How Smart Language Helped End Seattle’s Paralyzing Bikelash

Broadway, Seattle.

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Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

Instead of “cyclists,” people biking. Instead of “accident,” collision. Instead of “cycle track,” protected bike lane.

It can come off as trivial word policing. But if you want proof that language shapes thoughts, look no further than Seattle — where one of the country’s biggest bikelashes has turned decisively around in the last four years.

For a while in 2010 and 2011, the three-word phrase “war on cars,” which had risen to prominence in Rob Ford’s Toronto and spread to Seattle in 2009, threatened to poison every conversation about improving bicycling in the city.

Eleven characters long and poetic in its simplicity, the phrase could pop easily into any headline or news spot about transportation changes.

“It’s one of those ideas that makes a lot of sense if you don’t think about it too hard,” says Tom Fucoloro, publisher of Seattle Bike Blog. “Like, Yeah, cars should get more lanes!

For several years, instead of arguing about whether biking, walking or riding transit should be improved, the city was arguing about whether driving should be made worse. A winning issue had become a losing one.

Things got so bad that The Stranger, an altweekly Seattle newspaper that supports biking investments, declared in a not-quite-joking cover story: “Okay, fine, it’s war.”

Today, the phrase seems to have receded from Seattle’s public life. And now the pro-bike, pro-transit policies championed by former Mayor Mike McGinn and continued by his successor Ed Murray are bearing fruit.

The city has lined up one of the most ambitious protected bike lane building schedules in the country. A public bike sharing system launched last fall. Jobs and residential construction are booming along Seattle’s new streetcar line. No major city in the country is growing faster.

This week, Seattle’s KING-TV devoted three minutes to a triumphant catalog of the city’s transportation accomplishments: falling congestion, rising bus frequencies, 20 miles of new bike lanes and paths this year.

Though there were many forces behind the turn of Seattle’s tide — the “war on cars” phrase in particular faded after McGinn lost his reelection bid in 2013 — no single organization has more to do with the city’s new language than a tiny nonprofit group called Seattle Neighborhood Greenways.

A new nonprofit spreads a new vocabulary

Cathy Tuttle of Seattle Neighborhood Greenways on the Fremont Bridge in 2014.

SNG was founded in 2011, the year the “war on cars” meme peaked. Their goal: to advocate for a citywide network of low-traffic local streets, modeled on similar systems in Vancouver and Portland, that could be optimized for biking, walking and running.

Though the group made no secret of their biking advocacy, they didn’t brand themselves as biking advocates. They branded themselves as neighborhood advocates. Executive Director Cathy Tuttle, unable to manage every project citywide, deputized advocates around the city to speak as “Fremont Greenways,” “Kirkland Greenways,” and so on.

Together, the groups fought bad language with good language.

Instead of “bikers” or “cyclists,” they said people biking; instead of “drivers” or “cars,” they said people driving. “Cycle track,” an engineering term translated from Dutch, became the more intuitive protected bike lane. Instead of “accident,” which implied that conscious choices like speeding aren’t involved in traffic collisions, the group simply called them collisions.

Seattle Neighborhood Greenways’ cheat sheet for neighborhood advocates and city officials.

“When you start thinking of somebody as a ‘driver’ or somebody as a ‘cyclist’ or somebody as a ‘pedestrian’ – which is actually my least favorite – it’s easy to think of someone as part of a tribe,” said Fucoloro. Seattle Neighborhood Greenways broke down that tribalism by convincing advocates around the city to talk about “bicycling,” an activity, rather than “bicyclists,” an identity.

“It’s harder to get really angry,” Fucoloro said. “Just because you’re riding a bike doesn’t mean you’re in epic opposition to everyone who’s driving a car.”

Jennifer Langston, a researcher for Seattle’s Sightline Institute who has studied the greenways movement, said the shared language complemented Seattle Neighborhood Greenways’ decentralized approach to advocacy.

“Each neighborhood group shares the same goals and can speak to the city with one voice when it comes to broad principles,” Langston said. “But because each neighborhood group is so place-based, they can really zero in on what the main problems are in their part of the city. … They have become a reasonable, strategic, and credible voice that has successfully counterbalanced and possibly begun to drown out the ‘war on cars’ arguments.”

A progressive city, back in motion

Source: Green Lane Project Inventory.

Seattle Neighborhood Greenways didn’t invent these ideas, Fucoloro said; it watched them develop in Portland and elsewhere and imported them to Seattle. And the group hasn’t been alone in its work. The much older and larger Cascade Bicycle Club has also shifted its language, as has the City of Seattle itself.

Fucoloro said that Cascade once tended to describe anything that improved bicycling as a “bicycle project,” unintentionally implying that if you weren’t a bike commuter, you wouldn’t benefit.

“That didn’t work as well as People are getting harmed on this street for no reason,” Fucoloro said. “That’s a much better story.”

Fucoloro thinks Seattle is better, too, for having had this linguistic fight.

“In the end, I think the ‘war on cars’ is, like, this necessary step the city has to take,” he said. “Because it’s an obviously wrong idea, but it forces everyone who knows it’s wrong to figure out how to say that and explain why it’s wrong.”

“There’s so many awesome things about bicycles that a lot of people who support bicycling assume that it’s obvious,” Fucoloro went on. “But when you have to counter this ‘war on cars’ concept, you have to think about the reasons why bicycling is a smart policy choice. … So I think in a weird way it’s like this bizarre frustrating test that when you come out of it, everyone’s stronger and everyone understands it way better.”

“Even though when you’re in the middle of it, it’s the most frustrating thing in the world,” Fucoloro added.

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  • Emily

    This morning before 8am, as a “person walking,” I was almost hit in the crosswalk by a car turning left without signaling. As my heart practically leapt out of my chest, I pointed at the walk signal, and the “person driving” rolled down his window to yell “Gimme a break, ya cunt!” Verily, Seattle is a paradise of “transportation options.”

  • Ugh. Still a long way to go.

  • Eli

    It’s technically incorrect to attribute ‘cycle track’ to be an engineering term translated from Dutch.

    The Dutch words is ‘fietspad’, or literally, ‘bike path’. I’m not sure how you’d get ‘cycletrack’.

    That word was invented, I believe, by Anne Lusk.

  • Eli

    Exactly. Seattle is very exciting from a plan and potential point of view, but the streets are still largely just as horrible. I literally walk around my neighborhood with a flashlight in one hand (to be visible to speeding drivers – I tend to need it once every 3 minutes or so after dark) and pepper spray in the other (as a defensive mechanism due to the near-daily violent crime within blocks of my home).

    I could see it being a great place to return to in 5-10 years, though. But at the present, it’s dramatically overrated.

  • Ezra Goldman

    This is a great initiative. I wrote a piece a few years ago on how I don’t call myself a “cyclist” anymore. I’m just a person who sometimes rides a bicycle. Perhaps some in this thread would enjoy it.

    http://onourowntwowheels.com/2011/04/06/why-im-not-a-cyclist-anymore/

  • Yes, this is a crucial point. America (and the Anglophone world in general) has taken an extremely narrow interpretation of the translation. The Dutch use the word fietspad colloquially to describe everything from bike lanes to separate paths in the woods. The technical definition isn’t quite as broad, but basically any bikeway that is physically separated from the general roadway is still considered a fietspad. That includes both “protected bike lanes” as well as paths that are miles away from the road for motor traffic. The recent fight and explosion of “protected bikeways” really is just a small subset of all the different types of fietspaden.

  • I only laugh at this because of your deft use of quotations (I’m glad you’re safe and love your sense of humor about this episode).

    @Eli I think some of your issues could stem from urban design–cobra streetlights vs. pedestrian-scaled, err, “people walking”-scaled streetlights.

