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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Making Biking Safer

posted by on September 12 at 16:24 PM


Bryce Lewis, the 19-year-old cyclist who was tragically killed by a dump truck last Friday, was riding a fixed-gear bike (that’s the model above) with a single front brake through what is widely known as one of the most dangerous intersections in Seattle. Coming down the hill off Harvard, it’s easy to reach speeds topping 30 miles an hour, and even if you’re going slowly, drivers still pay way too little attention—as I learned when I was hit in the exact same spot a year and a half ago, by a left-turning driver who pulled into my path (also known as the bike lane) too quickly for me to stop.

But riding a fixie is inherently, undeniably, more dangerous than riding a bike with gears and brakes. When you’re on a fixie, you can’t coast downhill, and slowing down quickly—say, when you see a car turning into your path—is nearly impossible. Without brakes, they’re death machines in a hilly city like Seattle, especially for the inexperienced (and with fixies more popular than ever, that describes a whole lot of the people riding them). Even with a brake, they’re hard to stop—you can’t slam on the brake or you’ll flip the bike.

Whether Lewis or the driver of the dump truck was a fault has been debated endlessly, but may ultimately be irrelevant. My two cents is this: Lewis was following the law (forward-moving traffic has right-of-way over right-turning traffic at a green light, and passing on the right is legal in a bike lane), but was riding dangerously fast, especially for that intersection, especially given that the bike he was riding was extremely hard to stop. Technically, the dump truck driver appears to have been at fault, but as every cyclist knows, it’s up to us to look out for them, because we’re the ones who always lose in bike/vehicle collisions. Fair? No. Drivers should be more aware of cyclists too—much more aware. (In addition to my three accidents, I’ve had countless near-misses with drivers who broke the law and nearly smashed into me.) But looking out for cars—hell, assuming they don’t see you and don’t care if they hit you—is how you avoid being hit.

On the other hand, that intersection (where a ghost bike, pictured above, has been installed; photo by Denny Trimble) is notoriously dangerous. Five years ago, bike planners at the city identified Eastlake as “the most heavily used north-south corridor” in Seattle and “strongly recommended” doing something about it. So are they? I’ve got a call in to the Seattle Department of Transportation’s media relations person to find out, but my guess is no. The city has been extremely slow to support innovative ideas that could make bikers safer and more visible, including blue lanes (which Denny at Metroblogging Seattle talks about here), phased pedestrian lights (which turn green before the main signal to give bikers a chance to make it into an intersection), and bike-only signals. The city actually did get as far as discussing the installation of blue lanes and bike boxes (road markings that allow bikes to get ahead of cars and make bikes much more visible) way back in 2003, but neither proposal ever went anywhere. That’s a shame. Bikers do have a responsibility to watch out for cars, but the city has a responsibility to make them as safe as possible, too.

In other news, Seattle Likes Bikes is organizing a memorial ride for Lewis. I’ll post details as soon as I have them.

RSS icon Comments


Blake Lewis was the American Idol dude. The memorial sign says Bryce Lewis.

Fixed-gear bikes are fucking retarded.

Posted by Mahtli69 | September 12, 2007 4:26 PM

"fixies" are *the* bike of choice for san francisco hipsters. it makes no sense to me whatsoever why people would want to ride a bike without gears or BRAKES in any city, let alone one with
lots of big hills - my guess is the light weight and sleek look of a bike unencumbered by gears and brakes.

whatever the reason, riding one in the city is just stupid. they're designed specifically for riding on bike tracks, where there are no cars or other such things that can kill people.

Posted by brandon | September 12, 2007 4:29 PM

@1: Duh. Fixed it.

Posted by ECB | September 12, 2007 4:35 PM

At the risk of sounding like a dork, what the hell is the point of a "fixie"?

When I was a little kid in the 1960s, that is all we had. Fixed gear bikes with pedal brakes. There were no gears. There were no hand brakes. As I got older and bike technology advanced, we got lighter bikes with more gears and hand brakes. Better and better bikes over the years with more and more gears.

With all the readily available and relatively inexpensive bikes with lots of gears, why on earth would you want a bike with just one gear. Especially in Seattle with all these damned hills. Is it simply a macho thing? To prove you are man enough to take these hills on a single speed bike (no matter how dangerous)?

Posted by SDA in SEA | September 12, 2007 4:36 PM

My two cents is this: Lewis was following the law (forward-moving traffic has right-of-way over right-turning traffic at a green light, and passing on the right is legal in a bike lane), but was riding dangerously fast, especially for that intersection, especially given that the bike he was riding was extremely hard to stop.

IANAL, but "riding dangerously fast" is not following the law. There's a "basic speed law" in this state and most others that requires drivers (and presumably cyclists) to maintain a speed that a reasonable person would consider safe given the conditions (such as ice, rain, hills, visibility).

Posted by Chris | September 12, 2007 4:37 PM

Whatever the wisdom of riding a fixed, THAT FUCKING INTERSECTION NEEDS TO BE FIXED.

Posted by Big Sven | September 12, 2007 4:37 PM


They're a fashion accessory. They're also popular in New York where they're primarily ridden by hot chicks wearing designer dresses and not wearing helmets.

Posted by keshmeshi | September 12, 2007 4:39 PM

Want to cut bike accidents in half?

Put a camera at intersections and fine people illegally talking on their cell phones while operating motor vehicles.

By the way, this includes bicyclists talking on cell phones, even though that isn't a motorized form of transport.

Posted by Will in Seattle | September 12, 2007 4:39 PM

i go across that intersection all the time and was hit in that exact spot about 1 year ago...luckily, i was almost at a complete stop and therefore just sort of toppled over (no injury)...i don't think the cars and trucks realize there is a bike lane there...eastlake only becomes a bike line two blocks before the bridge...the rest of the way, it's a great ride for bikes (because of the extra lane) but it's NOT marked as a bike lane...the city needs to help all of us out with this...they want us biking but they have to protect us lanes, signs, education.

Posted by uhmmm | September 12, 2007 4:41 PM

Nonsense about the fix gears. He had a brake. A front brake is the only brake that does anything in a fast stop anyways because your weight shifts forward, momentum and all you know.

In fact I feel a lot safer on my fixie than on my geared bikes because I have more control over it.

If you don't feel safe on one, it's simply because you are not a very good rider. Period.

Posted by kinaidos | September 12, 2007 4:42 PM

i don't know if i can really answer as to the "point" of fixies, except that they are very fun. it's really more interesting to have WAY more control over what your bike is doing, and to not be able to coast. where i live (jacksonville, fl) there isn't a huge movement over them, and the land is very flat, but i enjoy it just because it's more interesting.

Posted by konstantConsumer | September 12, 2007 4:44 PM



Posted by Judah | September 12, 2007 4:49 PM

My engineering degree and experience in the city on a fixed gear backs up what Kinaidos said - fixed gears with front brakes stop just as quickly and safely as freewheel bikes with two brakes.

Thanks for checking into the history of blue lane proposals in Seattle.

Posted by Denny | September 12, 2007 4:50 PM

Great post Erica.

For those of you curious about the draw of the fixed gear i recommend an article by a guy named Sheldon Brown, google his name and the term "fixed gear" and it will be your first hit.

The fixed gear craze is very much a double edged sword to the bicycling community. The hipness is bringing out lots of new riders which is absolutely a good thing as the more people that are riding bikes in Seattle the safer it will be come. However it's very true that riding a fixed gear presents a number of potentially dangerous challenges, dangers that the vast majority of fixed riders I see around town do not fully respect.

Bryce's death is a tragedy and it's one that I do not think can be blamed on the type of bike he was riding or the driver of the truck. While reconfiguring this intersection would be wonderful the number one thing that would have prevented this and many other bicycle accidents is awareness, both on the part of drivers and cyclists.

I would also like to take a minute to thank the .83ers and other who've put up the memorial at the scene of the accident. I encourage anyone who regularly travels by bike in town, or by any means through that area to stop and take a look. It serves as a poignant reminder to all of us to be safe as all the skinny pants and fixed gear bikes in the world don't look cool when you're dead.

