Apr. 30, 2008 at 5:23pm

Sharing the Road

a friend weighs in on bikes on his streets

I had lunch today with a dear friend. We had a lovely conversation over a couple of really good sandwiches at Over the Moon Cafe'. My friend works for the city and has interest and experience in planning, transportation, and parking. Per my request, he was giving me his view of what the city is addressing and will be addressing in the near future. I really appreciate his opinions and he gave me some good information.

At one point he said, "Heather, I know you are a biker, but I have to tell you..." and I thought, "uh, oh, here it comes." 

My friend really objects to bike lanes being added to arterials. He thinks the bike lanes should be parallel to the arterials, on quieter streets where bikes will not slow down traffic or be a hazard. He does not like to see bikes on the main streets that he uses to get to and from work. He thinks that it should be mandatory for every bike to have a rear view mirror. He has gotten stuck on St. Helen's driving behind two chatting bicyclists that had no idea he was there. He gets particularly angry when he sees a bike towing a child in a carrier as he is afraid some idiot is going to run over said child. He thinks that a parent should not endanger their child in that manner. He figures that if you are in a hurry to get to work, you should drive your car (he thinks bikers probably have cars) or take public transportation. If you are choosing to ride your bike, you should be happy to take a longer, safer route and stay out of the way of people driving their cars to work.

I'm ashamed to say that I nodded a couple of times (seeing children in-tow always scares me a little, and rearview mirrors are a good idea), sputtered "bu.." a few times, but only interrupted once to say that biking is actually faster than public transit; I can travel the 4.5 miles from my house downtown by bike in 20 minutes. The bus takes over an hour. He accepted that information and said he'd pass it on. Then the conversation went elsewhere and I didn't take it back to biking to speak up and argue my perspective.

I'm going to give my perspective (aren't you lucky), but I'd really like to hear your perspective, as well. Argue with me if you disagree, or add some points that I'm missing. Maybe after we put it all into "writing," I'll be able to articulate it better the next time the topic arises. (But please take it easy on my friend, he is of an older generation and not fit enough to ride a bike on our hills).

Okay, not in any particular order:

1. The paving on main roads is much smoother than the side streets. The huge potholes on some of our side streets are scary.

2. The "parking" area (to the right of the traffic lane) that bikers are expected to drive in, so that cars can zoom along, often contain broken glass, gravel, and or debris. Additionally, cars actually park there, so if a biker rides there, she has to pop in and out of traffic -- it is much safer to just stay in traffic.

3. Side streets aren't through streets. I'm trying to learn which streets go where, but it is a challenge.

4. Is a child more endangered by being towed or by living with the pollution caused by all of the cars idling in their neighborhoods? Different type of hazard.

5. Biking is an excellent form of exercise. And we all know that many of our citizens need the exercise.

6. If more people bicycled to work, parking would not be such a big issue.

7. If more people bicycled to work, traffic congestion would not be such a big issue.

8. As gas prices continue to increase (or when we run out of oil) those of us that are learning how to live without our cars now are going to be much better off.

9. Riding the bus is not cheap. Bicycling is almost free after the initial investment.

10. Did I mention our environment?


Pierce County bike maps should be available next week. Yay!


comments [15]  |  posted under arguing with friends, bicycling, bike, share the road, Tacoma


by fredo on 4/30/2008 @ 7:59pm
Heather, I'm not a bicyclist however the issues you've raised seem pretty well thought out.

I try to be considerate when I'm passing a bicyclist and make sure to give them plenty of room. Regarding the preference for using arterials over side streets I would offer the following perspective. If the bicyclist is pretty much a novice, I think the side streets are better. However for the experienced, the arterials would make more sense for all the reasons you mentioned.

Thanks for raising these issues.

by Jake on 4/30/2008 @ 9:40pm
Lets not forget about the people who live on the south side of I-5 or Hwy 16, you have to use an aterial if you work Downtown or north of the freeway. I live on Yakima Ave. and since the bridge reopened over I-5 I have seen a ton of bike riders using Yakima Ave.

It would be great to see bike lanes put on Yakima Ave. It would be even better to see a streetcar on Yakima Ave.. (instead of J Street, which doesn't cross I-5)

by jcbetty on 5/1/2008 @ 2:48am
I think I'm the wrong person to comment, as a woman who loves to bike but won't carry my trailer for fear of stupid murderous motorists (and dang but I think the kid is too big), and who avoids riding city streets because of drivers who hate bikes, and because of it's people in parking garages who hate bikes.

