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?


  1. Hey, I've been trying to be more predictable lately, too! My inspiration was a comment on Seattle Bike Blog in regards to The Missing Link that cars don't expect bicyclists to suddenly swing out into the middle of the lane as they follow the sharrows directing them to swing wide and hit the train tracks at a right angle--now I, too, throw a hand signal at this spot.

    I have a different problem with the SODO Trail (which I love because I love any bike trail!): I can't find my way off the thing! I come at it the waterfront to the north and wish it had arrows pointing out exits--I always reach the end of the trail and realize I've missed my turnoff to The Bins (Goodwill Outlet).

  2. You captured it! There is no way to act predictably on a bike in Seattle because the signage, infrastructure and mapping are so mysteriously random. No two intersections seem the same. Thank you for illustrating this perfectly!