After an early morning brush with death, KIRO Radio’s Don O’Neill wants to add light to the murky issues surrounding Seattle bicyclists.
On his way to teach spin class around 5 a.m., O’Neill said he nearly hit a bicyclist at an intersection on the Fremont Bridge while the biker was looking at his phone, had no lights on his bike and was dressed in all black. O’Neill said he slammed on the brakes and swerved his truck in time before making contact.
“If I was in another car, I think I would have killed him,” he said.
Following the near-incident, O’Neill said he noticed the dark-clothing, non-lighted trend a half-dozen times in about 48 hours.
“I’m being very serious about this, my fear is we’re going to start killing a lot more people that are on bicycles that we can’t see,” he said. “I almost killed him. And then I’m wondering, whose fault is that? Is that my fault? Because legally he can be in that lane. He wasn’t moving, because he was distracted by his phone.”
According to the Seattle Department of Transportation, every bicycle used during the hours of darkness needs a front lamp that can emit a white light visible from at least 500 feet to the front, and a red reflector on the seat that’s visible up to 600 feet to the rear.
Police can fine cyclists for violations such as speeding, not wearing a helmet or not using a light. However, Gary TeGantvoort, store manager at Montlake Bicycle Shop, said he rarely hears about cyclists being cited for those infractions. And while TeGantvoort believes the lack of lights is a problem, he feels the converse – bikers using excessively bright lights – is also an issue.
“It can be blinding if it’s aimed too high,” TeGantvoort said. “Even worse, in my opinion, is flashing lights on bike trails. They’re seizure-inducing, very hard to see after you pass someone with those things on.”
O’Neill, who is an avid cyclist, said he wears bright clothing on rides and has lights on at all times. He said bicycle light laws should be enforced more frequently.
“There has to be some kind of law about lights at night,” he said. “There just has to be. Especially when we get into these winter months, and what do we have, about six hours of real light outside?”
Co-host Ron Upshaw agreed that the light-less bicyclist are scary, especially when they’re riding downhill at 40 MPH.
“And you’re trying to turn left and it’s impossible to see,” he said.
Sharing the roads has been a difficult transition, O’Neill said, noting the issues aren’t always light-safety related.
“The new bike lanes are really confusing,” he said. “In some spots you’re sharing the road with cars, in other spots you’re not. Sometimes you have a little green path you can be on. Other times for safety, I’ve seen cyclists get on the sidewalk.”
O’Neill also suggested that, just as drivers pay for the streets, cyclists should pay for the new bicycle transportation amenities.
“If you’re in a car, you’re paying a gas tax, you’re paying the tab tax and you’re paying all kinds of taxes,” he said. “I think it would be really smart to start licensing some of the bikes. I would be willing to do this as a cyclist, to have some sort of insurance for yourself and if you hurt somebody else, I think it would be smart.”
O’Neill said Seattle drivers currently have the deck “stacked against” them. He pleaded for cyclists to add more light to their rides – for everyone’s safety.
“The majority of cyclists are commuting and they’re lit up and you can see them, but, boy, over the last 48 hours I’ve counted six or seven cyclists dressed in black, with no lights out on the roads,” he said. “Almost hitting him just really, really shook me.”