City biking

On Saturday I completed my first downtown Seattle trek by bike and survived to tell the tale. Mark and I rode to the Sounders game and I was pleased to see that the hype really is true – Seattle is very bike-friendly, even bustling downtown. We had our own bike lane most of the way to the stadium and only ran into one snafu – a lack of bike racks at Qwest Field (someone should really get on that).

I don’t have much experience biking in traffic and through crowds of pedestrians so the ride was a little nerve-wracking at times but I got through it. I still have much to learn though, like how to effectively shift BEFORE I start up a hill (I’m still trying to figure out how and when to change gears) and how to un-jam a bike chain (good thing Mark was there or I would’ve been walking home).

I cannot tell you how many cyclists I’ve yelled at (inwardly of course) for running red lights and stop signs but I now have a little more of an appreciation of the stresses they encounter every day. Although, knowing now how an accident can occur at any moment, it still bewilders me how some cyclists still choose not to stop or even LOOK at intersections when they don’t have the right-of-way. I’ve put together a little list of why you too should bike in the city and how it will make you a better person.
  1. You will become a better cyclist. This first point is quite obvious – you will grow more comfortable biking in stressful situations and adept at weaving within crowds. There is no better teacher than trial by fire. You’ll be able to better anticipate the actions of drivers/cyclists/pedestrians and leave yourself a way out – expect the unexpected.
  2. You will become a more vigilant driver. Putting yourself in the cyclist’s shoes opens your eyes to the decisions (some smart, some stupid) that cyclists make on the spot. Honestly, I now assume a cyclist on the road will not obey the rules of the road and that knowledge has probably saved me (and them) from an accident. Really though, this should be our attitude to everyone on the road, car or bike. Would it be wise to pull out into an intersection if you see an approaching car who doesn’t appear to be slowing down for the red light? Just because the cyclist is more vulnerable doesn’t mean he’ll make a decision based on his safety – in fact, he’s more apt to think “They’ll stop for me.” I’m not saying we should bend to the whims of cyclists, but the goal is to keep everyone safe and not try to teach someone a lesson.
  3. You will become a better pedestrian. As a frequent runner on Seattle trails like the Burke-Gilman, there is no greater stressor than being nearly mown over by a bike approaching from behind. I’m a firm believer that bikes should announce their intention to pass, whether by bell or by voice, but that shouldn’t replace a runner’s or walker’s awareness of their surroundings. When we were biking downtown, I found unaware pedestrians to be more of a danger than cars (although we were in a rather crowded section of town, Pioneer Square). Solutions? Pedestrians, know where the cyclists are. Cyclists, don’t expect pedestrians to sense your presence and get out of the way. It’s common sense – avoid sudden movements and never assume!

No comments: