Sunday, December 30, 2012

Safe Routes to Health, Part 2: Riding a Wheelchair to Health

Terry and Vickie Hoefer running (LEE GILES III/The Peninsula Gateway)

In Gig Harbor, you can get to the local Starbucks in a wheelchair - but not to the local hospital. Can this be true?

A few days ago, I noticed this headline in the Tacoma News Tribune:  Wheelchair training along roads in Gig Harbor area creates a stir.  Terry Hoefer, a young man who uses an electric wheelchair for mobility, has been training for a marathon, driving his wheelchair along the roads of Gig Harbor accompanied by his mother Vickie, who runs alongside. His dad followed in the car, blinkers flashing. Terry trains in order to build up the strength and endurance to sit upright and operate the wheelchair controls for the long duration of a marathon.  Training was going fine until the family was pulled over by the State Patrol for "obstructing traffic."  It turns out the laws governing electric wheelchairs on roadways are confusing and restrictive:
“Basically, we can ride on the designated bike lanes all over, but we can’t ride on a street that doesn’t have a white line,” [Terry's mother] learned this month.
This means Terry's training route needed modification:
Pierce County helped make a local sidewalk wheelchair-accessible, which means they can still run along Burnham Drive Northwest to the local Starbucks, one of their favorite outings. They’ve stopped using another route, to St. Anthony Hospital, because it doesn’t have a legal shoulder or bike lane. Terry Hoefer has spent a lot of time sick at St. Anthony, and it was fun to see him healthy there on their runs, his mom said.
This story is sad and shocking on so many levels.  Why does a person who uses a wheelchair have to study obscure laws and prevail on local authorities just to make a trip out in the community?

And how is it that you can ride a wheelchair to the local Starbucks - but NOT to the local hospital?

Mobility is essential to health.  Everyone who works in that hospital knows that's true.  Shouldn't everyone be able to get to the hospital - or wherever they want to go - on their own power, whether it's walking, rolling in a wheelchair, or riding a bike?  I hope St. Anthony Hospital takes a look at what Children's Hospital in Seattle has done to create safe routes for walking, biking and wheelchairs near the hospital!

I can relate to Terry's story on another level as well.  I've been caring for my mother-in-law, who needs a wheelchair to get around outside the house.  A few days ago she read in the newspaper about the grand opening of the relocated Museum of History and Industry.  "I'd love to go!" she told me.  So we went.

I helped her into her wheelchair, wheeled her down the street to the bus stop, rolled the wheelchair onto the bus, transferred to the South Lake Union Trolley, and got off half a block from the museum.  We had a great time.  This trip didn't involve any exercise for my mother-in-law - I pushed the wheelchair - but it gave her a chance to be out in the community.  She loved the misty rain on her face and the bustle of the crowds at the museum. And for me, the caregiver, it was a refreshing opportunity to get some exercise and have a change of scene.

I'm sure that Terry's mom benefits as much as Terry does from their outings together. Isolation and lack of exercise are huge challenges of caregiving.  Streets that are safe and accessible for people in wheelchairs are critical for the health of caregivers, too.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Hey Drivers! Did you know you're supposed to YIELD to buses?

Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times
Dear Seattle Times

I'd like to thank your reporter Mike Lindblom for pointing out that bus bulbs are necessary because people who drive cars so frequently fail to yield to buses as the law requires.

Shortly after reading this article, during a 15-minute drive across Capitol Hill, I observed the following:

- a person driving south on 15th Ave. East attempted to pass the #10 bus as it pulled into traffic on 15th. The driver eventually pulled back to avoid crashing into the bus.

- a person driving south on 16th Ave. E. turned left onto eastbound East Thomas as a #43 bus started to pull out from a stop. The driver took up the entire westbound lane to get around the bus, causing oncoming traffic to abruptly stop.

- as the #11 bus dropped off passengers at 23rd and Madison, a person driving a taxi pulled around the bus, crossing the double-yellow center line to do so. Six more people driving cars followed the taxi as the bus started to pull out.

I should mention that I did observe one person driving a car who did in fact yield to a bus. 

The Transportation Nag

Monday, November 19, 2012

Safe Routes to Health, Part I: Bike Parking

It's healthy to walk and ride bikes, right?  I'm a nurse, and I've never heard anyone in health care argue that it's better to sit in a car.  So it seems to me that health care institutions should be leading the way in making sure there are safe, convenient healthy ways to walk and ride to the places people need to go. And lots of people need to go to health clinics, pharmacies and hospitals - people who work there and people who go to get care.

Seattle Children's has developed an ambitious Transportation Master Plan that not only encourages people who work there to ride bikes and walk, but also invests in Neighborhood Greenways to make walking and biking safer, more convenient and more comfortable for visitors and people who live in the neighborhood.

One highly visible component of Seattle Children's plan is bicycle parking.  The plan calls for 600 bike parking spaces - and at least 100 of those are right at the main entrance to the hospital, almost completely full at my most recent visit.  A prominent sign by the entrance directs visitors to other bike parking areas, and the big neon sign for the parking garage includes a bike icon.  I didn't have my camera along at my last visit, so I'll leave you to imagine the highly visible bike facilities there.

How do Seattle's other healthcare institutions compare with Children's in supporting active transportation?  In this post I'll look at bike parking at two health care campuses near where I live:  Virginia Mason on First Hill and Group Health on Capitol Hill.

This "Patient Bike Rack" sign is at Virginia Mason Medical Center on First Hill.  Nearby, there's a large caged employee bike parking area at the entrance to the main parking garage; this shot shows about half of the many bikes parked there:

 Bike parking is visible from every entrance,  even the Emergency Room.

(I don't mean to imply that EVERYONE should get to the ER by bicycle!  Virginia Mason devotes a lot more space by the ER entrance to ambulance parking than bike parking!)

Signs by outdoor bike racks direct visitors to secure indoor bike parking:

None of the racks I could see as a visitor were completely full, but still it's obvious when you visit Virginia Mason that bikes are considered normal transportation for patients, visitors and employees.

Next I checked out the Group Health main campus on 15th.  Here's one of several small outdoor bike racks. All are barely used (that's my bike!) and inconspicuous from the main clinic entrance:

Small bike icons on campus maps at various locations show where outdoor racks are located - but how would anyone know there's also bike parking in the garage?

I rode into the garage to explore - but first I had to ignore this warning:

The bike parking area is low-ceilinged, dimly lit and sparsely occupied - and to get there I had to wind my way across car lanes:

There's no bike parking at the Urgent Care entrance - but that didn't stop one visitor from parking a bike there anyway:

Group Health is a very visible supporter of bicycle recreation, most notably as the primary sponsor of the annual Seattle to Portland ride - but there is little evidence on the Capitol Hill campus that bicycles are seen as normal transportation, whether for staff, for patients or for visitors.

Active, healthy transportation includes provisions for walking, bike riding, wheelchairs and other mobility aids, and safe, comfortable access to transit as well.  I'll be looking at other ways our healthcare institutions either promote or discourage these components of active transportation in a future post.

Friday, October 12, 2012

STOP! You on the bike - STOP!

If you've ever ridden a bike on the Burke Gilman trail through the University District, you've seen the giant stop signs with flashing lights warning you to stop before you cross Brooklyn Avenue.  You're a law-abiding careful bike rider, so you probably stopped - while all the other reckless people on bikes whizzed on through.  And then one block farther on, you've caught up with all those reckless people again, since they've dutifully stopped at the red light at University Way.

If you were riding the Burke last week, you may have even seen a friendly police officer give a kind but stern warning to one of those other bicyclists:  next time, you'll get a ticket if you don't stop!

I rode the Burke Gilman again today, thinking about this intersection as I rode.  The more I thought, the less I understood WHY there would be a stop sign there at Brooklyn.

