Never can tell what you’ll find when you clean out the “to do” folders and desk stacks. I just came across a story from the July 26, 2006 issue of the Seattle Weekly called “Breaking the Vicious Cycle.” In it, author David Neiwert set out to explode the myth of “bike-friendly” Seattle, noting that its streets (in contrast to Portland’s) are unsafe and unadapted to cycling, its drivers resent and rebuke (and all too often “door”) their pedaling brethren and reckless scofflaw cyclists up the hostility factor.
Since then, Seattle has adopted one bicycle master plan. It’s about to adopt another, now that aggrieved neighbors along the planned Westlake Ave. N. cycle track have struck an accord with the city and dropped an appeal blocking the plan. Cyclists, bike lanes and sharrows have sprouted like mushrooms on Seattle’s streets, along with a select number of separated cycle tracks and bike paths. But many of Neiwert’s points still hold. Seattle bicycling infrastructure still lags badly, especially in Southeast Seattle; the underfunded 2007 master plan remains in large part an unfulfilled wish list.
On one score, however, Neiwert’s 2006 report seems happily out of date. What he calls the “historically tendentious” relationship between motorists and bicyclists in Seattle now seems much less, er, contentious. Road warriors of both sorts may disagree, but after long and considered observation atop both types of vehicle, I have to say: We’re learning to share the road. On the whole, Seattle’s drivers are more alert to and accepting of bicycles than they’re ever been before. And cyclists, while we may still run stop signs when no one’s coming, are also behaving better (overpowered blinking headlights aside). The one-man Critical Mass displays (pulling over to the left side of single lanes to block cars from passing) are now rare. Likewise, at least off Capitol Hill, those too-cool-for-school, too-neat-for-the-street hipsters cutting diagonally across four lanes while riding no-hands, no-lights in dark clothing at night. Maybe they all got hit and became cycle angels.
It’s only natural, maybe even inevitable, that motorists would learn to accommodate bicycles. It’s a matter of lower-case critical mass. The number of cyclists reaches a tipping point. At that point, you can’t fight them anymore. You get used to them and you live with them.
The trend is reflected in the numbers of bicycle collisions (usually due to cars striking cyclists) reported by the Seattle Department of Transportation (below). Not that those numbers have gone down; over the past decade they’ve ticked up, then down, then up again — to a record level in 2013, according to preliminary data newly compiled by SDOT. The "Bike Collision Rate" below is calculated on the basis of crashes per 1 million bicycle miles traveled: