I had just dropped my first-grader at school and was winding my way through the north-end of the University District, heading east on 47th St., approaching the stop sign at Brooklyn with my preschooler on board. I was scanning the pavement for cracks and potholes as I prepared to stop at the intersection, when we heard her yell.
Colin and I looked up and saw, just a few feet in front of us, an SUV hitting a cyclist, the cyclist impacting the hood, then the cyclist falling over onto the pavement, her left side hitting the ground hard. The driver stopped immediately. I pulled to the side to unload Colin so we could help. The cyclist lay in the street curled up, scared but conscious. People helped her to the sidewalk, and she seemed to be moving OK. It was a classic T-bone scenario.
This isn’t the first collision I’ve witnessed, and I discreetly took down the license plate number of the vehicle. The driver was calm, caring and attentive and didn’t seem to be going anywhere. Once though, at a previous crash I witnessed, the driver (who was at fault) seemed to be cooperating with the bicyclist, but I later learned that she gave him entirely false information, never to be heard from again. Lesson learned: always get the plate.
The paramedics arrived, followed by the police. While I saw the crash impact, I did not see what led up to it. Either the driver or the cyclist, or both of them, didn’t proceed through the four-way stop properly. Thankfully, both were going slow enough that the consequences weren’t catastrophic, though they were very scary. As I stood on the fringes of the emergency vehicles, I pondered the intersection, while Colin clutched my hand and pondered the firefighters.
It’s a busy four-way stop intersection, with loads of pedestrians. Both Brooklyn and 47th are popular bike routes, connecting south-bound riders to the Burke-Gilman and east/west riders to campus and Trader Joe’s. I always wonder why drivers use Brooklyn, with its series of stop signs. I suspect many are trying to avoid Roosevelt due to congestion.
I glanced down at my helmeted three-year-old (almost, four, he would be quick to add) and thought, “Is this a good street for us? I thought it was, but maybe it’s not. What are our options?”
Let’s review, from west to east, starting at Interstate 5:
7th Ave: One-way northbound, full of aggressive high speed traffic entering and exiting the interstate.
8th Ave: Not a through-street. Even if that were fixed with a path through Gorilla Park, one cannot cross 50th or 45th safely.
9th Ave: I ride four blocks of 9th Ave. Yesterday, a car heading east on 50th flat out blew the red light in front of us as we were riding through on a solid green. I don’t want to think about had I been 10 seconds faster.
The traffic “circle” at 47th is terrifying on a bike, thanks to an increase in cut-through drivers. These are drivers who use 9th — a narrow neighborhood street — to beat the lights on Roosevelt. Boo and hiss. Generally speaking, cut-through drivers are looking to speed down neighborhood streets to shave seconds off their drive, and they scare the heck out of me.
Roosevelt Ave: One-way south-bound with a typical bike lane. With my kids on-board, I’m never going to ride this street in its current design. On days I drive, I see people driving in the bike lane to the right (hello Metro routes 66 and 67!), the parking lane to the left and doing all sorts of crazy, unpredictable maneuvers because they’re frustrated about being traffic. Plus, there are people going in and out of the Trader Joe’s parking lot, people wanting to turn right on 45th, and the tangled cluster down near the UWMC-Roosevelt parking garage. Roosevelt is maybe, kinda-sorta OK for the brave and stolid cyclist (mind the door zone), but it’s not remotely family-friendly.
11th Ave: One-way northbound. Similar situation to Roosevelt. Not family-friendly.
12th Ave: Ahhhh, now we’re talking. A nice low-traffic street. However, there’s no signal to cross at 50th, an extremely busy, high-speed arterial. I’ve also had difficulty triggering the light with my bike at 45th. Still, if the crossing at 50th were fixed, this is a potential candidate for a Neighborhood Greenway. [Update: Upon closer inspection, 12th comes to a T at Campus Parkway. Then what?]
Brooklyn Ave: Tons of bike traffic and plenty of opportunity for conflict. The pavement is horrendous, full of deep gashes running north/south, ideally located to grab a bike tire and take a rider down. People turning left onto 45th don’t get an arrow, and frustrate the people behind them. I always worry a that a taxi cab will dart out from the stand at the Deca Hotel, so I make a point of ringing my bell and waving to the cabbies. Maybe they’ll look out for us if they get to recognize us.
University Way AKA The Ave: Another street that could be for people on bikes. From Ravenna Blvd. to 50th, it’s a fair street for biking with kids on-board. But from 50th south, it would be an incredible rejuvenation to keep bikes and foot traffic and lose the cars (except deliveries and taxis). [See Madison, Wisconsin’s State Street, a vibrant, pedestrian mall adjacent to a major university.] I’ve been passed by drivers in the most shocking ways on the heart of The Ave. Since Robert Townsend’s death at The Ave and Campus Parkway, I’ve changed my commute route, riding through campus now.
15th Ave: Don’t make me laugh. Lovely, fresh, smooth concrete and no where any family would be found riding it.
So there we were, on Brooklyn and 47th, just trying to get from home to schools and on to the office safely. On the list above, I see mostly car-dominated streets. Where should we be? I’m tired of feeling cars breathing down my back no matter which street above I take. I’m tired of worrying that I’m going to get rear-ended by a driver who isn’t paying attention. I’m tired of not being able to get across needlessly high-speed arterials without taking my life in my hands. I’m tired of trying to do something modestly good by biking a few miles instead of driving, and feeling like I’m at battle.
Lest I sound totally beaten down, I’m not. I still have hope, but hope alone won’t amount to much. If more families are going to get around by bike, we need safer streets. And we need them now.
If you’re a biking parent, who rides with kids during rush hour, I’d love to hear what you think. Please drop a comment below.