Travelers on Brooklyn see this dramatic signage as they approach the trail:

Most people who drive along Brooklyn here seem to think this means they are supposed to yield to bicyclists  - so when I actually stop at the big red stop sign, people approaching in cars impatiently wave me through.

Yesterday, as I rode east from Fremont, I passed through quite a number of other intersections - and at every other intersection between Stone Way and Brooklyn, the Burke Gilman has the right-of-way. Cars crossing the trail must stop at stop signs, even at the busy crossings by Dunn Lumber and the roads that give cars access to Gasworks Park.

I remembered hearing that the 2007 Bicycle Master Plan included something about intersections, so I went on line and looked it up.  You can read the whole section for yourself if you like; it's Appendix H: Roadway Crossing Design for Bicycles.

The relevant section is titled "Mid-block Trail Crossings."  This is a bit geeky, so bear with me. Bicycle trails and roadways are classified according to their importance for transportation.  The Burke Gilman Trail falls in the category of "regional trail."  Brooklyn Avenue is classified as a "minor arterial" - you can look that up for yourself, too if you want.  Here's what the Bicycle Master Plan says about the mid-block crossing of a Regional Trail with a minor arterial:
Regional Trails are effectively principal arterials for bicyclists, but trail user speed
is generally lower than that on Principal Arterial streets. Therefore, Regional
Trails should generally be given priority over Minor Arterials
, Collector Arterials,
and Access Streets. However, if the traffic volume on the street being crossed
exceeds the traffic volume on the trail by 20% or more, the street should be given
Doesn't this mean that the Burke Gilman - Seattle's number one bicycle arterial - should be given priority over a dinky little "minor arterial" like Brooklyn?   I haven't measured the traffic volume on Brooklyn, but every time I've been on the Burke Gilman, I've seen way more bikes at this intersection than cars.

Both the people driving cars who yield to trail users, and cyclists who ride across this quiet "minor arterial" without stopping, act AS IF the guidelines in the Bike Master Plan were being followed; that is, they act as if people traveling on the trail had priority over people driving on Brooklyn.  Just one block farther on, the same people who rode on across Brooklyn without stopping wait patiently for the light to change at University and again at 15th.

Rather than ask Seattle Police to ticket people riding bikes across Brooklyn, it would make more sense - and be more in line with the guidelines of the Bicycle Master Plan - to redesign this intersection to give priority to travelers on the trail.

Meanwhile, there are a few people, both on bikes and driving cars, who recklessly roll through the stop lights at University and at 15th. Those are the folks who need to be reminded to share the road safely.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

What if you can't walk?

Last week I gained a new perspective on active transportation in my neighborhood: my mother-in-law got a wheelchair to help her get around outside the house.

Just a few years ago, she walked everywhere, up and down the steep hills, carrying her groceries in her backpack. Then she started using the bus to manage the hills. When walking to the bus stop was too much she took the Access van or a cab - and just recently, she stopped going out by herself entirely.  I used Zipcars to take her to her doctor's appointments, and afterwards we'd go out to lunch - but otherwise she stayed in the house with her cats.

With the wheelchair (and someone to push it, mostly ME!), plus our Seattle buses all equipped with wheelchair ramps, I thought she should be able to go everywhere again. Here she is waiting for the #48 to take us to the Arboretum.

But it hasn't been all that easy.

Here are some of the challenges we face:

1. Sidewalk bumps. Uneven spots that I barely notice when I'm walking can stop us cold with the wheelchair.  I'm getting better at anticipating these spots but even so, we ran into a  bump today that knocked her hearing aid out!

2. Terrible curb cuts - or none.  Some corners reach a real dead-end in a wheelchair: no place to go, except turn around and look for another route.

3. Terrifying street crossings. In order to get to or from the bus headed East, we have to negotiate this daunting expanse of pavement.  Drivers generally don't realize they are supposed to stop for people walking (or in wheelchairs) at unmarked intersections.  And why is this intersection unmarked?  People are getting on and off the bus on both sides of the street here.

4 . Bus stops on steep streets, combined with terrible pavement.  The #8 and the #11 stop just down the hill from the stop sign you see in the photo above.  The hill is very steep, and the sidewalk at the bus stop is broken up.  Bus drivers sometimes have to try twice to find a spot to lower the ramp.  It takes a strong steady assistant to get a wheelchair on or off the bus without sending it careening down the hill.

5. Steep hills. Negotiating hills pushing a wheelchair is not the same as walking or riding a bike. On a bike, I can get off and push the bike up just about any hill.  With my mother-in-law in the wheelchair, there are some hills that are just too steep. I evaluate the hills with a different eye.  Going down is worse than going up; I can't risk losing control and having her sail down on her own!  For an elderly person alone in a wheelchair, these hills would be impossible.

But the biggest barrier at the beginning was simply that I didn't know where we might encounter these uncharted obstacles.  There's no map that shows the broken sidewalks or the missing curb cuts or the hills too steep to manage.  We had to figure this out by trial and error.

I've now taken my mother-in-law on several outings with the wheelchair with no major mishaps.  I'm confident we will be fine going anywhere Metro can take us on the bus.

But if I were on my own in a wheelchair, I think I'd probably sit at home with my cats. We citizens have a lot of work to do before our streets are safe and accessible for people who depend on wheelchairs for transportation.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Transportation: Is it really all about cars?

Yesterday I attended a City Council briefing on design choices for the west end of the 520 replacement bridge. As currently designed, a shared use pathway for people on foot and on bikes will cross Lake Washington, but will not continue across Portage Bay to the junction of 520 with I-5.

One of the people who testified in favor of completing the pedestrian and bicycle connection pointed out this statement in the Draft Community Design Process Final Report handed out at the hearing:

"A well-designed transportation project can go much beyond its primary purpose of moving motor vehicles by positively influencing the futures of communities and the health of their residents."

"This is wrong," she stated. "The primary purpose of transportation is to move people and goods - not to move cars."  She went on to argue that it would be inexcusable not to complete the pedestrian and bicycle path.

This got me wondering what our transportation professionals have to say about their role. Are they really all about cars?  I looked up the mission statements of the Seattle, King County, Washington State and United States departments of transportation.  Here they are:

SDOT Mission:
To deliver a safe, reliable, efficient, and socially equitable transportation system that enhances Seattle's environment and economic vitality.
King County DOT Mission:
Our mission is to improve the quality of life for people in King County by providing mobility in a way that protects the environment, helps manage growth, and reduces traffic congestion.
WSDOT Mission:
The mission of the Washington State Department of Transportation is to keep people and business moving by operating and improving the state’s transportation systems vital to our taxpayers and communities.
US Department of Transportation:
The mission of the Department is to:
Serve the United States by ensuring a fast, safe, efficient, accessible and convenient transportation system that meets our vital national interests and enhances the quality of life of the American people, today and into the future.
These are all good sentiments, but these agencies continue in various ways to act as if their primary goal was to move motor vehicles. People who travel by bike or on foot are rarely acknowledged as part of "transportation" at all.

For example, this summary of the Washington State Department of Transportation budget for 2011-2013 does not mention non-motorized transportation at all, and this lengthy report on the State of Washington Transportation mentions pedestrians and bicycles only once (on page 5) as an isolated line item, not as a critical component of the transportation system.

This summary of findings from a study of transportation around the Seattle sports arenas does not mention pedestrians or bicycles at all, despite the critical importance of limiting car trips to this area.

The mission statements give me hope - and if you want to explore further, you'll find that each of these public agencies has goals and objectives that suggest at least a beginning recognition that transportation really is about people, including people who walk and ride bikes.

