October 13, 2009

Bicycles Safety/Weather/Big Storm

We are now entering the dark, rainy time of the year, when visibility declines and roads get wet and slippery. A much more dangerous time for those in our community who ride bikes to work or cycle for pleasure. I cycle to work each day and have been in more than a few accidents myself--including one incident when a driver deliberately ran over my bike.

Many local communities don't take bicycle safety seriously and Seattle is a poster child for a lackadaisical attitude towards providing safe bikeways. The city acts like they are doing a lot for bicycles (and they have printed costly, multi-color bicycle maps to prove it), but its all a hollow promise. Want some prime examples?

(1) There is no dedicated bicycle path--without contention with cars--into or out of the city. The Mayor talks big about encouraging bike commuting...but the lack of safe, car-free, bike paths for commuting to the city in unconscionable.
(2) Until recently the heavily used Burke Gilman trail was full of deep ruts and bumps from tree roots and other reasons. Very dangerous. I saw one individual thrown by one of those ruts and taken away by an aid car.
(3) The City has plastered white bicycle symbols all over major arterials--somehow suggesting they are safe for cyclists (I think they are called sharrows--see pic). This is recipe

Sharrow on the Fremont bridge..both cars and bikes share this right lane where cars have to be to turn. I have seen some very close calls here.

for disaster as bikes are encouraged to ride in very dangerous territory. But it allows them to put lots of bicycle route lines on their maps.
(4) The Fremont bridge is a very dangerous place where cyclists and cars are thrown together in the same lanes.

The laws are quite weak regarding penalties for motor vehicle operators when they hit or kill bicyclists. (and dozens die each year) Tomorrow there will be a justice seminar at City Hall in Seattle to talk about this issue and all are invited to attend--check out the web site: http://www.cascade.org/Advocacy/traffic-justice-summit.cfm

OK, enough editorializing. Now back to weather. Want to bike and stay dry? No, you don't have to move to Phoenix. Use the weather radar.

On my department web site (and many other places, like the NWS sites) you can view weather radar animations. Rain is rarely uniform. Looking at the radar you can time your cycle, avoiding the heavy stuff most of the time. Ever since I began using the weather radar, I rarely have gotten very wet--even during the winter. Really--using the radar can change your life.
Not the time to go for a ride.

Finally, we have some big weather to talk about. Today, heavy rain struck the Bay Area-- a few gauges today outside the San Francisco metro region at elevated locations received more than 10 inches, including 12.08 at Mt. Umunhum and 16.81 inches at Mining Ridge. Even the lowlands near SF got 2-5 inches. That is big rain down there.

But our turn is coming on Friday. I will post more about this tomorrow...but take a look at the high-resolution model precipitation prediction for the 24-h ending Saturday at 5 AM (see graphic). WOW! Over 5 inches (red color) in portions of the Olympics and several inches over a substantial area. And the rain is not over yet. The first big rainfall of the season. We really could have used the coastal weather radar for this one--with the potential for a rapid rise on SE Olympics rivers and streams. At this point it does not look like a problem for the folks downstream of the Howard Hanson Dam. You will not have to water your garden anymore.


  1. Awesome! Thanks for getting word out about bike safety, AND how to predict a dry ride!

  2. First, I have to say that I love your blog. It has made me interested in meteorology and the weather, and it has introduced "marine push" into my household's vocabulary.

    As a person who gets around primarily by bicycle, I agree that bike safety is important, I support the vulnerable road users legislation, and I hate the ruts and roots on the Burke-Gilman trail, too.

    But it's important to me that people don't see bike riding as scary, and calling the Fremont Bridge a "death zone" seems a bit much. The thing that makes it NOT scary to me is the fact that drivers are so used to seeing people on bikes all over the place there, because it's Fremont, so they're paying attention. Or maybe it's not scary to me because I'm there at least once a week.

    I think that this article does a much better and more pedantic job of explaining my feelings than I can here: http://www.copenhagenize.com/2009/09/fear-of-cycling-01-essay-in-five-parts.html

    Anyway, stay warm this winter, if you don't stay dry, and keep up the good work!

  3. What a mess for the Bay Area! This article underscores it: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/10/13/BAL81A4SDF.DTL
    Serious car accidents in the hundreds. All that summer oil and grime on the roads + record rainfall = disaster.

  4. I realized that "sharrows" are dangerous a few days ago when I saw a car driving in the bike lane of Ravenna Boulevard. It used to be that seeing a bike painted on the roadway was an immediate "don't drive here!" cue, now it's harder for divers to distinguish between "don't drive here" and "OK, drive here, but don't hit anybody".

    What a mess.

  5. I just got back from a vacation in Montreal, and the contrast between that city and Seattle with regards to biking is depressing. Not only does Montreal have dedicated bike lanes (where neither cars nor parked car doors can hit bicyclists) all over the city, they just installed the Bixi system. It made getting around town so easy and fun! I wish Seattle would get a clue and make the changes it needs to support bicyclists in a serious manner.

  6. I agree with Melinda's comments on the Fremont Bridge. In my opinion, it's one of the safest ways for bicyclists to cross the ship canal. Lots of bikes cross the bridge, so drivers tend to expect them. There are a few potentially dangerous places, although the lane in your picture has never bothered me much.

    The really scary place is the Ballard Bridge, which is a major barrier to bicycle commutes between Ballard and down town. The south Lake Union area is also frustrating. You can go from bicycle friendly to scary, intense traffic in about a block.

    Finally, weather radar has become my friend. I really appreciate your efforts pushing for the coast radar. I left the U district at about 7:15 to ride down town, and I could see from the radar that I wasn't going to get dumped on.

  7. During my commute, I use the bike lanes on either side of the Fremont bridge, as do most cyclists that I see.

    (Though, it can get pretty tight with pedestrians and bikers riding the opposite direction).

  8. 98% of all bike commuters are just trying to get somewhere safely - but the very few who blow thru stop signs & red lights give all you poor commuters a bad name. You're never going to get support for safe bike lanes by ignoring the basic traffic rules. Don't believe me? Go watch the bikers blow thru the red light at the B.F.Day crosswalk for the kids on Fremont. That said, I appreciate the ones that do stop...and then can balance the whole time while waiting for the light to turn green. Quite skillful.

  9. I'd just like to submit that all your drivers on the Fremont Bridge may not be locals who are "used to bicyclists". A tourist could take out your bike as easily as a local.

    I simply don't commute by bike because I am not adequately convinced I am safe on the roads with cars. It is incumbent upon bicyclists to be sure drivers are aware of them and recognize they cannot assume they are, however ideal that would be. I lost a friend to the Amtrak last year because she was heedlessly singing her way through the railroad crossing, this without the ubiquitous ipods...

    We have a long way to go to make commuting safe for cars AND bicyclists.

  10. As a pedestrian, I sometimes find bicycle riders scarier than automobiles. Cars can do more damage, but they are mostly predictable. Bicyclists, on the other hand, seem to live in a special mental world that allows them to behave as either cars or pedestrians as it suits them at the spur of the moment.

  11. Thanks for the support for the bike community, Cliff. While I agree with Rich and Melinda about the Fremont Bridge being safer than other routes, I'd phrase it as being 'less dangerous' than the other ways to cross the Ship Canal.

  12. I don't find cars or their drivers 'predictable'. I can dodge a bike since the rider is usually not packing a gun and could hardly shoot and keep riding.

  13. If you want a death trap of a bridge for cyclist, try using the Ballard Bridge southbound...yikes

  14. I've been commuting from Seattle to Everett by bike this summer. I've
    been across the Ballard bridge every day I ride. It is not easy, but
    it is not a "death trap". Lots of bike commuters use it every day.

    My tips:
    1) Keep to the right! If you are southbound, use the west sidewalk,
    the same side as southbound cars use. If you are northbound, use the
    east sidewalk. If you have to use the Nickerson bridge or otherwise
    change your route to do this, it will only take you a minute or two.
    The bikers that don't become a hazard to the rest of us.
    2) Don't try to hurry, it is narrow. Relax and concentrate, if that is
    not a contradiction!
    3) Confine your sightseeing to the actual drawspan, where the rest of
    us can get around you, and you can afford to take your eyes off the

  15. Take a look at this Crosscut piece about the Sharrow Sham!


  16. I agree with CLiff, the Fremont bridge and the area south of the canal is extremely dangerous. I used to live at Nickerson and Dravus and would frequently go on rides when I first moved to Seattle. Being from Olympia, I was used to obeying the rules of the road and operating my bicycle alongside drivers. Nickerson itself got to be so bad that I did not ride in the road, I would just ride slowly along the sidewalk to avoid confrontations with motorists. Three separate times I was accosted by motorists when Obeying the rules of the road and riding along Nickerson.

