Jan 192013
Seattle Streets Take Two: More Impressions of Seattle Biking

I posted some of my first impressions of Seattle bicycling right after moving here and riding just a little bit around the core downtown area. After nearly six months of bicycling and a few more miles (although not nearly enough) I thought I’d share a few more stories.

My life is very low-mileage right now because I live too close to work. That’s right, too close. My base mileage in Spokane if I did nothing more than ride to work and back every day was 25 miles, with a good uphill climb on the way home every day. Here my base mileage is five miles with less climbing (location, location, location).

It’s a sad statement that I have been riding less since going to work full-time in bike advocacy, but there you have it. (And for those of you who point out, accurately, that it would be possible for me to plan to leave home earlier and put in some miles before arriving at the office, I have only this to say: Bwahahahahaha! Do you leave for work early in your car so you can drive some extra miles? Thought not.)

The tunnel leading to the Mountains to Sound Greenway connection across the I-90 bridge at Seattle.

This low-mileage life means that when I head out to go somewhere for real, like a meeting last week at the wonderful and very bike-friendly Third Place Books near Ravenna that required me to ride 7.5 miles to get there and the same distance back home, I feel the burn.

I also acquired my Mary Poppins bike since moving here. I love the upright posture for the improved view of the street and the psychological effect on drivers, who treat you better if you look like a regular person going somewhere for a “real” purpose, but it’s definitely heavier than my road bike and the low-end gearing isn’t quite low enough so climbing is more work all around. I get more compliments on my cute bike, though, so it’s totally worth it, and I figure the workout I get when I do get some miles is probably a good thing.

A conceptual rendering of the future cycletrack on 7th Ave. in Seattle, from the Seattle Bike Blog. Amazon is paying for this street improvement.

On the other hand, it was a bad choice of bike when I did over 20 miles to go to and from Bellevue for a Comcast interview a few weeks ago. If I were riding some decent mileage regularly I would have been fine, but I was worn out when I got there and still had to face the ride home. Good thing my sweetheart was with me for moral support on my first ride across the I-90 bridge.

One of my first impressions has persisted: Seattle drivers on the whole give me pretty good treatment.

I still haven’t been honked at, for one thing. And I’ve observed that when I’m preparing for a lane change and looking back repeatedly it seems that drivers notice and will make a hole so I can move over, even before I’ve signaled.

I’ve learned a couple of streets I like for getting through downtown–Fourth Avenue works well to head north from the Bicycle Alliance office in Pioneer Square, for example. And the one I don’t much care for–Second Avenue with its very fast vehicle traffic. Despite the bike lane it’s an aggressive environment and a story about a driver-caused bike/car collision there that I read yesterday (complete with lots of troll comments) makes me plan to avoid it in future.

Bike lane on Dexter Ave., Seattle, approaching a transit island.

I’m greatly enjoying the much higher visibility and availability of bike infrastructure. It may not all be cycletracks–but they’re in the works. I didn’t start out as much of a fan of sharrows when they were installed in Spokane and they’re still no replacement for either lanes or separated tracks, but I’ve come to value the visual cue of that bike picture on the road. And when a major arterial like Dexter has bike lanes–with an extra-wide buffer strip between the vehicle travel lane and the bike lane–I have to wonder what makes it so hard to get bike lanes on Second or Third Avenue in Spokane with much lower traffic volumes.

Some other riding experiences of the past few months:

  • My first slip–but not a fall–on trolley tracks (on Jackson climbing east toward Fourth Ave.);
  • Avoiding–or walking and pushing my bike up–Seattle’s steepest hills;
  • A beautiful 50-mile fall day riding to Woodinville and back, mostly on separated trails thanks to the Burke-Gilman and the Lake Sammamish Trails, and a real test of the perfect pants for riding (they passed);
  • Several trips on the Melrose bike lane/trail, riding happily high above the poor miserable drivers on I-5;
  • Seeing a carbon count sign on the side of the PEMCO building from the Melrose trail and thinking, “Ha! I’m not contributing anything to that”;
  • Zipping past drivers stuck in traffic and being glad I use the ultimate urban transportation vehicle;
  • Adapting to the ever-evolving construction zone at South Lake Union between Eastlake and Westlake;
  • Two bad experiences with other riders, both on the same trip: 1) Buzzed by a guy as I hesitated about passing a Metro bus–he passed me with absolutely no warning so close that his flat handlebar tapped my left hand on my handlebar and I yelled. 2) A pack of three Lycra-clad speedsters who swooped off the sidewalk on Eastlake (a bit north of that pesky construction zone) and headed north the wrong way in the bike lane, right at dusk so it was even spookier to have them come charging at me;
  • Finding myself in a frightening and very illegal spot on Marginal Way cutting across a freeway off-ramp lane because of a bad decision coming off the trail heading south;
  • Lots of “you don’t ride in THAT” comments from women at businessy meetings looking at my typical skirt/tights/boots attire;
  • Arriving at meetings at the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and wishing they had a bike rack like the one outside the Greater Spokane Incorporated offices;
  • More than one trip across the Fremont Bridge because that’s how I get to Hub & Bespoke;
  • Counting over a dozen bicyclists waiting in the bike lane at the light at Dexter and Denny around 5:30 p.m. and thinking “Those are my tribe!”;
  • Riding with my sweetheart along Lake Washington Boulevard past the arboretum on beautiful fall afternoons;
  • Stopping at a bike shop on one of those expeditions with my sweetheart and wondering aloud whether there was a coffee shop anywhere nearby, to which he responded, “Coffee shop? Well, this is Seattle”;
  • The beautiful hidden bridge in Ravenna that drivers will never see, where the bike trail takes you over the ravine the area is named for and you look down where the woods are lovely, dark, and deep.

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Reader Comments

  1. And this is why I’m eyeing a return to Seattle from NYC. I’m trying to imagine going 6 blocks without being honked at, let alone 6 months. That sums up the many differences, but the biggest one is driver aggression here versus there. There, one the whole, drivers give you room and pay attention and mostly follow the law, in my experience. Here, it’s the inverse. The cycletracks and the new infrastructure here is great and has truly made it easier and better to get around by bike, but there’s only so much vehicular bullying I’m willing to take. And if cycletracks are coming to Seattle . . . I’m so there!

  2. By the way, we were in Seattle for 2 days in Novemeber and miraculously it was …sunny and warm. Just wonderful. Did shopping. Didn’t have my bike that time since I flew in from Alberta..

  3. Take the Amtrak train to VAncouver, BC with your bike. They have 2 trains per day….with a bike train car. Do it within the next few months, this route is seriously being considered ….of being cut by Amtrak. There is movement afoot by rail users, cyclists to stop this.

    Once you get off the train station in Vancouver BC you are less than 1 km. away from its famed 30 km. Seaside-Seawall bike path to Olympic Village, Granville Market and Stanley Park. Then also experience 3 separated bike lanes that run through downtown Vancouver. 🙂

    Sorry to get off topic. PM me if you wish more info. on the Canadian side not cut this Amtrak route.

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