But meanwhile, whenever I see a reference to transportation (including parking, driving directions, transit) that doesn't include people on bikes or on foot, I'm the Transportation Nag: so I'll nag.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Reclaiming the Arboretum: A Cautious Hooray for Sharrows and Speed Bumps

The section of Lake Washington Boulevard that runs through the Washington Park Arboretum began as a bicycle path, developed before cars arrived in Seattle. Later, the Olmstead Brothers incorporated this road into their grand plan for an interconnected network of peaceful parks and boulevards.  By the time I moved to East Capitol Hill 35 years ago, however, this road had degenerated into a speedway for people driving cars to and from the 520 freeway.  The 25-mile-per-hour speed limit was observed only as a sign at the entryway.

Riding a bike along this narrow road was only for the bravest of the brave. (disclaimer: this photo was not taken in the Arboretum).

Even though I consider myself an "enthused and confident" bicycle rider, I did not ride along this road. 
But yesterday, all this had changed. As I often do, I rode my bike from the University District through Montlake, pedaled into the Arboretum along a gravel path and across a footbridge, then strolled with my bike along the lovely Azalea Way pedestrian path.  To continue on my way home, I usually wait awhile for a break in the roaring traffic before crossing Lake Washington Boulevard by the Japanese Tea Garden.

Yesterday, to my surprise, the first driver to approach me stopped and let me cross the road.  That's when I noticed the fresh paint on the roadway:

The freshly-painted sharrows are meant to remind people driving cars that people also ride bikes along this road.  I'm not especially fond of sharrows; research shows they have little or no influence on how people behave in traffic, and do almost nothing to make bicycle riding feel comfortable and appear safe.  How could these sharrows make such a dramatic difference here?

When I looked around, I realized that other changes were forcing people to drive more slowly.  A few yards to my right I saw this sign:

I walked over to check it out.  A steady stream of people in cars cautiously and slowly approached the raised crosswalk.  Those who failed to slow got a good jolt - I could see the cars bounce, then slow. I walked my bike back and forth a few times just for the pleasure of seeing people in cars slow down and stop for me.

Then I swung my bike onto the road and pedaled through the park.  Nobody whizzed by. Sure there were cars on the road, but they no longer felt threatening.  I passed another traffic-calming feature: a speed bump near the park entrance (but I was so happy to be riding, I didn't stop to take a picture!). 

Do the sharrows, speed bumps and raised crosswalks mean that Lake Washington Boulevard is now a low-stress route that will invite people of all ages and abilities to ride bikes and walk?  No - for many people (children, people with disabilities, folks older and less mobile than myself) it will never feel safe to ride a bike on a road with this high volume of car traffic, or even to cross on the raised crosswalk, even if the cars are moving only 15 or 25 mph. Fortunately for the more wary, additional changes are planned for the Arboretum.  A car-free shared use path will soon parallel this road.

So for now, I welcome the sharrows, the speed bumps and the raised crosswalk, and look forward to the day when Seattle fully reclaims the Olmstead vision of a beautiful city interwoven with welcoming, peaceful connected paths for walking and riding bikes.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Why did you choose those knobs? Safety and Perceived Safety

I've been talking with other bikey folks about the perception of safety for bicycle riding and walking.  We want routes for bike riding and walking that are not only objectively safe - engineered to prevent collisions, falls, and crashes - but also appear safe. These two kinds of safety - objective safety and perceived safety - are equally important, we think, because it's perceived safety that determines whether people will actually use a street or path for biking and walking.

I was thinking about this issue when I went to the Blood Bank yesterday to fulfill my civic duty of blood donation.  Looking through the singularly dry selection of reading material in the waiting room, I settled on the Winter 2012 issue of Bent.  I'd never heard of it - it's the journal of Tau Beta Pi, a fraternal organization of construction engineers.  I'm a nurse, and I 'm not really interested in construction engineering, but I was bored and ended up reading most of the articles in the journal.

One article tied in with my bikey thoughts on perceived safety. Under the title, "The Limits of Logic," the author described his experience designing and building a complicated production test unit (whatever that is!) as an engineering intern.  The finished unit worked perfectly, and his boss acknowledged this. "But why did you choose those knobs?" the boss asked.

The author had chosen the knobs because they fit the hand, they fulfilled their function as knobs and they were inexpensive - "What's not to like?"  The boss's reply: "Those are the ugliest knobs I've ever seen!" It had not occurred to the young engineer that "ugly" could matter for the logical, practical project at hand. He concludes:

Good engineering does certainly employ logic, but it also must, at times, involve feelings or emotions, intuition, a sense of beauty, esthetics—a whole host of non-logical parameters. Thence, [the author's] Lyle’s Law of the Limits of Logic: Think, but also feel.
I hope as Seattle builds out its network of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, the engineers will keep Lyle's Law in mind.  Too many segments that appear (at least to a non-engineer) to meet high standards of objective safety still make me cringe:

  • The trail across the I-90 bridge: nice and wide, separated from traffic, paving in good condition, the grade not too daunting on a bike. But yuck!  There's no place to stop, sit down and enjoy the view - and how could anyone really enjoy the view with the traffic roaring by so close and so loud?  What if I have a flat or my kid needs to pee?  
  • Various segments of the Alki Trail that go under and adjacent to the bridges - it's a nice wide trail, mostly far enough from traffic to be reasonably quiet, and parts of it are even bordered by an attractive vine-covered fence - but it feels creepy and isolated along here. I can handle this during the day, but at night I think I'd choose the bus.  And I wouldn't send a kid along here alone!
  • The SODO Trail - bordered by the Light Rail on one side and bus storage yards on the other: nice and wide and freshly paved, and there are even some cool murals along the trail. But I feel hemmed in here - with fences along both sides of the trail, I can't get out without going the length.
Please, my friends the traffic engineers and planning professionals, when you build out our bike and pedestrian network, pay attention to the knobs - the sights, sounds and overall feel of the route.  We want our city to be safe, but also to appear safe - and lovely, and delightful - for everyone out there riding and walking.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Be Predictable - Part 2: Finding the SODO Trail

Ever since I first saw this poster on the back of a bus, I've been paying close attention to the challenges involved in being predictable on a bike.  Today, for example, I decided to ride as predictably as possible from my home on East Capitol Hill to the Seattle Public Schools office in SODO.

I've tried this before, following the hope-inspiring wayfinding signs to the SODO Trail, but I've never found the trail, instead ending up wandering around between stadiums and freeway on-ramps in a terribly unpredictable way.

Today I started out riding south on 19th, where there are sharrows painted on the pavement to tell me I'm welcome on my bike. I lose the sharrows where 19th crosses Jackson, but I manage to find my way to Dearborn and Rainier anyway.  Once I cross Rainier, I'm nice and predictable on the Dearborn bike lane. Soon I see this hopeful sign:

Simple enough, I just need to turn left across two lanes of traffic. But wait - there's NO LEFT TURN at this intersection!  And the arrow in the bike lane indicates I need to go straight!

Fortunately, there's an exception for me on my bike:

So it's OK for me to turn left here - but I'm in a bike lane on the far right, with two lanes of traffic going straight ahead, and the street I'm supposed to turn left into is one way the opposite direction.

It would be perfectly legal for me to cut across those two lanes of traffic and take a left here (as long as I put my arm out to signal predictably).  But is that really "being predictable?"  Or sensible? Or safe?

Instead I choose to cross the intersection with the light, swing my bike around so it's facing the way I want to go, and wait for the light to change (in case you hadn't heard the term, this is known as a "Copenhagen turn" or a "two-stage left.").

But now I'm in another awkward situation:

I've stepped back a bit to show you the big picture.  I'm actually waiting at the corner right behind that car that's turning right (another car right-hooked me from the left lane just before the light changed, by the way).  From the markings on the street, you'd think I was required to turn right with the car.  But fortunately, there's another exception just for me:

You may notice that this sign clearly shows drivers where to position their cars - but it's no help to me.  Am I supposed to stay to the right and hope nobody hits me when they turn right?  Am I supposed to set my bike on that little line between the RIGHT ONLY arrow and the LEFT ONLY arrow?  Do I have a predictable choice?