Posted by Henry | September 12, 2007 4:51 PM

the question:

"Is it simply a macho thing?"

the answer:

"If you don't feel safe on one, it's simply because you are not a very good rider"

i.e, YES.

Posted by bubba baBOOM | September 12, 2007 4:52 PM

fixed gear bikes aren't unsafe. this is horsecock. for the most part, people on fixies usually go SLOWER downhills then people on geared bikes, because of the constant leg motion (wheels go fast, legs go fast)

to sum up, everything you said about fixies is horsepoop.


Posted by tom collins | September 12, 2007 4:56 PM

why do haters constantly demand that fixed gear riders defend themselves?

obviously part of the attraction is that they look cool. but they're fun, and they're fast. impractical perhaps, but aren't muscle cars and iphones?

there are no "unsafe bikes", only unsafe behavior. getting smushed by a truck is equally and tragically random for anyone given the conditions.

i choose to bike instead of drive. before you judge me, who's really part of the solution?

Posted by R.yu | September 12, 2007 4:58 PM

Because wikipedia is faster than graph paper:

Posted by Denny | September 12, 2007 5:00 PM

forward-moving traffic has right-of-way over right-turning traffic at a green light, and passing on the right is legal in a bike lane

That is either an inherently dangerous law or a dangerously liberal interpretation of the written law. By this law, assuming ECB's interpretation is correct, it is perfectly legal for a bike to cut in front a vehicle turning right a la what Lewis ended up doing.

Either the law needs to be amended or this interpretation needs to be cleared up once and for all so that cutting in front of right turning vehicles is either made illegal or that prominent signage is put in place to make motorists aware, because there are enough distractions for a motorist turning right at a busy intersection, on top of having to look out for fast moving cyclists popping out of their right side.

Posted by Gomez | September 12, 2007 5:00 PM

I'm not sure if it would've helped Bryce Lewis, but please wear your helmets, kids.

Posted by DOUG. | September 12, 2007 5:01 PM

8. Your first sentence should say 'Want to cut accidents in half?'

Posted by Gomez | September 12, 2007 5:02 PM

The problem with all the people saying that fixed gears are as safe if not more than your standard free wheel bike is that it seems like about 2/3rds of the people on fixies don't know what the hell they're doing. They want to look all cool and hip with their sleek color coordinated bike, yet they can barely ride a standard bike.

Then you get the general sense of entitlement that you get from all the hipsters mixed with the sense of entitlement you get from bike riders and your end result is essentially a 3 year mentality where one deserves it now and no one else matters.

Then you get to the fact that this dude who died wasn't wearing a helmet. That's just plain retarded. Riding in traffic without a helmet on is the same as saying to the world, "Hey people! I don't need my internal organs any more! Please take them from me!"

Posted by Graham | September 12, 2007 5:07 PM



Car hits bike. Bike takes 99 percent of energy from collision.

Bike hits car. Bike takes 99 percent of energy from collision.

You were saying?

Posted by Will in Seattle | September 12, 2007 5:07 PM

I think it demonstrates that bike lanes are less safe than just having two lanes that can be shared. Passing on the right is both stupid and dangerous.

Posted by Homer | September 12, 2007 5:09 PM

I don't know where the author got their information about fixed gears, but it is almost wholesale inaccurate, and much of the conjecture about brakeless fixies does not apply to this accident because Bryce Lewis *had* a front brake.

rear brakes only provide about 10% of the stopping power on any bicycle, the front brake is what gets you to a stop quickly. as such, if you are hitting your front brake hard enough to flip over the bars, using your rear instead sure as hell is not going to stop you from hitting whatever you are trying to avoid in time. and practiced riders of all bikes know to shift their weight back when doing hard braking to keep from flipping. its not nearly as easy to go over the bars as its made out to sound here. in all honesty, a rear brake is mostly useful as a safety mechanism in case your front brake fails. fixed gears usually don't have one because you already have direct control over the rotation of the rear wheel with your legs.

and as far as coasting, no one on a fixed-gear will ever approach the kind of speed on a big downhill like harvard that you can on a freewheel bike. the fact that you have to keep pedaling basically restricts your top speed.

also, as far as I know at this point, whether or not Lewis was travelling at an unsafe speed is largely hearsay. he may or may not have been riding safely, but as he was in a bike lane, he did have the right of way and the truck driver made the legally culpable error. please don't try and turn this into some kind of fixie witchunt based on a bunch of fear-tactics and wild conjecture. fixies may be a bit harder to ride, but not any more so than driving a manual transmission is.

Posted by chunts | September 12, 2007 5:09 PM

the only thing that makes fixed gears more dangerous than other bike types is the experience level of the rider. fixed bikes take practice, especially on hills.

but they are fun fast and much more practical than a heavier bike with lots of gears to choose from. there is of course some macho element to some who ride fix, but the stupidity of those few doesn't reflect on the bike design.

also, not every bike without gears is a fixed gear. i, for example, ride a single speed freewheel road bike. but that is neither here nor there.

Posted by douglas | September 12, 2007 5:13 PM

As an experienced cyclist, I assure you that fixed gears with front brakes are as easy as or easier to stop than bicycles with front and rear brakes.

Judah, interested in having a little stop-off competition? Fixed gears with front brakes make it surprisingly easy to get the best stopping power - the point where the rear wheel is barely in contact with the ground - by giving you optimal feedback through the pedals. That's also why I run a front brake, since all of your weight shifts forward. Same reason your coffee sloshes onto your center console when you slam the brakes on in your car.

Fixed gear bikes are less retarded than all those fucking macho cars out there. Which is more macho, climbing a steep hill in a 70" gear or driving a Hummer? At least one actually challenges something beyond your wallet.

Posted by Lee | September 12, 2007 5:13 PM

Did you intend to say with a single REAR brake? There is a huge difference between front and rear breaks. Fixies inherently have rear breaks, but some do not have front breaks (the important ones).

Posted by Brya | September 12, 2007 5:15 PM


because there are enough distractions for a motorist turning right at a busy intersection, on top of having to look out for fast moving cyclists popping out of their right side.

Yes. In fact, really, pedestrians and cyclists should be banned altogether. Drivers just can't be expected to keep track of all these little moving things.


The braking technique described in the wiki doesn't just require a basic amount of skill; it requires people to be able to carry off a technically complicated maneuver at exactly the moment when they're least likely to be able to pay attention to the details of their braking. Panic front braking can and does flip cycles. If you have a back brake you have the option of locking it up and skidding. It's not nearly as effective as front braking, but it's much easier to do right when you're panicking. And since the consequence of getting flipped is having my head suddenly down on the level of a car's tires, I'd rather slam into something high than risk getting pitched onto the asphalt and run over.

As far as that goes, if I'm going to do something fancy, I try to actually induce a skid and bootleg my bike around sideways so I broadside whatever I'm heading towards -- in which case, again, a rear brake is handy.

Posted by Judah | September 12, 2007 5:16 PM

@24: its not so much passing on the right, as it is the driver in the left lane cut across a lane of traffic to make a turn.

@19: same thing. the interpretation of the law is fine as it is. a bike lane is a lane of traffic, and in particular, cars crossing a bike lane *must yield* to bike traffic, as they would to traffic in other lanes. changing this law would be dangerous and would remove any imperative drivers have for watching out for bikes in bike lanes.

what does need to change is drivers need to be educated about this, and we need better lane markings and clear signage so people know.

Posted by chunts | September 12, 2007 5:20 PM


You are incorrect that fixies inherently have a rear break(sic). They have the ability to reverse or slow the rotation of the rear tire through backwards force on the drive train, but they do not have a brake. Unless you are considering the contact between the tire and the road the brake.

Posted by Graham | September 12, 2007 5:20 PM

I can't be the only cyclist to have a car directly cut me off to make a right turn. Plus cars seldom signal any more, especially SUVs. Therefore, you can never assume you can jet past a line of traffic at intersections.

