Dangerous drivers create difficult commute for Seattle biking community

Jan 10, 2023, 2:52 PM
bike lanes...
Despite the Seattle Department of Transportation's (SDOT) implementation of Vision Zero — a city-wide plan to end traffic deaths and serious injuries to pedestrians by 2030 — Seattle remains a dangerous place for those commuting and traveling without a car. (Photo courtesy of Cars in Bike Lanes Seattle)
(Photo courtesy of Cars in Bike Lanes Seattle)

Despite the Seattle Department of Transportation’s (SDOT) implementation of Vision Zero — a city-wide plan to end traffic deaths and serious injuries to pedestrians by 2030 — Seattle remains a dangerous place for those commuting and traveling without a car.

Amongst the dangers in Seattle are unprotected bike lanes, as drivers have continuously used these thin thoroughfares to park, swerve, and evade traffic.

Cars in Bike Lanes Seattle is a local Twitter account documenting this trend.

“The account was started because, while biking to work, I’d occasionally see cars stopped in the bike lane,” said Sanders Lauture, who runs the Twitter account. “Having to go around cars and enter the car lane puts other cyclists and me at risk because a car driving in the lane could potentially hit us.”

Lauture cited an incident last summer in Chicago where a 3-year-old girl out riding with her mother was killed when the woman moved around an illegally-parked truck in a bike lane and was hit by a passing vehicle.

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“Better protected bike lanes in Seattle will help avoid incidents like this because cars, in most cases, will be unable to block the bike lane forcing cyclists into dangerous situations,” Lauture said.

According to Section 11.53.190 (driving in a bicycle lane), it is illegal in Seattle for a driver to drive or park in a bike lane unless when turning.

“A parallel that bikers also get annoyed by is cars entering and then stopping in an intersection right before their light turns red, blocking cars going in the perpendicular direction. This is also illegal (RCW 46.61.570), but it still happens regularly,” Lauture said. “While traffic enforcement could reduce the number of people who block bike lanes, a more permanent solution is building bike lanes so drivers cannot enter them. I have noticed little to no blocking of bike lanes where traffic cones have been temporarily put up.”

Pedestrian deaths have risen since the launch of Vision Zero, peaking in 2021 with 30 deaths, the most since 2006. Approximately one-quarter of the fatalities were unhoused people. Despite this, Seattle is one of the most walkable cities in the country with a walking score of 99 out of 100, furthering the motivation among city officials to better protect those traveling without a motor vehicle.

SDOT is currently looking at alternatives to the flexible plastic hit posts — also known affectionately as “car ticklers” within Seattle — that divide the bike lane from the rest of the boulevards.

In a July 2022 presentation, SDOT determined the flexible posts were “not durable,” had “several maintenance challenges,” and “not great for protection.”

Two options have been submitted to replace the flexible posts: Concrete barriers similar to an extended curb, a parking stop, or a manufactured polymer barrier. The barrier range from 12 inches wide and 7 inches tall to 18 inches wide and 18 inches tall.

In addition to the Twitter account, Lauture has created a website tracking the locations of these instances. The most occur in Capitol Hill near Pike Street, according to the map.

“Reception around the account and the website has been 100% positive. Pretty much anyone who bikes in Seattle has dealt with this situation before and understands the danger,” Lauture said. “As soon as I started telling people in the community about the account, it took off quickly and I now get about five to 15 submissions a week.”

The total Vision Zero budget is $8.3 million in 2023, and while some councilmembers like Tammy Morales have applauded the increase in funding, others, like Councilmember and Transportation Committee Chair Alex Pedersen, believe the budget is unfairly lopsided toward bike lane projects, citing a near-150% increase for the bike lane budget next year.

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Protected bikeways on MLK Jr Way, Beacon Hill, and the South Park Trail are currently set to be completed in 2023.

Last week, King County prosecutors charged a 20-year-old man with vehicular homicide and felony hit-and-run for hitting and killing Robb Mason, 63, on his bicycle near the West Seattle Bridge last summer.

Mason’s death inspired a memorial bike ride last fall, with newly-appointed SDOT Director Greg Spotts among those who participated.

“I spoke at the end of the memorial about our new approach to Vision Zero that is coming together in my first month as Seattle Department of Transportation Director,” Spotts wrote in an editorial for The Seattle Times. “Now is the time to pull together and make ending traffic deaths and serious injuries our No. 1 priority.”

Spotts followed through with his promise by installing temporary bike lanes on 1st Avenue South and West Marginal Way, a move applauded by the Cascade Bicycle Club in its blog.

“The temporary bike lanes installed along 1st Avenue South and West Marginal Way will make this route safer and more comfortable for people on bikes during the bridge closure,” said Lee Lambert, the executive director of the Cascade Bicycle Club, in a blog post. “Kudos to the mayor’s office, Seattle Transportation Director Greg Spotts, and SDOT crews for acting quickly to improve a challenging bike detour while this important bike connection is out of service.”

SDOT has an interactive bike map available online with the entire bike network on display in an effort to show bikers the safest areas to ride. The data from the map is also on the Cars in Bike Lanes Seattle website.

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“The best areas to bike in the city are the areas with the densest protected bike network. This basically is just downtown and most of University District,” Lauture said. “Next best are the neighborhoods with protected bike lanes, multi-use trails, or neighborhood greenways going through them. While the “last mile” to a destination in these neighborhoods will probably require sharing the road with cars, most of the trip will be on a central bike lane. This includes neighborhoods like Capitol Hill, Ravenna, Fremont, and Wallingford.”

Lauture stated the most dangerous places to bike are places are Georgetown and Rainier Avenue, as they are generally fast roads with no bike infrastructure.

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Dangerous drivers create difficult commute for Seattle biking community