City The Culture of Cycling: Seattle vs. Portland
posted by November 5 at 10:38 AMon
As Dan noted briefly below, it’s a fucking war zone out there for cyclists, and usually the city isn’t on our side. “Getting in drivers’ way” (i.e., being on the same streets) is not illegal—that’s why they call it sharing the road—yet police and public sympathy are usually with drivers.
Today’s P-I has a big story framing this debate as “tensions between bicyclists, motorists.” P-I reporter Brad Wong writes:
An expected City Council vote Monday on a bicycle master plan would add millions of dollars in improvements, including 19 miles of cycling trails and a 230-mile system of marked routes for riders.
“I think it will cut down on accidents,” said Councilwoman Jan Drago, the plan sponsor. “When we have more bike lanes and trails, it will help.”
Look, I’m all for implementing the bike master plan, if the city will actually do it. (Planned bike lanes have already been replaced in some places by “sharrows,” markings that tell drivers bikes may be in the lane). But you know what? That’s not enough. Drivers who want cyclists off “their” roads attack and try to intimidate bikers who aren’t in their way—in fact, of numerous examples of attacks on cyclists cited in the P-I’s story Wong cites, only one involved a cyclist riding in the middle of the lane (which, as Dan pointed out, is perfectly legal.) The others, including cyclist Bryce Lewis (killed by a dump truck while riding in a bike lane) and Peter McKay (shot in the lung while riding along Delridge), were out of traffic and yet still in harm’s way.
What Seattle really needs is more enforcement against drivers who try to intimidate cyclists. Most cyclists I know don’t even bother calling the police when they’re hit or intimidated by a driver—what’s the point? They won’t do anything anyway. Police have got to start taking motorist-on-cyclist threats and attacks as seriously as they would take one driver aggressively hitting another. All the bike lanes in the world won’t convince people to get out of their cars and onto their bikes as long as drivers can attack and intimidate cyclists with impunity.
Meanwhile, in Portland, they’ve already taken steps to accommodate cyclists—and they’re getting ready to do more. From today’s New York Times:
Drivers here are largely respectful of riders, and some businesses give up parking spaces to make way for bike racks.
“Our intentions are to be as sustainable a city as possible,” Mr. Adams said. “That means socially, that means environmentally and that means economically. The bike is great on all three of those factors. You just can’t get a better transportation return on your investment than you get with promoting bicycling.”
Mr. Adams said he was preparing a budget proposal that would spend $24 million to add 110 miles to the city’s existing 20-mile network of bike boulevards, which are meant to get cyclists away from streets busy with cars. Doing so could “double or triple ridership,” he said.
What’s the difference between Seattle and Portland? Portland has nurtured a culture of cycling. Seattle, in contrast, has tried grudgingly to accommodate cyclists. There’s a big difference, and it shows.