This was the scene I encountered yesterday evening at rush hour. That cyclist sitting on the curb had just been hit by that SUV, he told me, and as you can see, the SUV is straddling the bicycle lane on Second Avenue. I'd stopped walking to ask if the cyclist was all right. He said he was okay, but seemed stunned and had some scratches on his face. He was riding in the bike lane, wearing a blinking red light, he explained, when the vehicle swung across the bike lane and attempted to "nose into the parking spot." As I was walking away, the driver told the cyclist, "That was my bad."
This is yet another example of why Seattle needs protected bicycle lanes, lanes that are separated from vehicle traffic by some sort of physical barrier. Sometimes they're called cycle tracks. They're found in cities around the world to prevent exactly this sort of collision from happening. On Second and Fourth Avenues, the primary thoroughfares through downtown Seattle where the lanes are counter-intuitively on the left side of the street (because buses pull over on the right), the traffic is all one direction and it moves fast. I've ridden on both, and, well... accidents like these have nearly happened to me about a dozen times when drivers have swerved into the bike lane.
We need more infrastructure to delineate where cyclists have right of way, obviously, but there's a problem.
Anti-cyclists propagandists, columnists like Joni Balter, and the Seattle Times editorial board have attempted to make cycling a political act. They say cars are being "shoved aside" for the "transfer of asphalt to bicycle lanes" and all cyclists are "militant." They say a "war on cars" and "road diets" that are proven to improve cyclist safety are driving people out of the city. Riding a bike isn't a political act. It's a means of transportation. But because these people—Balter, writers in her cadre, people who call cyclists "militant," local politicians who refuse to denounce that language, and others who we wrote about last year on this issue—are making it a political issue, and they make it more difficult for elected leaders to fund bicycle infrastructure.
The city's Bicycle Master Plan, created in 2007, has barely been funded. At five years into the 10-year plan, we've paid for only $36 million of the $240 million goal. That's less than one-quarter of the funding it needs, while the council finds political unity around spending $930 million for an underperforming freeway tunnel (that contains no accommodations for bikes or transit). Meanwhile, data from the Seattle Department of Transportation and other sources show that, as more people are riding bikes in Seattle, collisions and cyclist fatalities are on the rise. This has to end.
Treating cycling like a political football has to stop. Deferring cycling investments needs to stop. People's safety and their lives are on the line—and they're not activists. They're just people, commuters. Bicycle accidents can't be eliminated entirely by protected bicycle lanes, and I don't mean to say they can, but it would have eliminated this one and countless others just like it.