Photo by Steve Shay
SAFETY IN NUMBERS. A recent organized bicycle ride from the Admiral Junction to Georgetown, an occasion where cars needed to "step aside" to allow cyclists to pass. Generally the shoe is on the other foot.

Bicycles, cars & trucks occupying the same space at the same time

Cycling on the mean streets of West Seattle

Press your ear to the ground and you hear rumblings by a divided people in Seattle, those who drive and those who bike. Hostilities flair up. Sides seem as polarized as Congress and the administration truing to fix the debt ceiling. The tension between pedal power and gas was addressed in Mayor McGinn's Sept. 15 lengthy declaration. He called for a road safety summit in the wake of the tragic recent bicycle fatalities and the general sense of escalating injustice on the roads.

I have been in the car camp for my six years in Puget Sound. A bicycle wouldn't cut it in my career, plus, diet and exercise, what a hassle.

But all that has changed. I just rescued my 50 year-old 10-speed from my parents' suburban Chicago basement where it hibernated for over two decades. Alki Bike and Board overhauled it, and were decent enough to tell me my tires were still good. I bought the British bike, a Holdsworth, in 1975 at age 16 and put in some serious miles across America. My enthusiasm diminished when my dad bought me a second-hand Chevy Vega, which outperformed my 10-speed, until the steering went out on a busy street.

Now that my interest in biking has been recycled, my loyalties are beginning to shift gears, and my heart pours out to other two-wheelers chancing it on the mean streets of West Seattle. Drivers (cyclists hope) will notice that more and more bike riders outfit themselves with those lime green and orange vests that WSDOT roadside flaggers wear. They engage their white LED headlights and red taillights in stroboscopic flicker mode during the day, in addition to donning the ubiquitous brain-saving helmet. This dorky display is not a fashion statement, but a safety statement, and begs drivers, and pedestrians, to "Look at me!"

My first ride out couple of weeks ago I experienced six near-misses in an hour and a half involving a gravel-hauling 18-wheeler, an antique delivery van, a tour bus and a jogger wearing ear plugs, that deep, lengthy pavement crack on Admiral Way just to the left of the parked cars, with drivers ready to lunge, and a half-filled cola can tossed from a third-floor balcony on to California Ave.

The gravel truck driver who almost flattened me while making an erratic right turn in front of me on the Alki bike lane did have the decency to stop, roll down his window and say he was sorry but did not see me. The tour bus lunging out of the Salty's parking lot moments later sped across the very same bike path causing me to squeeze my brakes and still my front tire almost kissed the side of his giant ride. The antique truck made a wide turn into the left lane and headed right for me like a mobster on a hit. I think the setting sun blinded the driver peering through his small, vintage windshield. I had to ditch my bike toward the curb and hide behind a parked Subaru.

A well-tanned, well-toned jogger listening to music I would guess, with ear plugs, cut in front of me at the Admiral Junction without seeing, or hearing me. Luckily I was just straddling my bike and caused myself a little pain in the groin.

My personal favorite is the tossed cola can torpedoing down like space junk toward the roadside and missing my head by 10 feet.

The jury is out on whether those bicycle sharrows help alert drivers, or simply give the bike rider a false sense of security. The sharrow create sort of demilitarized zone in reverse where biker and driver seem entitled to occupy the same space at the same time. Of course, might makes right and even the munchkin Smart Car beats a 10-speed every time.

A "fun fact" that is not so much fun on bicycle, if you begin bicycling from Alki, a few feet above sea level, and pass High Point at 35th Ave. your uphill is roughly the same as the Space Needle's observation deck, 520 feet. The Space Needle experts give us more context, as they remind us while ascending their glass elevator that 520 feet equals 1,560 Snickers candy bars high. Of course, when returning to Alki, it's all downhill from there, with treacherous pavement cracks that attract your tires like a magnet, 40-ton 18-wheelers, flying cola cans, and those pesky joggers plugged into a world of their own.

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