Posted by assume they can't see you | September 12, 2007 5:22 PM
forward-moving traffic has right-of-way over right-turning traffic at a green light, and passing on the right is legal in a bike lane

These laws couldn't be more confusing. The first suggests that a car turning right has to wait for the bike to pass, but the second indicates the bike is not allowed to pass. Doesn't this produce a stalemate with both car and bike waiting for the other to go first? WTF?

I'll bet over 200 cyclists each year get hit by right turning vehicles. Hard to blame the cars, since drivers in the right lane aren't conditioned to expect moving traffic to their right. I don't see how you can blame the cyclist either, since they're in a bike lane.

It's just a dangerous setup.

Posted by Sean | September 12, 2007 5:35 PM


Sometimes cars hit cars! Unbelievable, I know, but it's true.


Do you have a bicycle that stops without using the contact of the tire and the road? A parachute brake, perhaps?

In case you were all curious, here's the passing on the right law ECB alludes to:

"Seattle Municipal Code:
SMC 11.44.080 Overtaking and passing on right.

The operator of a bicycle may overtake and pass a vehicle or a bicycle upon the right only under conditions permitting such movement in safety.

(Ord. 108200 Section 2(11.44.080), 1979.)"

Now, that "in safety" clause is a tricky one. It's generally dangerous at intersections, but if you've got no reason to think the vehicle is turning (e.g. it's far from the right curb, or doesn't have their blinker on) then arguments could be made that it seemed safe. Unfortunately we'll never get to find out what Bryce actually thought.

Posted by Lee | September 12, 2007 5:35 PM

@29 "The braking technique described ... requires people to be able to carry off a technically complicated maneuver at exactly the moment when they're least likely to be able to pay attention to the details of their braking."

This is why we practice our braking. On a pleasant Sunday afternoon, we break hard on a flat, empty parking lot. Then we do it again, until it is second nature to break with the front break. We do this because we are tired of falling down in panic stops. It scrapes paint off our pretty bikes, and emergency rooms are boring places.

Several such afternoons, of perhaps only an hour each, should be enough, and then the lesson is learned for a lifetime. Then we can break straight, even when braking hard enough to stand the bike up on the front wheel, then walk off over the handlebars when we get below a few miles per hour.

Oh sorry, I guess practice makes me an expert because only experts practice a potentially fatal activity.

Posted by Erik Nilsson | September 12, 2007 5:35 PM

Uh, hardly. Just happened to me yesterday at 19th and Aloha, but I stopped just in time.

Some asshole in another car actually yelled "Too bad you didn't hit him!" Thanks, bro.

Posted by Sean | September 12, 2007 5:39 PM

Riding fixed is horribly unsafe if you are new, and suck at it. One does not simply hop on a fixed bike and ride it, a new rider should practice, and pan routes that suit their experience level. I would also argue that fixie riders should never get rid of their front brakes.

This being said, Bryce Lewis was not inexperienced on a fixie and had a brake. Though he may have just descended a hill, it's unlikely he was going extremely fast, as he was two blocks away from the hill. Depending on the gear ratio on a bike, 25mph will usually get your ass bouncing on the seat, this is uncomfortable to maintain.

@4 - We're not talking about coaster brakes. When a fixie goes down hill, you don't pedal the bike, the bike pedals you. Depending on the gear ratio on the bike, any single speed can go up most hills. At the point where you're going to start requiring a granny gear on a hill, you may as well hop off and walk, because that would be faster than the gear that you would use. The point of a fixed gear to me is that the bike is simple and the ride is fun.

Posted by k42 | September 12, 2007 5:45 PM


Or "brake" for "break" idiotic spelling is my punishment for sarcasm.

Really, all you have to do is brake with the front brake in normal riding. When you have to brake in an emergency, you'll do what you've conditioned yourself to do.

As far as shifting your weight backward, think of it as pushing the bike in front of you. Again, do it normally, whenever you ride. Especially when braking on a hill. In a maximum-force panic stop, you will need more strength than a push-up requires to keep your bike in front of you. Any time you are braking, it only takes one unforeseen event to cause you to need to suddenly up your braking power, so you should normally push your bike out in front of you when braking.

If you do every time what you should do in a panic, then when you have a panic, you will do what you need to do, because it will come naturally.

Posted by Erik Nilsson | September 12, 2007 5:48 PM

Propper braking technique is to use your front brake exclusively anyway. Fixies are not inherantly more dangerous than a regular bike. In fact you go slower down hills on a fixed gear bike and can regulate speed easier.

Maybe you should read a little more about how bikes work and biking technique before posting something like this:

Posted by Smegmalicious | September 12, 2007 5:53 PM

I ride both fixed gear and a road bike. I enjoy both a lot, but I feel much, much safer on my fixed gear in the city (I have a front brake) and use the road bike for racing. For city riding, the fixed gear has way more control, no gear shifting to screw you up and take your concentration off the road. Plus you can track stand at stop lights so you don't have to fuss with getting in and out of the pedals. Erica, you clearly don't ride a fixed gear bike. It is not inherently unsafe or less safe.

Posted by twee | September 12, 2007 6:01 PM

Darwinism in action. Thanks for taking yourself out of the gene pool buddy.

Posted by me | September 12, 2007 6:17 PM

23. Did a comment get deleted or did my joke seriously fly right over your head?

Posted by Gomez | September 12, 2007 6:18 PM

39. That completely contradicts everything I've ever learned, which is that if you lead with your front brake you'll flip the back end up and risk throwing yourself from the bike.

... unless you're telling people that because you WANT them to get killed.

Posted by Gomez | September 12, 2007 6:21 PM

Erica - only major dorks use the term "fixie"

Posted by tree | September 12, 2007 6:23 PM

Greater driver awareness would flow from an automatic no-fault suspension of license in any collisions between a vehicle and bike. Like they do in Europe. It reduces accidents. It works.

Re-routing the bike routes off the busy arterials also would help a lot.

In this particular case the side street route would come out on Furman and might be a little difficult; but it would help, by eliminating this passing on the right situation where this accident took place, as so many others have..

Most arterials are paralled by low traffic-count side streets where the suggested bike routes could go.

Crammimg high volumes of vehicles and bikes into ourskinny little arterial streets is an inherently bad design.

We will all pay when the victm or heirs sue the city, too. The driver and his company will have an excellent chance of avoiding responsibility by telling the jury passing was not reasonable in this case, a fixie is unsafe, and the design of the streets is unsafe.

All these dangerous vehicular-bike interactions will continue, as before, and as by design, unless we make big changes, as suggested in the penalties and the routes.

Posted by Cleve | September 12, 2007 6:47 PM

Here's my completely inexperienced question about fixed-gears: It seems like when faced with a panic stop situation, your legs would probably freeze up. If your feet are locked to the pedals and you can't coast, this would seem to almost guarantee a seriously unstable stop, especially from any kind of speed. Doesn't seem like the panicking brain would be able to think to keep those legs turning, since it's exactly contrary to what you're trying to do, i.e. stop. Again, I've never ridden one, so I'm seriously asking.

It seems fanciful to me to think that anywhere near a majority of riders actually spend any significant amount of time practicing emergency stops, and seems even less likely that they'd be so concerned with their safety that they would practice on Sundays, yet still not wear helmets. If you choose not to do the one thing that has the biggest impact on your safety, you can't really expect everyone else to go so far out of their way either. Maybe they wanted to look cool, too.

Posted by Anthony Hecht | September 12, 2007 6:49 PM

So ECB doesn't know jack shit about how bikes work or how to ride them, and Dan Savage thinks he doesn't need a helmet. Is there anybody at The Stranger who is capable of giving your readers accurate information?

I might hate bicyclists, but I don't really want to see you all killed. I think the editors of this rag really do need a live braking demonstration to set them straight.

Posted by elenchos | September 12, 2007 7:26 PM

I would say ECB is correct that under 11.53.190 the bike has the right-of-way in a bike lane. There are probably some overarching laws that require operating in a reasonable safe manner which, for example, would not allow a driver to take a right with a turn arrow if a pedestrian has fallen in the crosswalk. If one lane of traffic is at a complete stop, it probably would be judged driving at the speed limit in the adjacent lane is not safe.

Section 11.53.190 DRIVING IN A BICYCLE LANE. The operator of a motor vehicle shall not drive in a bicycle lane except to execute a turning maneuver, yielding to all persons riding bicycles thereon.

Posted by whatever | September 12, 2007 7:29 PM

Fixed-gears are illegal in many places. It's time to put a stop to these death machines in our city too. I'm glad The Stranger is taking the lead on this issue. These biking idiots should be forced to wear helmets and ride bikes with free-wheels and brakes. Let's all call for a helmet and anti-fixed-gear law in Seattle now!

Halaka must be an example to the gentiles who are like animals constantly seeking pleasure and thrills and ignoring Torah.

Posted by Issur | September 12, 2007 7:52 PM

Oh man, I'm so sad to see this turning into a fixies-versus-geared-bikes argument. Can't we agree that there are different preferences within the cycling community, for whatever reasons, and let ourselves be a fucking community?

We have fixies and geared bikes. They have cars, SUVs and fucking dump trucks. Maybe I'm just a big pussy, but can't we love each other and stick together in order to protect ourselves from idiots with death machines, and make this city a little bit safer for cyclists?

Posted by Raindog | September 12, 2007 7:54 PM

And you know what else? I've been attacked by enough cars now that I'm ready to go apeshit on any driver who even thinks about crossing a bike lane when a cyclist is nearing the intersection. I don't care if they're on a fixie or a goddamn 52-speed tricycle.

Bicycle factions in this city are so counter-productive. We need each other if we're going to make any progress toward improved safety for bikes. We need each other goddammit! Seriously you guys! Leave Britney alone! I'm ... I'm sorry ... I'll go now.

Posted by Raindog | September 12, 2007 8:05 PM

One more thing: I just realized that I unintentionally repurposed "death machine" to mean automobiles and not fixies, as it was previously used. My apologies for any confusion, and for being on crack and spamming the shit out of the comments. My usage was better though. So ner.

Posted by Raindog | September 12, 2007 8:25 PM

elenchos, your chirp is shrill, man. so, oh, and you may hate bicyclists, but you're gonna correct-up ecb and dan who commute by bike. dah, okay.

anyways kids and crusters: wear your helmets. personal angle to say so is that i crashed seriously twice. one broken wrist, two landings on helmet. please. help yourself out.

Posted by Lloyd Clydesdale | September 12, 2007 8:29 PM

You don't have to listen to me, Lloyd. There are serious bicyclists right here who are trying to give you some useful knowledge. Some even offered to come out and show you. Take them up on the offer.

It's seriously sad that they do commute every day and haven't learned how their bikes work. And you seem to have the same problem. Do you just not want to explore your world at all? Do you not read? Doesn't the bike community have any gurus around? Do you not speak to them?

I had no idea there was this much ignorance. Especially on a subject that Erica and Dan have been writing about for years.

And thanks for spelling my name right. You're like the third one this week and I'm really stoked on that score.

Posted by elenchos | September 12, 2007 8:57 PM

@46 - It is normal for an inexperienced rider to forget about the fixed gear a few times after first getting on a fixed bike. In reality it only happens once or twice and becomes second nature very quickly when you are almost thrown from your bike by the pedals when you think that you are going to coast.

@49 - Riding a bike without a helmet is against the law. Riding without at least a front brake is also. Bike riders are just as *forced* to do these things as drivers are *forced* to wear seat belts, etc. In regards to your "death machines" comment - don't be ignorant. Cars kill many more people and are responsible for the majority of bicycle accidents as well.

Before I started racing at the velodrome I was scared of fixed gear bikes because I didn't understand how they worked and, as such, didn't think that they made any sense to ride around in the city. After spending quite a bit of time on one, you realize that you do have more control over your bike because you're connected to the bike in a way that isn't possible with geared bicycles. If you want to go faster, you have to be physically able to pedal faster. Just because bicycles have evolved from their original fixed gear form doesn't necessarily mean that they are better or safer. They are just easier...

Posted by iwanttobealion | September 12, 2007 9:00 PM

Since someone asked, I believe one of the advantages of the fixed-gear (or any single speed) bike is a drastic reduction in the number of parts, which makes maintenance a lot easier.

Don't ask me, though, my 40+ year old knees aren't going to take up single speed riding any time soon.

Posted by Greg Barnes | September 12, 2007 9:04 PM

I drive a CDL vehicle for work and commute on a bike; I see both points of reference. A bike lane is a legal lane of travel, but just like any ordinary lane of travel- any other traffic can signal and enter that lane. Think of bus only lanes, right turns are permitted; but the car must safely signal and enter the bus lane before it makes the right turn.
Very little facts have been offered about what actually happened. Was the dump truck already in the right lane? Did he make a complete stop, then make a free right? Did the bicyclists attempt to pass the truck while he was already turning?
It's turning into a bikes vs motorized vehicle argument- it's not.

Posted by Kat | September 12, 2007 9:09 PM

Hey there. I wear a helmet. When I wrote, "no one wears helmets anymore," I was referring to all the folks out there -- not me -- that aren't wearing helmets. I feel like the only one with a helmet these days. Very few folks on fixies, in particular, seem to be wearing helmets.

Posted by Dan Savage | September 12, 2007 9:29 PM

elenchos - a lot of that sounded like dog whistle to me, but thanks. The biggest problems I've ever have all been accidents.

Posted by Lloyd Clydesdale | September 12, 2007 9:33 PM

I'm not going to argue whether passing a right-turning vehicle on the right on a bike is legal because I don't know that law, but I will state that it's monumentally stupid. Having had the right of way ain't gonna make you any less dead, my friend.

Posted by GG1000 | September 12, 2007 9:46 PM

I stand corrected, Dan. It was hard to believe you would be dumb enough to ride without a helmet. FWIW, I'm not the only one who thought that's what you meant.

Please don't let Erica write an article about bicycle safety without making her talk to somebody who understands how bikes go and how they stop.

I mean a print article. On the internets you can say anything and it doesn't count.

Posted by elenchos | September 12, 2007 9:46 PM

Hey elenchos,

I do know how bikes "go" and how they stop. I ride one every day and have been riding for more than 20 years.

Posted by ECB | September 12, 2007 9:53 PM

Burn all fixes at the stake! Erica C. Barnett too!

Be safe, ride your bike and have fun.

Posted by I'm a Nuclear Bomb | September 12, 2007 10:06 PM

@43 "if you lead with your front brake you'll flip the back end up"

Short answer: since you can't brake very hard with the rear wheel, pitching up the bike isn't a problem.

If you are braking hard enough with the front wheel to lift the rear wheel up, you are already braking harder than you can break with the rear wheel. This isn't the place for a physics lesson, but when you brake on level ground, the deceleration makes everything as if you were pointed downhill. This means as you brake harder, less of your weight is pressing on the rear wheel and more is pressing on the front. If you brake with your rear wheel, you can only brake so hard that you start to unload the rear wheel, because you need firm contact for maximum braking force.

But the front wheel is different. As you brake harder, you put more and more downward force on the front wheel, so the harder you brake, the harder it becomes to skid the front wheel. The limit of your braking power is the point at which the rear wheel loses contact. Well, actually you can brake harder than that if you can balance on the front wheel, but that doesn't gain you all that much anyway.

The other thing that happens as you brake harder is that you tend to get pitched over the front bars. This is a minor problem when braking with the rear wheel, because you can't brake hard enough to pitch you forward much. But with the front wheel, it is possible to brake harder than some people are capable of pushing.

