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Seattle’s ‘war on pedestrians’ is already underway

A discarded bike lays on it side on a Seattle sidewalk. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

There’s a full-fledged war on pedestrians.

Come June 7, electric-assisted bicycles that travel no more than 20 mph will legally be allowed on sidewalks. If you’ve walked around Seattle recently, you’ve likely already seen people cruising around the city’s sidewalks on e-bikes.

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A former Washington state transportation secretary says this makes walking around Seattle even more dangerous than it already is.

“Pedestrians have long had reason to worry about the risk of getting nailed by cars in crosswalks. What’s new this year, however, is that Olympia has made your Seattle sidewalks into all-out bikeways for the newest hottest thing on two wheels …” Doug MacDonald writes in Crosscut.

MacDonald points out Seattle is operating with an out-dated ordinance that allows bikes to be ridden on sidewalks. The law from the 1970s was crafted during a time when the bicycle community didn’t make up 3 percent of commuters and before sidewalks were congested with people unable to look up from their phones.

The city’s acceptance of dockless bikeshare programs didn’t help. Thousands of bikes — the brightly-colored ones you trip over as you walk down the sidewalk — were added to the equation. Easily rented via phone app, MacDonald says people who ride them often disregard laws and the safety of those around them.

With the arrival of rideshare e-bikes earlier this year and the growing number of people buying their own, the war on pedestrians has only grown worse, MacDonald says.

And the acceptance of e-bikes on our sidewalks by the state Legislature is the latest blow to people on foot.

Under the bill signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee March 13, e-bikes allowed on sidewalks cannot have a power output of more than 750 watts and must meet the requirements of one of three classifications:

  • Class 1 — in which the motor provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling and ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 20 mph
  • Class 2—in which the motor may be used exclusively to propel the bicycle and is not capable of providing assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 20 mph
  • Class 3—in which the motor provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling and ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 28 mph and is equipped with a speedometer (Class 3 bikes can’t be used on sidewalks unless there is no alternative to travel over a sidewalk as part of a bicycle or pedestrian path)

Proponents have argued that allowing bicycle on sidewalks only makes sense. Why put a person on a bike in the same lane as a vehicle weighing thousands of pounds?

But one could argue the same for sidewalks. Why allow cyclists to speed down sidewalks pedestrians are walking on?

Based on Seattle’s traffic reports, MacDonald writes that pedestrian safety is “going in the wrong direction.”

In 2016, the city saw the most fatal/serious collisions since 2012. There were 533 pedestrian collisions, the most since 2006. Five pedestrians died due to their injuries — the least since 2011 — but combined fatal/serious injuries reached the highest point in more than a decade. In 2016, 12 pedestrians were injured by bicycle.

MacDonald says 2017 was worse. He says 11 pedestrians were killed and 56 suffered serious injuries. That data has not been confirmed by the city.

The data above doesn’t include injuries due to the hazards created by the city’s aging infrastructure. This isn’t the time to neglect sidewalks and ignore safety, he writes.

But the city is still catching up on its sidewalk repairs. The Sidewalk Repair Program is funded by the “Levy to Move Seattle.” The $930 million from that levy, city leaders recently found out, will not be enough to cover everything originally promised.

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A $400,000 assessment of sidewalks last year found thousands of issues over 2,323 miles.

With that in mind, MacDonald says pedestrians can regain “their entitlement to safe, comfortable and secure walking in their own city if they will take up the fight … It is, after all, the sidewalks that should be the welcoming province of the pedestrian realm.”

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