I ride about a half block in a nice buffered contraflow bike lane, then see another indication I'm on the right track to find the SODO Trail:

It doesn't take me too long to figure out that I need to angle RIGHT to use the sidewalk (can I ride?  or is it more predictable if I walk?), before I follow the arrow to the LEFT toward the SODO trail.  There are a couple more well-marked turns, and then I find myself stopped at a Light Rail crossing, looking for any indication of where to go from here.  The last time I searched for the SODO Trail, it was right around here that I lost the scent and ended up in unpredictable territory.

There's a train coming, so I have a few minutes to look around.  None of those nice little green wayfinding signs anywhere in view; there's the Light Rail station platform, and the entrance to a Light Rail maintenance facility off to the left:

But wait!  What's that little fleck of green?

I've found it!  It's the SODO Trail!

 I still need to get there - there's a nice pedestrian crossing button to help me:

But even here there's no indication this is meant for ME, on my bike!  So what do you think, my reader?  Am I predictable?

Be Predictable - If You Can!

"Be Predictable!"  Sounds like good advice.  But ever since I first encountered this poster on the back of a bus, I've had a nagging feeling this may not be a very helpful message.

What does it mean to "be predictable" when riding a bike?  Follow the rules of the road, right?  But sometimes the rules are ambiguous, especially when I'm on my bike sharing a lane with a bus (which is actually a whole lot taller than I am, despite what you see in this graphic).

There is one street in this city where I have no problem at all being predictable.  That's Dexter, where bus islands and a buffered bike lane allow me to ride on past when a bus is stopped.

But more often, I'm riding up and down Pine with the Number 11.

There's a bike lane on Pine between Boren and 15th.  When a bus picks up passengers, it pulls in front of me into the bike lane and stops.  I have three legal options.  I can wait by the tail pipe and breathe exhaust;  I can act like a car driver and pass the bus on the left; or I can jump onto the sidewalk and get around the bus that way.  If we're going uphill and the bus is taking awhile to load and unload, I'm most likely to get on the sidewalk.  If we're going downhill and the way is clear, I'll pass on the left.  Sometimes I'll breathe exhaust and wait.

What's "predictable" in this situation?  Should I wear a sign on my helmet in mirror-writing to let the bus driver know my decision-making algorithm?  Or should I just choose one option and follow it consistently?

Until we have more sensible infrastructure like the bike lane and bus islands on Dexter, I'd rather not be scolded for being unpredictable as I breathe in bus exhaust and try to decide how to safely share the road - and the bike lane.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Just Keep Driving! but go potty first, and take string cheese for the kids

The Seattle Times today ran a massive story on the "tricky traffic" to be expected with numerous constructions projects and road closures over the weekend.  The story quoted extensively from the Washington State Department of Transportation website, giving details of every inconvenience to be expected when driving.  Also quoted were several WSDOT tips for getting through this horrible weekend:
"The state has even gone so far as to provide tips on putting together a "traffic buster" survival kit. Suggested contents include: string cheese for the kids, toilet paper, flares, emergency kits, "a venti Starbucks coffee" and music to help the driver tune out frustrations. The tips can be found on the department's Facebook page"
What's missing?

Has WashDOT ever heard of transit?  Light Rail? Bikes?  Car pools?  Ferries? Walking?

I went to Metro's website to see if bus travel was going to be disrupted by the horrors reported in the Times.  Instead, what I found was an announcement that there will be special shuttle bus service to the Seahawks game this weekend:

How did WashDOT and the Times manage to miss this critical piece of information?  In WashDOT's favor, I did get an email back from their representative Jamie Holter, acknowledging that they had missed a couple of things.  Jamie says she checked to see if there was going to be extra Sound Transit Sounder service to the game.  She didn't think to check for Metro service.

