2013