Slippery conditions are a special case. (Although a common one around here.) There are a few other special cases. But normally, on dry pavement, the only thing the back brake is well suited for is either curb-hopping tricks or in case your front brake cable breaks.

Posted by Erik Nilsson | September 12, 2007 10:26 PM

Woah. There are also plenty of riders on GEARED bikes that don't know how to ride competantly in Seattle traffic either.

In Seattle there are plenty of club riders with reprehensible traffic skills, scads of commuters with timid road and intersection abilities.

Those of us that ride around town regularily see bicyclists on ALL TYPES OF BIKES doing stupid/patently unsafe manuevers.

Admit it, we ALL ride unsafely and take risks at times on our bikes- I know I do - tonight I caught myself splitting lanes on the Fremont Bridge deck grating.

Erica might be overstating the case a little bit, but her concerns over SOME fixed gear riders' inexperience is valid- I've seen riders whipping down Pine Street, feet off the pedals entirely, cranks doing 80 reps.....

This tragedy is a sobering reality check for Seattle bicyclists. Erica is using this tragedy to illustrate one segment of the fixed gear community- inexperienced bicyclists doing it for questionable motives, leaving themselves vulnerable in traffic due their own inexperience at bike handling.

I beleive Erica is cautioning the bicycling populace by stating the case- and I hope all you fixed gear riders posting here agree - that RIDING A FIXED GEAR BIKE IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR SAFE BIKE HANDLING SKILLS.

Not to disparage the 'skilled' fixed gear riders posting here....

Posted by Beck | September 12, 2007 10:42 PM

I know it sucks that riders need to be more attentive than drivers, but riders have a lot more to lose. I don't know the facts of this case, and I'm not passing judgment on anyone involved. My advice to cyclists is this: never assume that drivers know where you are. If you can't make eye contact, you might as well assume that they are oblivious to you. A defensive cycling approach may not get you there as fast as you want, but it helps keep you safe.

Posted by MidwayPete | September 12, 2007 10:46 PM

@65 "Those of us that ride around town regularily see bicyclists on ALL TYPES OF BIKES doing stupid/patently unsafe manuevers."

Beck, I agree with your whole post.

I don't ride a fixie, so I'm not going to comment on their advantages and disadvantages, except to point out that many ('tho not all) fixies have a very short wheelbase. This is not unique to fixies, but it is more common for them than other types of bikes. Short bikes offer stunning quickness at the price of reduced stability. Consequently, riding one common configuration of fixie may require better bike handling skills than riding the typical multi-speed bike, although it may offer the skilled rider greater maneuverability.

Posted by Erik Nilsson | September 12, 2007 10:59 PM

Erica - I'm going to chime in and second the recommendation to read Sheldon Brown's bit on braking and turning:

I spent many happy years bike commuting in Boston ("Our drivers are crazier than yours"(TM)) and Sheldon's advice (on more than this topic) saved my butt many times.

It's counter-intuitive at first, but becomes second nature quickly. And simple physics means that if you're not using your front brake aggressively, you're not stopping anywhere near as fast as you could. Really.

And most folks who go "over the bars" do it not because they flip the bike, but rather that they aren't braced for 1/2 a gee of decel. Once *they* fly over the handlebars the bike can only follow. (And I say this based on personal experience :-)

Just be careful about locking up the front wheel on wet pavement. But then locking up the rear wheel on wet pavement isn't so great, either...

(And yes some fixed gear riders are clueless. But I fail to see how fixed gear bikes (with a front brake) are substantially more dangerous than a freewheel setup. The slightly less effective rear braking is probably balanced out by the better feedback a fixed setup supplies.)

And about helmets. While I wear mine religiously, it's interesting to note that countries with very low helmut usage like Germany, have much much lower fatality rates for cyclists. (See the figures here, for instance

So while I believe helmets do help, there's clearly a lot more to the safety thing - and it would be great to focus on the rest of the picture for a change.

Posted by bakfiets | September 12, 2007 11:05 PM

Oh, and thanks for those mentions of the rest of the safety picture in the rest of your post ...

Posted by bakfiets | September 12, 2007 11:07 PM

Why are we still talking about this?

No, seriously, why?

Everyone knows cyclists are 2nd class citizens on the roadways. The reasons are many: lack of civic commitment (across American culture, not the city or county) is one problem; lack of cyclist civility is another (how many cyclists run stop signs and stop lights, for instance); inability to see cyclists, etc.

Every cyclist with a brain on his shoulders should know that he's the sole person responsible for his safety. Any cyclist that doesn't believe that this is the way things work is deluded and WRONG. Whether this is the way things SHOULD be is one issue; the way things ARE is quite another. There are some corollaries. For instance, it's up to YOU to make sure no one's going to hit you in a right-turn situation. It's up to YOU to make sure cars coming out of driveways see you. If you don't believe that you're solely responsible, then you're insane.

I wonder how many cyclists on this forum are also motorcyclists. I ride a Trek 1500 road bike, and a Suzuki Hayabusa 1300 as well. My motorcycle safety class spent hours drilling us on how to be more visible to cars and how to compensate for cars' potential mistakes. The single thing they drilled us on most was that intersections are the most dangerous place for motorcyclists.

It makes me wonder whether most of you cyclists would benefit from a MOTORCYCLE SAFETY CLASS as well.

The main lesson of a motorcycle safety class is that cars [and trucks of couse] are scary and you should defend against them and NOT assume they will act rationally -- "Lewis" is a fucking idiot.

Posted by FrederickT | September 12, 2007 11:37 PM

I'm sick of this knee-jerk reaction to wearing a helmet while biking. It depends on the helmet. (I know motorcyclists could probably say the same thing, especially since they tend to wear German army helmets from WWI, but.) I lost three teeth and had to scrub asphalt out of my face twice a day after crashing while wearing a helmet. None of the helmets I bought since then have been as suited to Seattle riding as my baseball cap. It keeps out the rain, the sun, the bugs, and the wind, and it fits around my bun. Apparently helmet designers didn't plan for long hair (or rain or sun or bugs or wind). Well, TSA didn't plan for long hair either...

Posted by Amelia | September 13, 2007 1:35 AM

You can wear a baseball hat under a bike helmet. As for the hair, well, cut it off.

Posted by Dan Savage | September 13, 2007 6:56 AM

Re: 72.

Dan, suck my dick. How am I going to piss my mother off if I lose the hair?

Posted by Amelia | September 13, 2007 7:04 AM

@9 "they want us biking but they have to protect us lanes"

Before we get all excited about blue lanes, it would be worthwhile to review the DOT study on Portland's blue lanes.* This study found:
- Bikes rode more aggressively in blue lanes. For example, they rode in front of cars crossing their path more often.
- Few cars even saw the blue lanes, and few of the ones that did see them knew what they were for. Hence, blue lanes had a negligible impact on car behavior
- Riders did not perceive the blue lane as more slippery. Lots of data shows that painted asphalt, when wet, is far slipperier than unpainted asphalt. Thus, bikers in Portland were not aware of the greater potential for slipping and falling on a blue lane.

Based on the Portland experience, I am not enthusiastic about blue lanes. It's another one of those things that seems like a good idea. But the data so far is that they're a terrible idea.

One other conclusion of the Portland study was that blue lanes reduced ridership by women. That conclusion is inexplicable, and to my mind probably an artifact. That just goes to show how hard it is to make sense of the meager data we have on bike infrastructure. If true, of course, this conclusion would be one more mark against blue lanes.

*DOT publication FHWA-RD-00-150, August 2000. If you read this study, don't just read the introduction, flip to the conclusions section, which is largely at odds with the happy-talk front-matter.

Posted by Erik Nilsson | September 13, 2007 7:16 AM

Erica, listen to the engineers and physicists who are trying to help you. Listen to to Sheldon Brown And His Beard. Listen to Erik Nilsson.

You've got all these fellow bicyclists who clearly know what they are talking about. Instead of giving any kind of reply to their reasoned, patient explanation that the weight of a bike shifts to the front when you brake (and why that matters so much), you want to just contradict me. Telling me you have 20 years experience just makes me think you have only one year of experience, repeated 20 times over.