  • Gezellig

    Great piece! Cognitive framing is totally a thing. Just ask George Lakoff, who famously implores:

    http://geoffmcdonald.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/George_Lakoff_Dont_Think_Of_An_Elephant.jpg

    And of course, what’s the first thing people do? 😀

    The way we frame a topic really does matter. Another thing I think is important is reframing the danger that standard infrastructure poses. Some more suggestions:

    Buffered bike lane = double parking lane
    (conventional) bike lane = doorzone lane
    Class II bike lane = 2nd-class bike lane
    Mixing zones = Right-hook zones

    I actually think visual framing comes into play, too. If you want to sell getting on a bike as “just another normal way to get around, when you feel like it” you also need to visually reinforce its normalcy. It may sound overly picky but Interested But Concerneds in the US constantly see Mr. Mushroom Head:

    https://greentickle.files.wordpress.com/2008/12/bike-lane-biker-stencil.jpg

    Messages conveyed?

    –> biking is for Brave Athletic People with Special Gear, not Normal People Like Me.

    –> biking is dangerous, not something Normal People Like Me who value their safety do.

    –> biking is for road-warrior dudes hunched down over their handlebars, not Normal People Like Me.

    –> oh, and Mr. Mushroom Head *is* almost definitely a dude. Goodbye other 50% of population.

    This one’s definitely a dude, too:

    http://bostonbiker.org/files/2012/10/A5AobPWCcAAtk7T.jpg-large.jpg

    Yay victim shaming!

    “NO EXCUSES. BIKING IS CRAAAAZY DANGEROUS, GUYS….but the city would reaaaaally like you to try it, so pretty please give it a shot?….BUT ALSO EVEN IF YOU’RE FOLLOWING ALL THE RULES IF SOMETHING GOES WRONG IT’S YOUR FAULT….But, still, pretty please, do try it! We have a goal of 20% modeshare by 2020!”

    Compare to this more serene, neutral depiction:

    http://www.americantrails.org/photoGalleries/cool/11images/17.jpg

    Which would you rather do?

  • Gezellig

    Though if you’re really geekily interested in Dutch terminology and visual cues, they *do* clarify between different fietspaden when necessary, especially when indicating whether it’s optional or not:

    http://duurzaam-actueel.nl/wp-content/uploads/brom-+snorfiets.jpg

    Verplicht = Obligatory
    Niet verplicht = Not obligatory
    Verboden = Forbidden

    Striped lines on an on-street bike lane indicate optionality:

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/eb/Fietsstrook_Herenweg_Oudorp.jpg/800px-Fietsstrook_Herenweg_Oudorp.jpg

    In these “suggestiestroken” (= Suggestion Lanes) bikes are not legally required to stay within the bike lane.

    Solid lines on an on-street bike lane indicate you must use the bike lane, not ride in the car lane (unless you have to for safety reasons). The mandatory usage may end when around parking, for example:

    http://members.home.nl/jmmw.odekerken/foto/Fietsstrook.jpg

    There’ve even been small experiments with the following concept, which indicates that if you bike over 30km/h you must use the car lane:

    http://www.fietsersbond.nl/sites/default/files/images/nieuws/proef-hardfietsers-naar-rijbaan.jpg

    And that’s the only time you’ll see a hunched-over helmeted person on a bike in Dutch signage 😉

  • Southeasterner

    I can’t think of a day I have biked in Seattle where I haven’t seen a driver run a red light or blow through a stop sign.

    However the biggest issue is infrastructure funding. You talk to the average Seattlite and they will tell you billions of gas tax money is being spent to take away car lanes and build bike lanes. We actually took a phone survey of residents and more than ten thought over $10 billion per year was being spend on bike lanes! Of course the reality is the exact opposite. Local roads are finances through sales and property taxes and WA has no sales tax on gasoline, All of the gas tax revenue goes to WA state highways (state gas tax) and interstate highways (federal gas tax) with a very small amount crossing over to transit. The irony of course is the gas tax hasn’t kept up with expenses so sales and property taxes are now supplementing state highway funding.

    What Seattle voters really need is an education on how their tax dollars are spent. This would help in many ways beyond infrastructure, to the current crisis in spending on education, mental health care, and homelessness.

  • garyyngve

    I’m constantly on the defensive when I’m walking with my baby on my back. I’ll be walking in a crosswalk with a walk signal at a light, and a car driver illegally runs a red light by not stopping for a right turn. I’ll step off the curb into a marked crosswalk at an uncontrolled intersection, staring down car drivers who illegally refuse to yield to me, and four go by before someone finally stops. Then I walk further into the roadway and need to stare down cars the other way — I’d be standing there all day if I had to wait for no cars in either direction. I’ll be walking down the sidewalk and need to cross a side street with a stop sign. A car comes racing down the side street and stops basically in the parking lane. I could slap its trunk as I walk past, but I won’t, because I’m carrying my baby and I don’t know how crazy the driver is. The car drivers are privileged, and I’m not. We need laws and infrastructure to protect our most vulnerable people using the road.

  • joechoj

    Wonderful reframing of current designs!! So true!

  • Gordon Padelford

    Gezellig: I’m one of the creators of this graphic, and George Lakoff’s book definitely helped shape how I think about messaging. Also, I love the word Gezellig.

  • Gezellig

    Oh cool! You mean you created the graphic for the book cover or the “Let’s Talk About Safe Streets” graphic? Either way, awesome!

    And thanks, it is a fun word haha. Good times while biking IS a great example of gezelligheid as far as I’m concerned 😀

  • Gordon Padelford

    The Seattle Neighborhood Greenways graphic. Take care

  • anthonyvop

    Where have I heard of this kind of stuff before?

    Oh yes…..NEWSPEAK

  • del

    Those of us who are walkers – who walk a lot, including to work, are not fooled by the cyclists dressing up new bike routes as greenways or places for people to walk and bike safely. It’s not safe to walk on trails where cyclists feel they are always in the right, can go as fast as they wish, and routinely scream at everyone else for being in their way. As people (myself included) get older, and the risk of injury from a fall grows, we who walk start to understand why there was such a backlash against cyclists. Multi-use trails? Go on any city blog about said trails and you’ll see that the cyclists already believe that means “bike trail.” According to the City of Seattle the Burke-Gilman Trail is a recreational trail for walkers, runners, cyclists, skaters and commuters. Yet cyclists believe they own it and will scream at walkers. Y’all have more than rewording to work on.

  • Jim

    So, what are your feelings when you’re on a sidewalk and a driver has parked their car across the entire width forcing you into the street? How about when you’re in a crosswalk and a driver violates your right of way because they did not want to wait for you to finish crossing. Or you have to walk a long block to cross the street because your local government feels that installing a crosswalk would overly burden drivers?

    You could focus your energy on asking your district councillor or supervisor to create a protected bike lane paralleling the trail, so the speedy bicyclists have a separate option to get to and from home.

  • Gezellig

    Pretty much no one (including those who bike and certainly those who usually comment here) likes multiuse paths. Unless they’re of super-low usage, they really should be wide enough/delineated between walking/biking sections:

    http://m5.paperblog.com/i/28/283591/midtown-greenway-bike-freeway-from-minneapoli-L-ylAD97.jpeg
    Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis

    http://www.albanystrollroll.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/IMG_07881.jpg
    Ohlone Greenway (intercity, this section in Albany, CA)

    One point of this site is to advocate for solutions such as the above and infrastructure such as protected bike lanes, which also significantly reduce rates of sidewalk biking.

  • Gezellig

    Even though we’ve all been socialized to accept it unquestioningly, you could also make the argument that the 1920s shaming term “jaywalking” is very much an example of erstwhile Newspeak that caught on due to successful pro-car PR campaigns:

    http://i.kinja-img.com/gawker-media/image/upload/s–pDOAEcyf–/c_fit,fl_progressive,q_80,w_636/18ukobvhluu97jpg.jpg

    http://paleofuture.gizmodo.com/the-invention-of-jaywalking-was-a-massive-shaming-campa-858926923

    Can’t get more Newspeak than that!

    Same thing with car “accidents” equally being “Newspeak.”

    After all, many of the most gruesome car “accidents” are not freak events that “just occur” but are statistically probable outcomes caused by bad driver behavior.

    Unfortunately, media reporting still usually refers to even something as egregious as a someone in a car running a red light hitting someone walking (in a legal crosswalk) as an “accident,” as if it just fell unexpectedly from the sky like manna.

    No, it was a direct, fairly predictable outcome of a dangerous behavior.

  • Michael Waters

    What ever happened to “only cross when it’s clear?”

    When I cross a street, I look both ways, and then only cross after I’m certain no cars are close.

    If you did the same, none of what you speak of would occur.

    People do err by assuming the law has replaced remembering what our mom told us, to cross only when it’s safe.

    And the law does a lousy job of giving perspective.

    Most drivers want to believe pedestrians won’t insist on crossing directly in front of them, expecting the law to somehow protect them.

    Refuse to cross until you see cars are stopping. Then cross.

  • garyyngve

    If I have to stand on the sidewalk waiting for cars to stop, I’ll be waiting all day. WA law requires cars to stop behind the stop line, stop before making a right on red, and to yield to pedestrians in marked and unmarked crosswalks. Yes, I assume that every car is going to run me over and proceed to avoid getting hit, but it doesn’t make their behavior right. Yes, that means when I’ve crossed 5 of 6 lanes of Aurora on a walk signal, I look down the empty 6th lane to make sure a car isn’t speeding to make a right turn on red. Their behavior is selfish, dangerous, and illegal. Speeding is a similar problem. Speeding cars take longer to stop and cause more damage on impact. Furthermore, when they hit someone, it’s often “i didn’t see them, oops” and they get a slap on the wrist. It needs to stop.

  • anthonyvop

    Kind of like the predictable outcome with the entitlement mentality of cyclists leading to their dangerous behavior.

  • garyyngve

    Furthermore, I’ll be crossing at a long crosswalk (which can take ten seconds to cross), and cars will not wait for me to be more than half the road + 1 lane away (as legally required). Instead, they pin me, where I have to trust that a car in front of me will yield to me as they don’t give me space behind. What if I trip and fall? What if the stroller gets caught in a pothole or the baby drops something? Give me space. Give me respect.

  • RS

    I’m not sure if the Danes coined the term “cycletrack”, but they have been using it for decades (way before Anne Lusk).

  • Gezellig

    Sure, but due to the phenomenon of illusory correlation:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illusory_correlation

    …such behavior is disproportionately associated with a minority while analogous behavior in the majority is typically “white noise.” E.g. when a driver disobeys the law by, say, entering a crosswalk when someone is present no one says “those drivers. they all do that and just think they own the road. this is why I can never respect them.” Even though it’s illegal, it’s widely accepted or at least ignored.

    This isn’t even mentioning the fact that our predominantly car-centric infrastructure is…car-centric. When you design infrastructure that accommodates a mode, most people will abide by it. Let’s take the example of sidewalk riding, which no one really *wants* to do. It’s a coping strategy. However, it’s fixable:

    http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/bicyclists/prospectparkwest.shtml

    “Dangerous sidewalk bike riding is down from 46% of bike riders on the sidewalk before the project to just 3% after, many of whom are children and legally allowed to ride on the sidewalk”

    Before/After studies consistently show this to be the case whether in places as disparate as NYC or Long Beach, California:

    Let’s support infrastructure that accommodates the needs of each mode.

  • Michael Waters

    1. Of the thousands of times I’ve waited until no cars were coming (close enough to worry about anyway), I doubt if I’ve had to wait more than a few seconds 99% of the time. So, our experience differs quite a bit. But I don’t ever have occasion to cross Aurora, which I imagine is tougher to cross than, say, California Ave in West Seattle.

