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Why More People Don’t Ride Bikes

2011 May 20
by dan bertolet

The video below shows what its like to bike commute through Capitol Hill on a typical evening in Seattle. Traveling east on Pike Street, there is no bike lane or sharrow, but it is a popular route nonetheless—I’ve ridden it more than a thousand times, no exaggeration.

My guess is that to a sizable chunk of the populace, riding through the city in a scenario such as the video shows is not an appealing prospect. Here’s my mom’s Facebook comment:

Did you film that? I was getting nervous watching it and then realized that was probably you right behind in that traffic, and wished I hadn’t looked at it. Don’t need first-hand experience of the dangers.

Tell me, is it crazy to do a commute like that on a regular basis? I’m not a good judge because I’m so used to it (sorry mom, I shot the video riding with one hand as I held the camera in the other).

As I wrote in the previous post, the most powerful deterrent to biking in the city is the safety risk—both real and perceived. But we know very well how to design streets that ameliorate that risk. It doesn’t cost very much and it typically has little impact on car travel. All that’s missing is a shift of priorities. And though City of Seattle government has been making progress, as a community we still have a long way to go.





45 Responses leave one →
  1. wave permalink
    May 20, 2011

    This is why I always jog over to Pine, where there’s a bike lane. Much less stressful.

  2. May 20, 2011

    Looks like a normal bike commute to me… the only reason I’d be tense/stressed out on that stretch is the chance of getting doored.

    • Josh Feit permalink
      May 22, 2011

      “the only reason I’d be tense/stressed out on that stretch is the chance of getting doored.”

      And that’s reason enough not to do it.

      I’ve stopped biking on Broadway, heading south toward Pine, on my daily commute because I’ve been doored several times on Broadway.

      I’ve also been doored heading down Pine—and Dan’s video makes me tense like I’m watching the babysitter answer the phone in a horror movie.

      I take Harvard south now. I’ve yet to be doored on on Harvard, a calmer side street, but I’m waiting.

      • some dude permalink
        May 23, 2011

        seems like a good argument for not putting bike lanes on arterial routes and instead encouraging bikes to use side-streets.

      • Barb Wilson permalink
        June 15, 2011

        In other countries drivers education mostly consists of teaching people how to be aware of and watch out for pedestrians and bicyclists. They teach and train people in the rules. Including looking before opening your door into a bike and not turning right into peds or bikes. We need to rethink drivers training and what’s on the drivers test.

  3. Joshua Daniel Franklin permalink
    May 20, 2011

    Riding in heavy traffic is fairly safe because of the low speeds involved. On the other hand, the busyness certainly doesn’t help new riders. A few years ago I started biking again after a break of about 15 years and riding in traffic freaked me out. One day I had an epiphany that most Seattle streets actually have plenty of width for a small car and me to pass each other. There are few large vehicles in Seattle, mostly just buses and delivery vans. That helped me feel a lot more comfortable on streets like Eastlake.

    And my favorite article on the subject is David Hembrow’s “Three types of safety”:

    • May 24, 2011

      The fascinating thing is that the traffic is so heavy…this despite Capitol Hill being one of the densest, most “transit-oriented” neighborhoods in Western Washington, the majority of people still choose to sit inside their Audis and listen to the radio when it rains.

      This speaks volumes about the idiotic waste of investment in “mass transit” force feeding for everyone else, when the most “urbist” neighborhood is awash in private single occupancy vehicles!

      • Laurel permalink
        May 24, 2011

        Mr. Bailo, it appears that someone needs to point out to you the central location of the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Cars often drive THRU Capitol Hill to get to other neighborhoods such as Montlake, Madison Valley, and Pill Hill. Just because a fellow is sitting in his Audi with the radio on at E. Pike and Broadway doesn’t mean he’s from the neighborhood, so please, don’t make vast generalizations about the “idiotic waste of investment” associated with mass transit.


      • ryan permalink
        May 26, 2011

        What’s fascinating is that you’re so much more rude here than over on stb.

        I’m glad they force you to be civil over there.

  4. James permalink
    May 20, 2011

    It’s not crazy, Dan, just risky. Perhaps that’s mostly perception. Some stats might help. And, not that I would have stopped, but why didn’t you yield to the pedestrian in the crosswalk?

  5. Dan Staley permalink
    May 20, 2011

    I know a lot of people who are scared of that kind of traffic. In my view, you have to be a little bit crazy to do it, and maybe I am a little bit too.

  6. Kelly L permalink
    May 20, 2011

    Yeah, I don’t ride because I find it stressful. I am always worried about getting hit by a car, and it kills the fun. (I do enjoy biking, just not on the street.) If I take the bus, the only stressful part is if I leave late and have to run to the bus stop.

  7. Matt the Engineer permalink
    May 20, 2011

    That’s not too dangerous. The two parts of my commute I worry about are biking down the Counterbalance at car speeds (mostly because of the car speeds, not because of the cars), and biking on 3rd – a street full of buses is intimidating. But 3rd is the best route to avoid some hills (though I suppose more hills wouldn’t hurt me). I’d love it if 3rd had a bike freeway overhead.

    Oh, and Portland’s biking manual says that most injury causing accidents are from bike-only crashes. So the most dangerous part is just biking, not necessarily the cars (though of course the cars don’t help).

    • SuperSteve permalink
      June 6, 2011

      “Bike-only crashes” is very misleading – many, if not most, occur when a bicyclist goes down while maneuvering to avoid hitting a car that pulls out in front of them.

  8. For real? permalink
    May 23, 2011

    I love how you cut that guy in the crosswalk off (it’s okay, you’re on a bike so the law doesn’t apply to you) and speed down the corridor passing and swerving in front of and between cars moving in line while you complain about how dangerous your bike commute is. You’re a parody of the unsafe, self-entitled bicyclist and you don’t even know it.

  9. May 23, 2011

    While I wouldn’t call the poster an unsafe, self-entitled bicyclist just from this video, I would have stopped for the pedestrian myself. As far as it being a crazy commute, no it seems average to me and not particularly dangerous (I bicycle commute from the Rainier Valley to downtown myself). What is making it significantly more dangerous is passing columns of stopped/slow traffic on the right like that; while I do not think that it is technically illegal, at least on streets without lane markings, I do think it is dumb/unsafe/rude to do so. I would just act like a car and take the lane and wait.

  10. For real? permalink
    May 23, 2011


    I hope you’d stop, it’s the law. Those passes on the right are illegal and that cutting off of the crossover wasn’t just illegal it was incredibly dangerous and rude. Share the road, indeed.

    • May 23, 2011

      It’s illegal and rude, but drivers do it all the time on E Pike. Drivers also try to intimidate pedestrians out of the crosswalk by creeping into the crosswalk while pedestrians are crossing or simple by honking their horns as the peds cross. The unfortunate thing about Pike/Pine, in my opinon, is all of the folks from outside the neighborhood that are just too damn impatient and don’t understand the pace/culture of the neighborhood. “I need to find a Dairy Queen, NOW!”

      I do agree though that Dan should just wait in traffic. It’s safer. I always take the lane and wait in traffic. I think it also shows drivers, who tend to feel a bias toward bicyclists, that most of us actually do follow the rules.

      • SuperSteve permalink
        June 6, 2011

        The passing versus waiting is a no-win situation – if you pass, drivers get mad at you for not waiting your turn; if you take the lane and wait, drivers get mad at you for being in the way.

    • dan bertolet permalink*
      May 23, 2011

      What happened at that crosswalk may have been slightly rude, but get real “for real,” because it was not “incredibly dangerous” or anything close to it. I was going about 5 mph and there was plenty of room between me and the pedestrian — he didn’t even feel the need to break his stride. I typically give walkers a wider berth than that, but to be totally honest, in this case I didn’t want to lose the biker in front of me because I was shooting the video.

      But really people, there are much more important things to worry about, doncha think?

      • some dude permalink
        May 23, 2011

        “But really people, there are much more important things to worry about, doncha think?”

        The irony always makes me laugh when you hear bicyclists talk about pedestrians in such casual terms but then flip their shit when someone in a car does the same thing. You would think, with their persecution complex, that bicyclists would be sympathetic to pedestrians since they’re the small fish to the bicyclists big fish in this case. but whenever a complain is raised about pedestrians being put in danger by a bike, it’s all “oh gee it’s not such a big deal”

        How quickly they adopt rhetoric they condemn when it’s coming from someone in an automobile.

        • Ryan Packer permalink
          May 23, 2011

          The difference is that I’ve never been intimidated by a bike. When on foot, however, my adrenaline floods in at least twice daily in the fear that I’m going to be run over. Cars aren’t bikes.

        • NOS4A2 permalink
          May 27, 2011

          @ some dude,

          Man… I couldn’t have said it any better. And Mr Bertolet’s reply to “for real” does not help his case. He’s rude, arrogant, and affronted by the fact that someone called HIM (A BICYCLIST??) on his wanton and blatant “if you’re in a car, do as I say not as I do, because I’m on a bike” rhetoric. That attitude right there is the biggest sticking point and the most frustrating thing about bicyclist’s. YOU ARE ON THE ROAD… YOU WISH TO BE TREATED WITH RESPECT ON THE ROAD… THEN YOU SHOULD OBEY ALL THE RULES OF THE ROAD… NOT JUST THE ONES THAT HAPPEN TO BE CONVENIENT TO YOU!!!