You know, this fixie thing is an awful lot like the pit bull issue the slog has had a hard on over. Both fixies and pit pulls are close to perfect in their own way, for a very specialized purpose. But they're not necessarily the best thing for the uninformed general public to rush out and get. But because pit bulls and fixies are fashionable, a crowd of imitative idiots run out and get them, and they are the ones who get all the press.

Then you have people who really know something about dogs or bikes trying to talk sense and reason against a hurricane of media panic. Why are reporters so often on the side of hysteria?

@71 Amelia, among motorcyclists the ones who won't ride with a decent helmet are the same ones who think -- irony! -- that you shouldn't use the front brake. Many of them have labored under these illusions for 20 years, the same as ECB. They are as much an embarrassment to the motorcycle community as irresponsible pit bull owners or anonymous barebacking gays are to their respective communities.

Posted by elenhcos | September 13, 2007 7:33 AM

It must be hard to find out you've been doing something for 20 years and still don't know shit about it, eh? Especially hard to have your ignorance exposed in a public forum, too. Luckily it's just on the internet so, like Josh, you can say it doesn't count.

Posted by tree | September 13, 2007 8:57 AM

@75, @76

Sheldon Brown is definitely worth reading. I am aware of only one piece of his wisdom that I disagree with. (Swapping brake levers, BTW.)

Erica, I don't understand why you think fixies flip over more easily than multi-speed bikes. Sure, a shorter wheelbase will flip over somewhat more easily than a longer wheelbase, but I don't think the difference is drastic. Plus, there are long fixies and short multi-speeds. Any bike lacking a front brake will not stop well, but that won't normally result in a flip.

Otherwise, IMHO you are entitled to ignore the posts of people who show their ignorance of social graces by pointing out their perceptions of other people's ignorance in a rude manner. But I'm sure you knew that already.

Posted by Erik Nilsson | September 13, 2007 9:57 AM

@76 Elenchos, how are we supposed to spell your name right if you don't? :)

Posted by Tizzle | September 13, 2007 9:57 AM

@77 - welcome to slog. if you think you're going to enter into any kind of meaningful discussion with sloggers, specifically ECB, then you are badly mistaken. They spew, you review. And occasionally they make an appearance in the comments to insult their readers. That's about how the game works.

Reason and logic have no place here. This is, after all, a theatrical production.

Posted by welcome to slog | September 13, 2007 10:02 AM

fixed gear bikes are like unicycles...

only not as funny.

Posted by tony tenspeed | September 13, 2007 10:07 AM

While some fixed specific bikes do have a shorter wheel base, the bike that I saw under the dump truck was an older Novara. Novara doesn't make a single speed bike (that I know of), so the shorter wheel base wasn't an issue in this case.

@70 - "'Lewis' is a fucking idiot." and everyone else who has chastised Bryce Lewis for his decisions (fixed gear bike, riding too fast, etc) - We don't know exactly what happened in the wreck. What's the point in trying to figure out how the victim fucked up? Maybe he didn't. Other than not wearing a helmet (Please please wear your helmets!) we'll never have any idea what the actual circumstances were.

Posted by iwanttobealion | September 13, 2007 10:19 AM

@74: I did wonder about the slipperiness issue. I know in my car, when making hard stops in wet weather, I've sometimes gotten ABS activation when the wheels hit a wide pavement stripe. Motorcyclists seem very aware of this -- I've noticed they avoid the striped parts of crosswalks.

@75: It does surprise me how many people in this thread don't seem to understand the physics of braking, including the need to shift their weight backwards when braking hard. This is even more important on a bike with a suspension fork, because the front will tend to nose-dive under braking. You simply can't get full braking performance out of *any* bike if you stay in your normal riding position -- you have to push your ass back over the rear wheel. This will let you use more brake on the front wheel without flipping, and more brake on the rear wheel without locking it. After practicing it for a while it becomes second nature.

As far as bike lanes go, it strikes me that the central problem with them is requiring cars to make right turns across a lane they can't legally enter. It's the only situation I can think of where cars are not just permitted, but *required* to turn right across a lane of traffic.

Posted by Orv | September 13, 2007 10:21 AM

The DOT (Oregon DOT?) report you cite, or at least the spin you put on it, seems to contradict the City of Portland's own follow-up report linked here, which indicate a statistically significant positive effect on motorist behavior. They also say (see the FAQ) that the painted asphalt is no more slippery than regular asphalt, and point to a number of European studies that show a significant safety advantage for cyclists with the painted lanes.

Assuming we can find a reasonable treatment that isn't slippier than normal pavement, I don't see the harm in trying such a fix on problematic intersections, such as the one in question.

Posted by Greg Barnes | September 13, 2007 10:33 AM


"None of the helmets I bought since then have been as suited to Seattle riding as my baseball cap"


Posted by Greg | September 13, 2007 10:52 AM

I was an eyewitness to this accident which actually occured on Furhman, not Eastlake as many writers seem to suppose. The two cyclists (19), Bryce Lewis and Caleb, had just turned onto Furhman, when the dump truck turned right just after and struck the cyclists. I was astounded to see this unfold and felt no sense of danger. So do not believe it was something that could not happen to you too. Be assured that once the truck turned onto Furman, there was not escape for the cyclists. The truck driver was right up agains the curb and so there was no room for Bryce and Caleb to maneuver.

I am not exactly sure of the trucks position before it turned. I can only reason that since it was right up against the curb, it must have turned from an outside lane. It is impossible for a truck to be up against the curb, then take a 90 degree angle turn, because it would not be possible for the rear wheels to clear the curb. And I can assure you the truck driver had good speed on the turn when it plowed into the cyclists.

The cyclists and truck driver might have both been suffering from a sense of false security just prior to the accident. I say this because a flagman was stopping northbound traffic on Eastlake and allowing bikes and pedestrians to go around a blocked sidewalk. The flagman waved me through (I was jogging North on Eastlake), then I saw him wave Bryce and Caleb through. I heard them laugh as they passed me. They were having fun, just enjoying ride on a beautiful day with the northbound lane to themselves. The only vehicle Northbound at that time was the dump truck. I'm thinking that the dump truck driver, seeing that traffic was stopped, had a false sense of security and did not bother to looking into his right mirror to see the cyclists coming up on his right in the bike lane.

I saw the cyclists truck immediately after the turn, but did not see the aftermath until I arrived at the intersection about 5 seconds after the accident. I arrived to find Caleb (the other cyclist) shouting "Oh my God" Help Me Help Me Help Me, and to see Bryce obviously dead from a head wound lying in an impossible position on the roadway.

I saw the truck driver get out of the truck and witness the aftermath. He had no words. He saw a scene that will undoubtedly haunt him (and me) for the rest of my life.

I've noticed that the reaction that my friends have when I tell them this story is that the cyclists were at fault. But I need to reiterate, as a runner and cyclists, I've become very good at sensing danger over my 45 years of life and I felt none. I did not see this coming. So do not be quick to assign blame. I'm thinking that assigning blame is convenient for people not wanting to admit that it can happen to them too. Well it can.

God Bless

Posted by Rich Hinrichsen | September 13, 2007 10:58 AM

I had a serious cycling accident in 2001. (I have been riding for 22 years, raced for ten, from the age of 14) I am very experienced and a very good bike handler.

I broke my back and my orbit. (face) I had a stage III concussion as well.
I had three vertebral compression fractures.

The Neurologist assured me that had I not been wearing a helmet, I would have died or sustained serious brain damage
that would have likely left me seriously disabled.

The accident involved unmarked road work that I hit at speed. My fork buckled from the impact. The construction company quickly settled the case, as they knew it was their fault.

I don't remember the accident. It took four years, but I finally got back on the bike. I ride regularly now, mostly on the BG.

I don't move a foot forward without a helmet.

