Seattle and the Puget Sound as a whole is known for its active bicycle culture. It seems more and more people are choosing to bicycle to work and other places, often finding that during high traffic times, they shave a huge block of time off of their commute.

Though the numbers haven’t come out for 2011 yet, in the city’s annual mid-September count in 2010, there were 3,251 cyclists commuting into downtown in 2010, up from 2,273 in 2007. Some in the community may think that this increase would naturally lead to more bicycle related accidents, however, newly released data and bicycle safety experts suggest otherwise.

When more cyclists are present, motorists become more conscious of them and safety tends to improve,”said Sam Woods, bicycling coordinator for the Seattle Department of Transportation.

Bicycle Accidents

The issue of bicycle safety and bicycle accidents in the Seattle is kept in the forefront by the rather strong bicycle advocacy groups in Seattle including the Cascade Bicycle Club, one of the largest and robustly funded bicycle non-profits in the country. They work with the Seattle City Council and Mayor Mike McGinn to highlight safety issues. Particularly after 2011, not the deadliest year for bicycles, but certainly one of the most publicized.

Perhaps the biggest story of that year was the July hit-and-run death of bike commuter Mike Wang, a 44-year-old photographer and father. He was heading home to Shoreline when he was struck by a brown SUV that turned left across Dexter Avenue North. The case remains open and unsolved.

Despite the bad news, the five-year bicycle accident totals have stayed consistent despite the increased volume of riders. The Seattle area bicycle crash total varies from 359 to 392 annually. Among the 1,847 total crashes over the period of 2007 to 2011 seen in the graphic below, there were some very apparent causes:

  • Crossing car hit a cyclist = 863 times
  • Cyclist ran into a crossing car = 506 times
  • Sideswipes = 159 times

As you can see, it is not just the bike lanes and green zones that are helping solve the problem. Though the bike lanes certainly separate, visibility and configuration of lights are a big concern.

Intersections are where the crashes are,” says John Mauro, policy director for the Cascade Bicycle Club. “We need more than just separation, we need signalization.”

Bicycles and Road Safety

The deaths of Wang and others left the community skeptical about the effectiveness of the laws and policies in place and have focused on more of a bicycle-centric road configuration. However, even the effectiveness of bicycle icons and stripes have come under scrutiny.

This has also inspired some new proposals and methodology. Green zones were set up just last year and drivers and bicycles alike are still getting used to using them. There is also a Road Diet proposal already in the works, which reduces four lane roads to two lane roads with a turn lane, bicycle lanes, and parking. A road diet has so far shown promise to actually lowering traffic volume.

Other proposals currently in the works are:

  • Dexter – Sections of the Dexter bike route, bus-stop medians separate bikes from traffic.
  • Capital Hill – On Broadway, a “cycle track” will be separated by curbs, bollards or stripes as part of the future First Hill Streetcar installation.
  • Seattle Pacific University Trail – This winter, a trail extension opened joining Fishermen’s Terminal to SPU, but a court ruling Thursday brought more delay to a Ballard trail link.
  • Mercer Street – The unfinished Mercer Street rebuild already provides some 20-foot-wide sidewalks offering a safer link to Lake Union.
  • Greenways for pedestrians and bikes – The city is working designing greenways, that are offset from main roads or run along side streets. Plantings, curbs and a 20-mph speed limit would encourage bikes and pedestrians to take side streets. The programs is beginning in Wallingford this year and is expected to expand later.

Bicycle safety advocates and city officials are excited about the new proposals ahead. The Mayor has suggested that not all of these initiatives are guaranteed to work, however, many of them have basis in other parts of the country and we may not know what works and what doesn’t. Regardless, bicyclists are happy to have the support.

Seattle may well be following a positive trend in Portland and Minneapolis, where more people are riding without a spike in crashes,” said John Mauro.

Seattle Bicycle Accident Lawyer

If you or someone you know has been seriously injured in a bicycle accident anywhere in Washington State then it is important that they find an experienced personal injury lawyer. Call the Bicycle Accident Attorneys at Phillips Law Firm for a free consultation.