Last month, Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) put out this memo for the cycling community:
Cycling safely on the Seattle waterfront
Soon our waterfront will be home to a giant Ferris wheel…but why wait until July to feel the sea breeze on your face when you can ride your bike along the waterfront today? Bicyclists can use the new trail detour, mosey on the sidewalk or ride in the street. All three are a-ok with WSDOT and the City, especially when we see everyone riding safe.
For example: Waiting for the walk symbol while on the trail detour? Yes, quite safe for everyone. Riding fast on the sidewalk? Not too safe. Pedestrians have the right of way here, so you’ll need to cool your pedals. Running the red light while riding in the street? Definitely not safe — no explanation needed. Besides, traffic studies show that running a red light really doesn’t save much time in the long run.
I know what you’re thinking: “Why are you telling me this? This is obvious.” Yup, we know that these safety messages are things most cyclists are well aware of, and odds are if you are reading this, you are among those that already ride safe. However, at the end of the day, we recognize the new waterfront detour is a big change for everyone. It will be with us for at least two more years, so we’re doing our part by reminding all travelers – truckers, drivers, cyclists, pedestrians and pedicabs – to watch out for each other and use caution while we all settle into the new route. Thanks for hanging in there with us, and for setting a good example by riding safe out there.
I’ve been thinking on a response to this because it’s such a fraught topic. It’s been covered by many bike blog sites; Elly Blue discusses doing it, WashCycle explores it as a myth and even the Bike Federation of Wisconsin has concerns.
Some explanation of the street configuration on the Seattle waterfront is needed, especially if one does not ride the waterfront or has not experienced the new traffic flow in that area due to the massive construction projects going on.
See this .pdf for a map of the area: 2012_0518_waterfront_detour_handout
Alaskan Way was a two-lane each way north/south route with crosswalks (some signalized, some not) at each intersection, a sidewalk along the west side of the street along the waterfront, and a shared bicycle/pedestrian path (some intersections of the path signalized, some not) along the east side of the street for non-motorized travelers heading north/south.
Currently the street, from University to King St., is one lane north/south with various turn lanes, bus only lanes, and ferry traffic only lanes. It’s often choked with motor vehicles during rush hour, events and other traffic problems. The lanes are fairly narrow and it’s often difficult or impossible to pass stopped vehicles via bicycle. The shared path is no longer continuous (although it is supposed to open later this summer, it will remain dead-ended at Yesler Way).
Mixed use path, view southbound, closed.
The newly installed shared bicycle/pedestrian path that runs underneath the viaduct is fraught with problems for cyclists. Most cyclists seem to now be choosing to ride the street along with motorized traffic, using the ferry only lanes even to continue riding further south, or the west sidewalk for north/south travel. And while red light running cyclists have always been a staple of the traffic on the waterfront, it seems to have reached a head. But why? And what is the other traffic, including pedestrians doing?
We all know about cyclists who run red lights, those scofflaws! Putting a bad name out for the rest of us. Why don’t they just stop it? Personally, I hate seeing it too. But why are other riders doing it in such blatant fashion and with seemingly more frequency?
More beyond the break…