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Bike expert calls riding some Seattle streets appalling and ‘death-defying’

Seattle's first designated cycle track is set to open in the Bitter Lake neighborhood next month. (SDOT image)

With a bike riding mayor leading the charge, Seattle is commonly considered one of the best places for bicycle riding. But after taking a tour around town, one expert says some of our streets are among the worst he’s ever encountered.

“I think Seattle’s pavement overall is about the worst of any city I’ve seen in North America,” says John Pucher, a Rutgers University professor, author and bike evangelist, in an interview with KIRO Radio’s Luke Burbank Show.

Pucher visited Seattle last week to speak at a bike symposium at the University of Washington. While he was appalled by the conditions of many Seattle streets, he was also terrified after taking a “death-defying” ride down Second Avenue downtown.

“The Second Avenue bike lane doesn’t deserve the designation of a bike lane,” he said. “The bike lane is so close to the parked cars that when someone is getting out of the parked car, the door is right in your face.”

Along with dodging doors, Pucher had a number of cars turn in front of him or stop to parallel park, all while nearly getting clipped by cars, buses, and trucks.

“I just don’t think I’ve ever taken a bike ride that was as unpleasant and stressful as the one there,” he says.

Pucher says the city desperately needs designated lanes called cycle tracks, separated from cars by curbs, planters or parked cars.

Seattle is set to open its first cycle track next month on Linden Avenue North in the Bitter Lake area. Another is under construction on Broadway in conjunction with the First Hill Streetcar project. The city is also studying installing one along west Lake Union, The Seattle Times reports.

But Pucher says the city needs a lot more, especially on some busy thoroughfares like Second Avenue. He points to Chicago, which recently committed to over 100 miles of cycle tracks around the city.

“If it’s feasible in cities like San Francisco and Chicago and New York City and Vancouver and Portland why would it not be feasible in Seattle?” wonders Pucher.

Cost is one big consideration. One estimate puts the price tag at $3 million for each mile of track.

Keeping major streets moving is another issue. But Pucher says in downtown, the city could put cycle tracks on several streets and leave the others to cars, buses, and light rail.

Pucher’s ride around town wasn’t all bad. He had plenty of praise for the Burke Gilman trail and many of the neighborhood greenways, but with a caveat.

“Seattle has tremendous potential for improving the cycling conditions in the residential neighborhoods. You have so much going for you, I think if you would just improve the pavement.”

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