    • Steve permalink
      May 23, 2011

      Is a bike passing cars on the right really illegal? I’ve never heard that before, nor have I ever heard of any cyclist being ticketed for it.

      • Charlie Mas permalink
        May 24, 2011

        Of course it is legal for bikes to pass cars on the right. If it were illegal for a car and a bike to share the lane like that, then it would also be illegal for a car to pass a bike on the left. There is a right of way for both the car and the bike; it shouldn’t matter which is passing the other.

        The alternative, of course, is for the bike to take the whole lane and for cars to travel no faster than the bike. Nobody likes that.

        As for the cyclists who do it, claiming that they have to take the whole lane “for safety”, they rarely acknowledge the car driver’s right to take the whole lane “for safety”.

        • JAT permalink
          May 27, 2011

          most cyclists who “take/control” the lane do it on a situational basis (that is to say when specific conditions warrant it – blind curves, curb bulbs, etc. and they move over when it’s safe. For another video take on riding in traffic, there’s none better than Keri in Orlando (of all places

    • archie permalink
      May 23, 2011

      There’s a huge difference between blasting downhill through an occupied crosswalk and pedaling uphill through a crosswalk, barely at a jogging pace. That interaction was a fine example of safe pedestrian and bicycle coexistence. Of course, it’s a dance that’s becomes dangerous and difficult when one of the participants is encased in 3 thousand pounds of steel.

  11. Rich permalink
    May 23, 2011

    I guess I have a different perspective. My mom and dad were killed in a car crash when I was eight months old. They’re not around to tell me how dangerous cycling is. I on the other hand am quite willing to point out how dangerous driving is. But no one seems to care about that one.

  12. Phillip permalink
    May 23, 2011

    That’s why I still ride on the sidewalk 90% of the time when I’m not on an actual non-street trail…

  13. May 24, 2011

    I notice the cyclists didn’t slow down when there was a pedestrian halfway through the crosswalk.

    • poseur permalink
      May 24, 2011

      You’re a little late to this party. As usual.

  14. hermes permalink
    May 24, 2011

    For me, what is striking is how loaded the deck is against bicyclists and pedestrians. Walk down just about any street in Seattle and you’ll be stopped at nearly every light. This is because the lights are timed for maximum vehicle flow – not for people walking. When you bike, it’s very similar, which means every few lights, you have to stop and then build up momentum again (which plays into the hands of those claiming bicyclists don’t go the speed limit). When you look at many roads – 25th by the U. Village, Roosevelt Way, Sand Point Way, much of S. Lake Union, pretty much any east/west connection, etc. – they are completely designed for car travel and as a pedestrian, you are stuck walking long distances just to cross the road. These streets are significant dangers to cyclists too because they are so vehicle-oriented – there are long distances before cars have to slow down. If the speed limit is 30 mph, that means many cars are going close to 40 mph.

    As a driver, you need to be kind to your smaller, fellow commuters, and realize, it takes a lot more, A LOT, than pressing down on a pedal to get up to speed, slow down, maneuver, etc. When I hear drivers complain about cyclists and cyclists defend themselves, no one seems to talk about how the infrastructure is completely against any other form of travel besides driving.

    It’s getting better, but as a cyclist, driver, bus rider, and a frequent walker, I can say from experience we need better options for commuters all around. We need our infrastructure to foster and promote cycling, walking, public transportation and smart commuting. This means recognizing right now street lights, crosswalks, access, options, safety considerations, right-of-ways, road conditions, etc. are all automobile-centric, which puts already compromised commuters in ever worse situations, perpetuates conflicts and causes this animosity between groups. So many complaints by drivers about cyclists, and cyclists about how they are treated by drivers, and pedestrians about how they are treated, could be mitigated if we solved these issues.

    We need to better educate drivers about sharing the road, right-of-way laws, and street markings – most do not recognize a bike lane or a crosswalk as an ‘intersection’ but just as something in their way, don’t realize what a solid line represents, or have experience riding in traffic to really be able to judge their distance or speed in relation to pedestrians and cyclists. We also need cyclists to remember they are ambassadors for a better form of travel – this means being very conscious of perceptions about running lights, swerving in and out of traffic, using sidewalks, etc.

