This was the scene I encountered last Thursday at rush hour. That cyclist sitting on the curb had just been hit by that SUV, he told me, and, as you can see, the SUV was straddling the bicycle lane on Second Avenue. I'd stopped walking to ask if the cyclist was all right. He said he was okay, but he seemed stunned and had some scratches on his face. He'd been riding in the bike lane, wearing a blinking red light, he explained, when the vehicle swung across the bike lane and attempted to "nose into the parking spot." As I was walking away, the driver told the cyclist, "That was my bad."
This is yet another example of why Seattle needs protected bicycle lanes, lanes that are separated from vehicle traffic by some sort of physical barrier. On Second and Fourth Avenues, the primary thoroughfares through downtown Seattle, the lanes are counterintuitively on the left side of the street (because buses pull over on the right). "The Second Avenue bike lane is one of the most frightening bike lanes in Seattle," says Craig Benjamin, spokesman for the Cascade Bicycle Club, who says the lane "puts the lives of both people on bikes and people in cars in danger." This street arrangement, and ones on other busy thoroughfares around town, is essentially setting up cyclists to be hit.
We obviously need more—and better—infrastructure to delineate where cyclists have right-of-way, but there's a problem. Anti-cyclist propagandists, columnists like Joni Balter, and the Seattle Times editorial board have attempted to make cycling a political act. They say cars are being "shoved aside" for the "transfer of asphalt to bicycle lanes" and all cyclists are "militant." Riding a bike isn't a political act. It's a means of transportation. Yet because these people are making it a political issue, it's difficult for elected leaders to fund bicycle infrastructure.
Only about one quarter of the city's 10-year Bicycle Master Plan, created in 2007, has been funded (while the city council found unity to spend $930 million on an underperforming freeway tunnel with no accommodations for bikes or transit). Data from the Seattle Department of Transportation and other sources, meanwhile, shows that cyclist collisions and fatalities are on the rise.
Treating cycling like a political football has to stop. Deferring cycling investments has to stop. People's safety and their lives are on the line—and they're not militant activists. They're just people, commuters.
As Benjamin notes, the mayor and city council funded some protected bicycle lanes downtown in next year's budget—but we still have millions of dollars to go to satisfy the Bicycle Master Plan. And we need to keep it up: A report last fall by New York City's transportation department found that locally based businesses along streets with protected bicycle lanes experienced a 49 percent increase in retail sales, which translates to more tax revenue for the city. So better bike lanes don't just protect the public, saving guys like the cyclist in the photo, they're good economics for everyone.