  17. I don't understand why they don't do what Portland's doing. Instead of creating bike paths (or sharrows) on major arterials, put them on parallel streets. Putting bikes right next to traffic on busy streets makes no sense.

    The other alternative is to do what New York City and others do, which is to put bike lanes on busy streets, but physically separate them from traffic.

  18. As a bike commuter a lot of the issue IMO is "we" cyclists don't take ourselves seriously...but we cry about expecting others to take us seriously. On my way home last night I saw AT BEST 10 bikes with proper lights. The rest of maybe 100 bikes I saw had either nothing or some cheap "barely there" lights. We somehow think the fixie crowd is hip not stupid...and we make up our own rules. All this is a far larger recipe for disaster than a few sharrows.

  19. So will we see the BIKERAD system after the coastal radar is installed. Will it be installed on the handle bars or feed audible signals from the helmet?
    I think it is important to comment that sometimes weather conditions exist that add great risk to whatever mode of transportation you are using. Aircraft, boats, cars, bikes. The weather can never be the "cause" of a aircraft accident. It can be a contributing factor- just not the cause. It always defers to the human judgment factor.
    So if are aware of the overall factors,roads conditions, weather, schedules,type of equipment in use and decided to continue the outcome is really based on the assessment of risk and accepting it or rejecting it.
    All of the relevant comments about street conditions, city government really just highlight the need for good assessment and decision making.

    Wonder it we can implement a usage tax on bikes to help fix the potholes? Seems appropriate.

  20. I'm a regular commuter and I've upped the lights on my bike to "traffic accident" ie if you saw me you'd wonder where the dead people are.

    #1 Get the best tail light out there. The planet Bike Blinky 1/2 watt is good value for the money but the DiNotte 400L tail light is painfully bright.

    #2 Get a Highway flagger or survey'ers vest rated for 55mph. They are the most reflective things out there and get the one with sleeves so that you have reflectivity on the sides as well as fore/aft.

    #3 Reflective tape: It's cheap, put it on everything. (Fenders, mudflaps

    #4 a decent head lamp. The Planet Bike 1Watt is ok for minor riding, but those 3 Watt Fenix flashlights mounted, or a DiNotte 600L, or two 400L's really light things up.

    #5 Get an air horn. Those tinkely bells remind me of the bear bells and grizzly bear jokes. http://www.amazon.com/Delta-Airzound-Bike-Horn/dp/B000ACAMJC
    Will let you warn that bus that you are coming around. And keep that guy from pulling out in front of you from the driveway.

  21. I have to second Moore #114's comment. I can't believe how many kooks are out at night without lights. To me, a front light is even more important than a rear light, since the types of collisions it prevents take place with less warning than the type of collisions a rear light prevents. Plus most bikes have rear reflectors which are somewhat adequate, whereas a front reflector does nothing to illuminate a bike to motorists approaching from side streets.

  22. I agree with Melinda. There is no need to make cycling look
    scary. If you want to follow that road, so to speak, then you're
    in grave danger any time you leave your bed. Accidents happen.
    We could also say that the number of cyclists has gone up in
    the past decades but the number of accidents remained the same.

    I'd like to see the BG trail fixed, and even have more such
    trails built in Seattle. But, the BG is a *recreational* trail
    with kids, pets, racing cyclists going all over, and it's not
    necessarily super safe. I find riding on the road much more
    efficient. Also, I think it's silly to expect that we should have
    dedicated, separated bike lanes everywhere you want to go. Nobody
    would want to pay for that and it would take 50 years to
    build. So, at some point of your trip you have to be on the
    road. And I think that's exactly how it should be -- bikes and
    cars should share the road. Ideally, there would be a bike lane
    on busy roads (if there is room), but regardless, bikes should be
    on the road. Of course, cyclists absolutely must obey traffic
    rules if they want to be in traffic. That is, in my opinion, also
    the safest solution. Many bike lanes now are basically parking
    lanes with little extra room, but then bicycle must use
    it. However, if there is no bike lane, bicyclist can use the
    road, and in fact, take the whole traffic lane for a while if
    they don't feel safe. Of course, some drivers will need to learn
    to expect cyclist and that the roads are not built for cars but
    for people.


Please make sure your comments are civil. Name calling and personal attacks are not appropriate.

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