I tried to commute to work a couple of times, I tried to ride some city rides with friends. It scared the pee out of me, as I had apparently developed powers of invisibility as a woman on a bike that I didn't have in a car. It didn't just happen with cars driving forward on streets: the cars coming out of parking garages were the worst. I was respectful, I used hand signals, I tried to exhibit bike diplomacy, and I felt it was all to no avail. I gave up; I now ride for fun around my Pt Defiance neighborhood,

As a driver of a wee car, I give bikes a wide berth, and still in my small car I feel afraid by the big vehicles that appear to want to smoosh me into mulch. My car is a jane-solid Volvo, and yet, I feel vulnerable in it. On my bike? Raise that many levels.

I think we need a public service campaign about respect, I think we need to realize we're all in this together, however fast we want to get to work, whatever mode we use. As Big Trucks and SUVs and Escalades, yeah, we're special, but spare a thought for that person pedaling, or driving an economy car. Because we're small doesn't mean we don't count...

by thriceallamerican on 5/1/2008 @ 7:34am
"If you are choosing to ride your bike, you should be happy to take a longer, safer route and stay out of the way of people driving their cars to work."

Or...the people who are driving their cars, who don't have to exert any sort of effort to reach their destination can take a "longer" route if they don't want to get stuck behind a bicyclist [/snark]

I'm a pretty regular bike commuter, but I'm actually not a big fan of the bike lanes as we build them. For one, since cars don't drive there, dirt and debris tends to collect there, which our city does a poor job of cleaning up. And they tend to be immediately next to parked cars, putting them in the deadly door zone. Yet by the lane being there, it essentially "cages me in"–cars suddenly expect me to always stay inside of those two small lines, and I don't have as much freedom to take the lane as needed, such as to avoid broken glass or stay wide when passing a row of parked cars. I realize that some people may get a feeling of safety from having a demarcated lane, but I feel safer riding carefully, but with confidence, in the flow of traffic.

And if a car gets stuck behind me for a couple of blocks on a steep hill, I will do what I can to give them the space to pass, but ultimately they need to take a chill pill and realize that a small delay isn't going to ruin their day.

I'm not sure if this adds to your thoughts effectively at all, but that's my 2¢.

by jenyum on 5/1/2008 @ 8:11am
I think we need a public service campaign about respect, I think we need to realize we're all in this together, however fast we want to get to work, whatever mode we use. As Big Trucks and SUVs and Escalades, yeah, we're special, but spare a thought for that person pedaling, or driving an economy car. Because we're small doesn't mean we don't count...

Yes. I often feel like a speed bump, too, just following the speed limits on arterials around here. We can slow down for the bicyclists when we need to, just like we can and should make room for pedestrians, slower vehicles or any other obstruction you might see while you are driving. If you're going too fast to safely contend with these things, you're going too fast. We do have these things called freeways, on which no one is allowed to bike or walk.

by thriceallamerican on 5/1/2008 @ 9:25am
I have no idea how this might happen, but it would be really cool if there were areas of the city where the only cars allowed on the road were NEVs shared through a flexcar like system...

by Heather on 5/1/2008 @ 9:42am
You all rock. These are great comments.

I think Elliot had some good points in his post on Exit133, so I'm copying them here. I'm hoping that is kosher.

Per Elliot:
Tacoma is 70% a good city to bike in. I’m comparing this against the two other cities I’ve regularly bike commuted in, Seattle and Portland.

Good points:

-Wide roads designed for more cars than they usually see
-Generally flat (once you get out of downtown) streets so you can keep a good pace with cars
-Lots of opportunities to take quiet residential streets instead of main arterials

Bad points:

-Drivers in Tacoma aren’t very savvy to how to behave around cyclists. This ranges from silly stupid things like pulling in front of bikes that are going way faster than they think to ignorent hateful stuff like yelling slurs out their windows as they aggressively pass you. In general, riding a bike around town makes me like Tacoma citizens less.

-Pavement in dangerous state of disrepair, especially downtown

-Someone decided it was a good idea to put 2 inch grooves perfectly fitted to trap a bike wheel all over downtown so a silly train could zoom around

That’s my assessment after being a daily bike commuter in Tacoma for the last 8 months. Ok, I’m going to go hop on and ride. Hope to see a lot of you out there!

2 | Posted by Elliot | Apr 28, 05:31 PM, here: www.exit133.com/3176/may-is-bike-to-work...

by jenyum on 5/1/2008 @ 9:44am
It would be a lot easier to accomplish if it were a voluntary system., rather than making the area exclusive to NEVs. I think we're at the point with gas prices where it wouldn't be a tough sell at all. Of course, someone would have to put up the money to buy all those cars and create the administrative framework around them.

by Heather on 5/1/2008 @ 9:51am
JCBetty and Jenyum -- thanks for bringing up respect and following the speed limit.

Here is a good reason to slow down:
I was driving up Pearl yesterday just before 7pm and right around the N 3500 block, a child of perhaps 8-10 years ROLLERBLADED out in front of traffic. He jumped up on the grass in the island where he stood waiting for his younger sibling to join him. For anyone not familiar with this area, this is a four lane street divided by landscaped medians. There are few cross streets/lights through this stretch and cars often travel at about 45 mph. This little guy popped out of the bushes by an apartment complex and across the road.

by thriceallamerican on 5/1/2008 @ 10:07am
@Heather, I thought about cross-posting Elliot's comments, also. I pretty much agree with him on all counts except for the light-rail thing, I'm a big proponent of a good streetcar network in coordination with encouraging people to bike...there's some danger there, but as long as bicyclists cross the tracks carefully, I think it can call work in concert. (I also know he want's bike lanes on Sixth, and my comments on bike lanes were stated above...)

@jenyum: It would be really tough to get together, but imagine what a wonderful neighborhood resource an NEV car-share network would be! (And most of them only go 25mph, so having a bunch of those buzzing around would have built-in traffic-calming properties!)

by Heather on 5/1/2008 @ 11:53am
Wouldn't it be fabulous if Tacoma were known for these types of innovations?
"Come to Tacoma, You'll love our NEV neighborhoods."
"Tacoma, America's Biking City"
"Tacoma, Our Streetcars are better than San Fran's"

It really will be tough to get these things together, but I think that imagining and talking are the first steps. Today on KUOW, Mr. Farber talked about the ladies that started the downtown arts revival. They started with one project that led to a second and then a third. Now we have great museums and art venues. It was inspiring!

Jake -- make sure your clients know about the pedestrian bridge across Hwy 16 near Jackson. It is a great way to get over the freeway on the west end of town. It makes my neighborhood a little more "walkable" since we can get over to the West Sixth Ave business district, which will hopefully, eventually, be more liveable with new MUC zoning. For now, there are a number of businesses in that area: a library, a donut shop, Tacoma Little Theatre, barber shops, a coffee shop, groceries, bowling, and a number of decent restaurants (with bars). There are a lot of good things on that stretch when you stop to think about it. But that area was built for cars so walking or biking there feels overwhelming and a bit scary.

by AP on 5/1/2008 @ 2:41pm
For additional "traffic calming" I say everyone should get a scooter. Who's in?

by Jake on 5/1/2008 @ 3:01pm

Tacoma police and fire officials were at the scene this morning of a truck vs. bicyclist at South 15th Street and Pacific Avenue.

by Heather on 5/1/2008 @ 4:38pm
oh. no.

Bicyclists are required by law to follow the same traffic laws as cars. S/he should have stopped at the light. I'm glad it was only a wrist injury. That poor truck driver must have almost had a heart attack.

I logged on here to state that bicycling is more expensive than I was thinking. I blew out a tube and found out that my bike is in serious need of a tune up, due to the RR track fall. Additionally, I was made very aware that I need a emergency/repair kit. Should also get a rearview mirror and maybe a headlamp. But now those seem like quite trivial expenses compared to a trip to the hospital.

Any opinions on bike shops? Should I get my tune up at REI or Old Town Cycle?

AP - I have a scooter, dead in the garage. My neighbor just volunteered to get it running again. So, I'm in.

by izenmania on 5/1/2008 @ 5:19pm
I get my tune-ups at Old Town, but that's because I bought it there and therefore get free tune-ups for life. I don't know how they stack up price-wise, but they certainly do a good job.

The only problem I have down there is that I am not in nearly good enough shape to ride back up the hill on Tacoma Ave to where I live.


Hello! I'm Heather and I'm a bit manic about Tacoma.

I'll probably be blogging about my experiences in Tacoma as they relate to the environment (natural and built), social (in)justice, community building, economic development, bio-diesel, public transit, biking, gardening, home improvement, food & wine, and my little family (me, my husband, one dog, one cat). This is my first attempt at writing a blog - so please bear with me.

Contact: heather.ups@gmail.com

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