    The problem is you have to ride very aggressively, take advantage of as much as you can, push hard, and compete with cars in order to be in traffic, because that’s the way the system is setup.

    Just deal with having to stop at every light as you try to hurry to work or jaywalk? Come to a complete stop and try to build up momentum again while cars zoom by you at 30 mph, or sneak through a red light?

    We wouldn’t be putting drivers, cyclists and/or pedestrians in direct competition if we equalized the systems in place. Every single form of transportation has the right to be there, we just need to recognize we’re not giving cyclists and pedestrians equal rights.

  15. Pedestrian permalink
    May 24, 2011

    Yes the infrastructure sucks for cyclists and yes being hit by a car would be worse but please don’t excuse the potential danger of cyclists to pedestrians. The very reason you give for breaking the rules (maintaining speed) increases the danger.

    Dark and in the rain I patiently waited to cross Broadway at Harrison. When I finally got the walk signal I actually had to jump backwards to avoid being creamed by a cyclist who didn’t even slow down from what was probably his full speed. I’m not one of those pedestrians that dresses in all black either. If he was aware enough to think he could run the red light without being hit by a car then he couldn’t have missed me with bright boots, coat, and umbrella. I’m pretty sure if he’d hit me one or both of us would have taken a trip to the ER.

    • hermes permalink
      May 25, 2011

      Pretty sure, “We also need cyclists to remember they are ambassadors for a better form of travel – this means being very conscious of perceptions about running lights…” covers this. I think you missed the point that the infrastructure needs to be improved so that cyclists AND pedestrians have equal footing with automobiles (and each other). The notion was we would have less of what you describe IF we improved the system to support how pedestrians and cyclists utilize transportation systems.

      “The very reason you give for breaking rules (maintaining speed) increases the danger” – of course, this is true; however, the problem is the way things are designed and setup right now, pushes cyclists and pedestrians to break rules. Having to walk a distance to cross the road will prompt people to jaywalk (“as a pedestrian, you are stuck walking long distances just to cross the road”), just as requiring cyclists to compete with cars going 30 or higher while making them stop and rebuild momentum is a Catch-22 – you’re yelled at for not going fast enough (honked at, swerved around, screamed at, spit at, etc. – I’ve had things thrown at me on Capitol Hill and the U. District) and disparaged for sneaking through a red light. I personally don’t think cyclists should ever run red lights, but it doesn’t take a transportation engineer to see that the way things are right now, cyclists and pedestrians have an unfair disadvantage, and the more we perpetuate this, the more problems we will have.

  16. Gary permalink
    May 26, 2011

    I’ve ridden East over Capital Hill, and the least traffic is to go up Mercer, But it’s also the worst hill. Pine is better than Pike because of the bike lane.

    But really a lot of this could be fixed if they’d move the parked cars away from the sidewalk and let the bicyclists ride there.

    NYC has gotten it’s act together and we could too.

    Nice video though and it does look pretty much that way to me when I’m riding it. I would note that the rider in front could use more lights and better reflective clothing. When passing cars on the right you really want to let them know you are doing that or you’re libel to get the right hook, or a door prize from the parked cars.

  17. John Boren permalink
    May 26, 2011

    Maybe I am a little on the fearless side, but I noticed that you tended to move faster then the typical automobile, so perhaps from a getting there faster standpoint, you could convince a few people.

  18. My 2 Cents permalink
    May 27, 2011

    Another major reason (is not brought up much) I believe why people do not bike around here is the hilly/steep terrain. Sure if I lived in flat North Dakota it would be simple to bike for miles on a 0% grade road/path, but here with hills, many (most) people do not have the stamina to bike up them and the bike racks on buses fill up very fast if you say take the bus back up the hill.

  19. NSBill permalink
    May 27, 2011

    Hmmm…and I thought no one biked here because there’s a massive hill every half block. It’s not really that easy to GET anywhere via bike here without bus assist. That is unless you live anywhere on the B-G trail and want to get somewhere else on the B-G trail. When our terrain looks like Amsterdam or Copenhagen then we’ll talk. Oh yeah, and the weather sucks a$$ nine months out of the year. If I’m going to the store or a restaurant or whatever, I don’t want to have to change my clothes before doing so and afterwards. Who wants to ride in the cold, wind, and rain? Not I!

  20. esperanza permalink
    June 15, 2011

    Thank you, NSBill – the persistent drooling weather and hills are precisely why I, and many others I know, do not bike it in Seattle. True, there are those that manage to slog through it, but I suspect most are single or have wives and, therefore, have more time on their hands. In addition, the streets are narrow and Seattle drivers tend to meander (could it be that smart phone in your lap?)

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