So I'm not 'cool.' Being in a wheelchair the rest of your life is not cool either.

Posted by Greg | September 13, 2007 11:10 AM

This might be a good time to have some kind of bicycle safety awareness program run by the fire department or one of the regional bicycle clubs.

This is also a good time to maybe think about beefing up laws regarding bicycle safety, including enforcing the helmet law: "Bryce obviously dead from a head wound"

It also wouldn't be a bad idea to make it illegal to operate a bike while drunk, as currently, as insane as it sounds, it is perfectly legal.

Posted by bike safely | September 13, 2007 11:10 AM

It appears to me that the fixed gear cohort hates the newbie fixed riders (I am one) because we are hopping on the fad wagon. I bet you long time fixed heads were also the same people who thought that everyone started liking the Chili Peppers only after "under the bridge" came out. My point being: who cares. We share a love of simple machines. And we don't smell as bad as you. Okay that last jab was uncalled for.

Posted by smirnoff | September 13, 2007 11:12 AM

Why don't we just eliminate all of the on-street parking on Eastlake and take the lane that this would free up, paint big yellow stripes on it and dedicate it to bikes and buses. Seriously, Eastlake is a busy street, it makes no sense to allow business owners to get free, city provided parking for their customers at the expense of bus riders, who have to put up with their bus having to merge into traffic to get around the cars that are parked on the side of the streets and cyclists who have to pedal around parked cars and into traffic. Now business and homeowners will shit and whine about this but that's too fucking bad. I don't see why it is the city's responsibility to provide business and homeowners with a place to park their cars any more than it is to provide them with a place to shit.

Posted by wile_e_quixote | September 13, 2007 11:15 AM

@78: Oh, shit. If only my parents had just named me "Bob."

Posted by elenchos | September 13, 2007 11:27 AM

@89: Eastlake on the block south of Fuhrman has no on-street parking. The bike lanes in both directions are up against the curb.

Which is not to say I'm against eliminating parking on the rest of the street.

Posted by Greg Barnes | September 13, 2007 11:36 AM

Rich @85: Thanks for posting that account. It's interesting to read that traffic flow was affected that day by the ubiquitous Eastlake construction.

I ride southbound Eastlake every weekday and each morning is a new adventure: Where will the construction pylons be? Where will the workers have their trucks parked? What kind of rubble will reside in the shoulder? Will the flaggers be paying attention?

Posted by DOUG. | September 13, 2007 12:34 PM

gomez, you suck. do you understand that?

Posted by gomezsucks | September 13, 2007 12:50 PM

#29 "I think it demonstrates that bike lanes are less safe than just having two lanes that can be shared. Passing on the right is both stupid and dangerous."

Thank You, very true!

Any vehicle being overtaken, by another vehicle, has the right way.

Cyclists are becoming more and more complacent, as their numbers increase and government agencies cater to them, as well as an increased lack of accountability has developed. I say this only because I see it in 99% of the people I associate myself with, which are all cyclists. It's embarrasing...

Posted by Matt Savage | September 13, 2007 2:20 PM

@94 Show me a place where more government agencies catering to cyclists actually led to more cyclist fatalities and maybe you'd have a point. But all the evidence I've seen points to the opposite.

For a nearby example how about Portland? More government help -> more cyclists -> fewer fatalities per cyclist/mile.

And it's the same all across Europe, where entire countries have adopted cyclist friendly laws. Tiny little places like, oh say Germany (that's 80 million people we're talking about) seem to show that government "catering" leads to (surprise!) lots more cyclists who (surprise!) die at lower rates than before all that catering.

People in this country have to start understanding that government can *actually* be useful some times. Or we can watch as the dollar keeps going down , down, down, down as our country becomes more and more like some loser banana republic.

(And I need to be able to pay for those German tires for my bike, dammit! :-)

Posted by bakfiets | September 13, 2007 2:38 PM

It's too bad your article failed to mention that Bryce Lewis did actually break the law by not wearing a helmet. (Neither bikers wore helmets, according to police reports.)

As an avid biker, I have seen far too often that fellow bikers in this city right very self righteously and recklessly, often disobeying both common sense and bike safety laws. While his death is quite tragic, can you really say that he is not at fault? Were you there??

Posted by Basil | September 13, 2007 4:05 PM

Sorry for the long post, but here is a more or less point-by-point of your comments.

> (Oregon DOT?) report you cite
No, it's a Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) report. FHWA is part of the US Department of Transportation. You can download this report if you want here

> seems to contradict the City of Portland's own follow-up report
The city's report covers the same period of time as the DOT report. I think it is not so much a followup as a rebuttal. The Portland report confirms that cyclists ride more aggressively in blue lanes.

> which indicate a statistically significant positive effect on motorist behavior.
The Portland report interprets the data in this way, but the data don't really support that conclusion. For each conflict interaction between a cyclist and a motorist, either a bike yeilded or a car yeilded. Since bike riders rode more aggressively (did not turn head to look for cars when entering danger zone, etc.), fewer bikes yeilded. This automatically means more cars yeilded. But this isn't really a change in car behavior. In the before case, a certain number of car drivers were presented with a choice of yeilding or hitting a bike. All chose to yield. In the after case, a larger number of cars were presented with the same choice, and again all chose to not hit the bicyclist. That isn't a change in behavior. The only way that the method of the Portland report could have shown no "improvement" in motorist behavior is if every additional aggressive biker had been hit by a car.

> They also say (see the FAQ) that the painted asphalt is no more slippery than regular asphalt,
The report claims the blue paint is "not slippery" but the only data reported is from dry days. I'm sure it's not very slippery on dry days. I've ridden the blue paint in Portland, but only on dry days, and I didn't try to test its slipperiness.

It might be that the blue material they're putting down is no more slippery than asphalt, which is good, but if there is data on slipperiness, why not just report the data?

In any case, if blue lanes make bikers ride more agressively, I'm still not sure blue lanes are a good thing. The Portland report indicates higher awareness by drivers of what the blue lanes mean than the DOT report. The number is still to low for me to trust my noggin on. (Would you cross in front of an oncoming vehicle at a 4-way stop if you knew over 30% of drivers didn't know what a stop sign is?)

I'm not death on blue lanes. I just want to make desicions on them based on data that is better than garbage. So far, the data, such as it is, indicates that a promissing idea doesn't work nearly as well as we'd like. It would be a good idea to back up and rethink before we rush forward.

It may be that drivers will in time all learn what blue lanes are. But it is unreasonable to assume that all drivers will learn. Minimally, there has to be a state-level committment to include blue lane information in drivers' pamphlets and driving tests.

> and point to a number of European studies that show a
> significant safety advantage for cyclists with the painted lanes.
I looked at the European data available to me pretty carefully a few years ago. I've also had a good look at urban bike infrastructure in Germany and the Netherlands, two oft-cited countries for bike infrastructure. One thing to remember about Europe is that average biking speeds in the city core, where you find blue lanes, are very low compared to the US, barely above walking speeds in many places. (Dutch folks go like hell out of the city, but often along old canal towpaths that have been paved over. These pass under roadways with the canals, so there is almost no cross traffic and they are completely grade-separated, so it's almost impossible to be hit by a car on these.)

Posted by Erik Nilsson | September 13, 2007 8:29 PM


Amelia, get a women's helmet. They run smaller, so you may need to upsize, but the major difference from a men's is the cut-out in the back for a ponytail. (Also, some color differences, but there is a lot of overlap.)

Posted by Erik Nilsson | September 13, 2007 9:07 PM

@97 Thanks for the link.

I don't read the conclusions of the DOT report as a rebuttal; more as a confirmation.

You say the only significant difference is that motorists yielded more to cyclists. But since blue lanes were put in places where motorists were supposed to yield to cyclists, it seems to me that this is the desired behavior. And if you're crossing an intersection or point in a street where you know (because of the sign) that you have the right of way, aren't you more likely to proceed without checking?

I agree the PDX data is thin, but I don't see any rebuttal of the European data. If they make even the (presumably fairly safe) European city rider statistically more safe, isn't that a good thing?

In short, I still don't see any reason not to try blue lanes (apart from slipperiness, which PDX says isn't a problem), and hope that they could make things better.

Of course, at this point, there's probably no one left reading this thread...

Posted by Greg Barnes | September 13, 2007 9:14 PM


> Of course, at this point, there's
> probably no one left reading this
> thread...
Just us mice.

Why shouldn't we just try blue lanes? Because if SDOT does that, they won't do other things. And if we accept blue lanes as justified on inadequate data, no better data will ever be gathered. Twenty years from now, we could be grinding blue paint off of much of the city if we finally find out blue lanes are a really bad idea.

The problem is that the Portland study draws conclusions that the data don't support. We want to predict accident rates. Accidents are rare (you'd have to stand for long time in one place to observe a few), so we have to use some proxy for accidents. But when you do analysis like this, you have to be very careful. Portland wasn't careful.

As I said, the Portland data show no change in car behavior, none at all. The only thing they show is a change in bike behavior, towards less vigilance.

There might be a change in car behavior relative to blue lanes, but the Portland study was unable to measure it. They said they did, but their methodology is flat wrong. They have no data.

The *only* documented change in behavior that has been measured in Portland was a change in behavior of bicyclists. That behavior, as you pointed out, is expected and reasonable, but it also seems almost certain to increase accident rates.

I am not intractably opposed to trying blue lanes in Seattle, but minimally I want better data on slipperiness when they are wet, and I want them introduced as an experiment, with a commitment to gather better data than was done in Portland. And wherever I encounter blue lanes, I will regard them for what are in any case: not areas of refuge for bikes, but areas of great danger.

Posted by Erik Nilsson | September 13, 2007 10:20 PM

Actual pictures: #85's report not accurate

The truck WAS NOT against the curb as
#85 wrote: "I am not exactly sure of the trucks position before it turned. I can only reason that since it was right up against the curb, it must have turned from an outside lane. It is impossible for a truck to be up against the curb, then take a 90 degree angle turn, because it would not be possible for the rear wheels to clear the curb. And I can assure you the truck driver had good speed on the turn when it plowed into the cyclists."

Posted by whatever | September 14, 2007 2:52 PM

I don't even know where to begin.

Labeling fixed-gear bikes as "dangerous" makes about as much sense as labeling manual transmission cars as "dangerous".

Blaming Bryce's fixed-gear for his unfortunate end makes as much sense as blaming the color of his eyes for the same.

So much of this crap is people cherry-picking aspects of the event to support their entirely arbitrary opinions about cyclists or - far more stupidly - about types of bikes.

Riding a bike is JUST LIKE DRIVING A CAR. You must be aware of your surroundings, you must consider how your actions will influence and/or affect others.

The truth is that almost everybody (no matter what they're doing) is running on a kind of auto-pilot. I've seen cyclists and motorists talking on cell phones. I've seen cyclists and motorists LISTENING TO HEADPHONES! I've been nearly run off the road on my bike by inattentive cyclists and inattentive motorists (even inattentive pedestrians) alike.

You, humans, are the most dangerous things on the road. Nobody is perfect, nobody is infallible (no matter how highly you think of yourselves).

Quit hashing out the minute technical details of this thing. You feeling righteously smug and self-satisfied accomplishes nothing apart from further polarizing the discussion.

Think of how each one of us can be a bit more responsible for ourselves and more aware of others.

Posted by Poopdick | September 15, 2007 10:09 PM

As Bryce's Auntie, I am appalled by the lack of compassion on this blog. To see you all bickering like school kids and to see the name calling is upsetting. A wonderful boy's life has been taken. We're all heart-broken. And believe me when I say that we want to get to the bottom of this as well. But please be respectful in this time of sorrow, as Bryce's family and loved ones are reading your words.

We love you Bryce Anthony Lewis. You filled our hearts with joy, laughter, and knowledge. You'll be in our hearts forever.


Posted by Tanya | September 17, 2007 12:03 PM

Dear Tanya,

I am so sorry that you have to see this bickering on this blog, as the comments do often get out of control. The news of this heart-breaking accident involving your nephew has been haunting me as a 19-year-old and I wish that there were a post to simply pay respects to Bryce. It is unfortunate that so many comments have felt the need to fixate on minor details and faults rather than how we can improve the roads so as to avoid such an accident in the future. I send nothing but the best wishes to you and the rest of Bryce's family. I hope that you can know that, although it may not seem like it at times, most of us on Slog and in Seattle really do care.

Best wishes --

Posted by C. | September 21, 2007 2:26 AM

1. Fixies are vanity bikes. Especially when they're ridden without helmets or with ridiculous skate helmets. The whole maintenance issue is complete crap. Are you seriously telling us that a freewheel is an expensive or troublesome piece of equipment?
2. We all need to ride defensively. Itís not about being right or wrong, itís about survival. I think there are a lot of cyclists with a chip on their shoulder and an attitude that they are morally superior to motorists. That attitude is bound to get you in trouble. Just because youíre not burning petrol doesnít mean you can morally roll through a stop or weave through traffic.
3. Bike lanes are not always the solution. Getting out of the bike lane and taking up a car lane is often safer especially when traveling with the flow of traffic.

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Posted by 1993 grand pontiac prix | September 22, 2007 11:01 AM

Wow. I knew Bryce in high school, and have been bicycle safety advocate for a long time.
IN NO WAY can I even begin to consider that the type of bike Bryce was riding contributed to the accident. If a vehicle turns right into you, it doesn't matter if your bike has a freewheel, brakes, or photon torpedos. It's preposterous to even suggest that it would make a difference. If the truck had turned into say an old VW beetle, you wouldn't say that the accident would have never happened if only they had been driving a Honda instead of VW - it's absolutely a moot point and has nothing at all to do with the accident.

The article I find to be worthless. In fact, I think it's yellow journalism. I think it's a cheap shot to take the death of this person and use it to sensationalize an almost completely unrelated topic.
There are factual errors made too. A bicycle with a freewheel will go down hill easier than a bike with a fixed gear. For comparison - if you're on a going down a steep hill in your car - and you have the car in first - so it's locked in a single gear: it'll go slower than it will if you put it in neutral and let it freewheel down the hill.
In gear the wheels and engine are locked together -like the wheels and legs of a cyclist on a fixed gear bicycle. When you put the car in neutral and let it freewheel down the hill, the wheels can move fast than the engine is running - like the wheels of a bike with a freewheel - they roll freely even when the engine is idling/the legs are not pedaling.
considering the errors made regarding mechanical facts, and the sensationalized tangent the article goes on, I almost find it offensive.
The author has used the death of my friend to sensationalize an inaccurate argument about fixed gear bicycles.
BTW I am actually biased against fixed gears, but I find the very idea that a fixed gear contributed to the cause of this collision to be patently ridiculous.

Posted by D. Grimshaw | September 22, 2007 11:40 AM

I would also like to point out for some of the people commenting above, that Bryce was not some sort of hipster buying into a fad.
Bryce was a competent cyclist, and worked at a bike shop. He knew how to handle a bicycle. He wasn't clueless about this, and I'm certain he knew far more about bicycles and how to correctly ride them than the majority of people posting comments here.

Posted by D. Grimshaw | September 22, 2007 11:45 AM
Posted by 2008 firebird pontiac | September 22, 2007 11:49 AM

I should also point out that when you make a turn, or merge while driving - you are responsible to make sure THAT YOU can make that maneuver - it's not the other motorist's, cyclist's, pedestrian's job to clear the way for you.
If you put your blinker on, then turn into the car right beside you - YOU are at fault. You may have signaled your intent, but they are not in anyway obligated to make space for you - YOU have to wait until there is space for you to merge or turn.
If there is a car there, a cyclist there, or some other physical object occupying the space you need - you have to make sure it's not where you're going to be there when you're going to be there.

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