But even without special added service, there would still be buses and Light Rail for anyone wanting to travel.  There is no excuse for those who call themselves "Washington Department of Transportation" to act as if transportation just means "drive by yourself in your car."

Saturday, August 4, 2012

When the Buffer Disappears

I really do appreciate the work the Seattle Department of Transportation is doing to implement the 2007 Bicycle Master Plan.  But every once in awhile I come across something that just doesn't quite make sense.  Here's one example:
I'm riding north on Western Avenue in a very nice bike lane separated from traffic by a wide painted buffer.  As I approach the intersection with Battery, where cars are given a right-turn only lane in order to enter Highway 99, the buffer disappears.  Instead I see these confusing markings:
Two bike sharrow symbols now alternate with two right-turn only symbols.  What am I supposed to do, on a bike or in a car, when I approach this intersection?  These symbols tell me only that somehow, bikes and cars are supposed to get along and not run into each other.

Here's another example.  

This is the bike lane heading south on Alaskan Way. To the right are Port of Seattle facilities; most of the traffic along this stretch consists of semi trailers picking up containers at the port.  Again, there's a nice section of separated bike lane with a wide, painted buffer.  But without warning, the buffer disappears.  Can you see how close the wheels of those semis are to the painted line of the bike lane?  I choose to ride on the sidewalk here.

The big problem with these separated bike lanes that don't go the distance: the whole idea is to keep people on bikes separated from cars and trucks.  There are some people riding bikes who don't mind riding six inches from a semi trailer, or negotiating the weave with traffic at right turns.  Those separated lanes are for those of us who don't want to be tangling with traffic like that.  If the lane that keeps me safe suddenly ends, what am I supposed to do?  Turn around and go home?  I look forward to the day when I can choose a route that separates me from traffic, and know when I start that I can follow this route in comfort to my destination.

I'm sure the drivers of those big trucks would also prefer a route that consistently gives them a good separation from people on bikes.  Bike infrastructure makes travel better for everyone, not just those of us on the bikes.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

CityTarget - a Transportation Near-Miss

Target opened its brand new store in downtown Seattle yesterday, and to my surprise the story in the Seattle Times included this little piece of data:

Seattle CityTarget
By the numbers
96,000: Square feet
185: Parking stalls
2: Bike racks (for 22 bikes)
300: Employees
400: Shopping carts
3: Floors
Source: Target
So naturally I hopped on my bike and rode downtown to check it out. At first I was disappointed.  The only bike rack in front of the store was one installed by the city long ago. The sign posted at the front of the store showed the location of the car parking garage, but there was nothing about bikes.  I locked my bike to the rack and went into the store.  One of their red-shirted employees directed me to the parking garage, and sure enough, on the main floor right near the entrance were two nice, perfectly empty bike racks:
I went back outside to check out the entrance to the parking garage.  Not too much of a grade, looks pretty easy to get into with a bike.  But how would I know the bike parking was there, if I hadn't read the story in the Times?
When you're riding a bike, you tend to look around at eye level and below.  You're looking at the vehicles around you, and watching for potholes and tire-trapping  cracks.  You don't usually look up.  When I finally did look up, this is what I saw: 
The sign over the garage entrance has a big bike icon, just as big as the parking icon!  If a similar icon were added to this eye-level sign at the front entrance, I would have known right away where to park my bike.
When I got home I checked the Target website.  Surely with a name like "CityTarget," and a big bike icon on the parking garage, the website would give biking, transit and walking directions!  Sadly, I was wrong.  There's a nice "Directions" feature, but it gives nothing but driving directions.  Not even a hint that there are dozens of buses and a Light Rail station within a couple of blocks.
Thanks, Target, for providing bike parking and attempting to make it easy to find; a couple eye-level icons will fix that.  But please fix the Directions on your website.  In downtown Seattle, driving is not the best way to get around.