Defective By Design: Cycling in Seattle

Jul 26th, 2008 | By | Category: Featured Articles, Transit

East Aloha street is the city’s designated route for cyclists to get East and West across Northern Capitol Hill.

Roll that in your mind, if you’re prone to think the Critical Mass people were asking for it. “The driver was in his right to run over, by accident or intent, several bicyclists. They were blocking Aloha–the major car route across North Capitol hill. The cyclists were intentionally blocking his way. And, he had dinner reservations!”

East Aloha street is totally insane as a bicycle route. It’s narrow, barely wide enough for two cars let alone cars and cyclists. Cars are idiodically street parked along the length–half on the grass, half on the street. (The self-centered jackasses who park their cars on Aloha deserve to have their cars sideswiped more often.) The road twists and turns, ramps up and down, with terrible sight lines. Cars, particularly those seeking a rapid zip across the hill, naturally gravitate to this street compared to those North and South of it. Nobody should use it as a bicycle route. East Mercer street, East Republican street or East Harrison street are all better choices, despite being broken up and littered with shitty drivers driving way to fast for narrow residential streets.

The City tells you, as a potential cyclist, to use East Aloha street as your route of choice–via the Seattle Bicycling Guide Map, a delightful service of the Seattle Department of Transportation. The document pretty much epitomizes the City’s contempt for cyclists–on the part of the police, the drivers, the transportation department and the government. East Aloha street is designated the same as 12th Ave East, an excellent cyclist route.

Let’s say you’re a decent, law abiding person citizen of Seattle who wishes to start commuting by bicycle–perhaps because gas, car payments and insurance have become too expensive to afford, because you’re sick of being complicit in our increasingly disasterous oil wars, because you’re sick of being out of shape and on the way to obese, or simply because you want to. You get a sturdy bicycle (with gears and strong brakes), a helmet, a light and rigorously follow all laws–laws you’ve read about in the City’s guide. You plan your route using the City’s suggestions and end up on East Aloha street as a result. Mr. I-have-a-dinner-reservation comes barreling up behind you. He attempts a crazy pass on a blind curve. (Aloha is all blind curves.) A car is coming the other direction, he didn’t see. He hits you, slamming you to the ground. He has a dinner reservation. He keeps going. You’re left bleeding on the street. You call the police. They laugh at you. You don’t have insurance–or your insurance refuses to pay, since you cannot name who hit you–so you collect your smashed bicycle and go home and hope your injuries don’t take a turn for the worse.

What a fucking joke. I don’t care how obnoxious and idiotic a cyclist is acting–if every stop sign is ignored, if every law is flaunted, if he or she is on the most idiotic street imaginable (Westlake, the Ballard Bridge, Fairview, Rainier all included.) If you are operating a motor vehicle of any kind, you simply have no right to run the person down or even attempt to run the person off the road, to assault or even attempt to assult another human being because you find yourself inconvenienced by a situation. And, let’s be honest: Even with the most heinous of cyclist behavior, the inconvenience is never more than minor. Nobody has the right to exact a death penalty. Whine, complain, bitch all you want. You are in the wrong for even threatening the act.

Driving is the single most dangerous thing we do, the most dangerous to ourselves and to others. When you get inside all those thousands of pounds of glass and steel and start moving, you are at your highest risk of causing devastating physical harm to yourself and others. Driving is a massive assumption of responsibility. Most of us take about as seriously as flossing. The massive effort taken to make the transportation infrastructure as safe as possible–for drivers–is the only reason more aren’t harmed each year.

I both drive and bicycle in Seattle. I’ve been incredibly frustrated by the decisions and behaviors of some cyclists. Nothing comes close to the raw fear I’ve felt as a cyclists facing an insane and incompetent driver. As a cyclist, I want to live. I follow every rule, wear every light, stop at every stop, never pass on the right, take the safest routes at off times of day. Despite this, I’ve been assaulted and left to bleed or die by such inept drivers, without an apparent care. Nobody deserves such treatment. Yet our City’s transportation engineers, law enforcement and politicians view the inconveniencing of a driver, any driver, as justification enough.

As a driver, I long for better infrastructure: Proper cyclist routes, with designated lanes and clear markings. Police that are as interested in the safety of the cyclists as the convenience of drivers. I’d be happier. The cyclists would be happier. The entire city would function better.

And so, “pro-cyclist” activism like Critical Mass doesn’t impress me. Creating “awareness” has done nothing to get such an infrastructure in place. The clot of cyclists on East Aloha street this Friday, on a route that shouldn’t be used by any cyclist at any time, did nothing to make my riding across Capitol Hill safer or more convinient–as a cyclists or a driver. Rather than dozens of cyclists in spandex on every first Friday of the month, I’d be far more impressed by four guys and gals in suits, down at city hall every day, demanding the only sensible thing: A proper infrastructure to match how our roads are used, and should be used.