    2. I agree too many drivers speed and are selfish.

    3. But generally drivers are about as responsible/irresponsible as pedestrians. I suggest it’s unproductive to demonize drivers while ignoring an anti-rational attitude inculcated over the decades in pedestrians. The “Pedestrian Good, Driver Bad” (or vice versa) model is quite suspect.

    In other words, a lack of awareness in pedestrians contributes to the danger, and this needs to be articulated clearly.

    4. I’ve noticed most pedestrians walk blithely out into the crosswalk without noting the approaching cars, their speeds, and their distance. They just walk out there, assuming perhaps that the “law” will miraculously protect them. This is madness, and it’s largely unexamined madness.

    5. A concurrent problem is actually that many drivers are OVERLY RESPECTFUL of crosswalks. By that I mean most drivers stop for me when I don’t want them to stop, when I’m still on the curb waiting for traffic to clear. These well-intentioned but needless stops put pressure on the pedestrian to cross into danger. Drivers stop in their unaware but well-intentioned way (the law only demands drivers stop when the pedestrian is IN the crosswalk, not when the pedestrian is on the sidewalk contemplating a crossing). Meanwhile, there’s no way I’m going to walk out there with one car stopped while five two-ton cars speeding toward the crosswalk at 35 mph approach, with their drivers wondering why the one car stopped. This is a dangerous situation which I experience a lot. I sure wish people knew the law well enough to only stop when a person is IN the cross walk.

    The “random act of kindness” movement plays into this. I wish people wouldn’t stop needlessly, even if they’re trying to be kind. Such ignoring of the real law just creates confusion. Practice random acts of kindness in other milieus please, y’all! Follow the rules of the road!

    6. So, I think greater awareness needs to be engendered by some clear public service announcements detailing exactly when it’s necessary to stop, and when a pedestrian can cross the street safely. As it is, there is ample confusion on both sides of the fence, drivers and pedestrians.

    Yes, drivers need to stop when pedestrians have started crossing in the crosswalk, but not when pedestrians are on the curb contemplating crossing. At the same time, pedestrians need to hearken back to the old fashioned common sense our parents taught us, to cross only after looking both ways and crossing only when traffic has abated sufficiently.

    A crosswalk is NOT intended to be a way in which a pedestrian can needlessly stop the flow of traffic simply because they believe the law protects them and because they want to cross NOW, not ten seconds later. But one wouldn’t know it from the way most people operate as pedestrians. THINK. Both “sides” need to apply critical thought to this important issue.

  • Michael Waters

    As to the painted bike lanes, though they might be a slight improvement, I think they mark up the road in confusing ways. Confusion can lead to injury and death. Clarity is of utmost importance when it comes to roads and driving, but painted bike lanes diminish the drivability of roads.

    At some places where I normally drive, I’ve been forced to stop and analyze where the cars are intended to go and where the bikes are supposed to go. It’s not instantly comprehendible, which presents confusion/danger. Such situations ought not to be.

    The only real solution is to engage in a massive building of bike-roads which are DISTINCT and SEPARATE from where cars are driven.

    It’s madness to believe fragile, slow bikes can co-exist safely with much faster, heavier automobiles.

    Painted bike lanes are Mickey Mouse (no disrespect to Mickey Mouse).

  • Gezellig

    That’s the ultimate conclusion the Dutch have reached–that above certain speed thresholds it’s too risky to expect such disparate modes as cars and bikes to mix, so especially along arterials physical separation is merited:

    http://www.nieuwsredactie.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/fietspad.jpg

    The good news in all this, though, is that not *every* street requires a protected bike lane. After all, arterials and collector streets are a numerical minority of all streets. It’s just they’re disproportionately important, as they typically host services and other attractions which most residents need/want to get to fairly frequently. They’re also the most direct route in many cases, so for the same reason that attracts people driving it attracts people who walk and bike, too.

    However, PBL networks should *connect* and be spaced at smart intervals. Numerically far more common quieter side streets in between are often perfectly fine for shared-space.

    A map of a typical Dutch protected bike lane network:

    https://a.disquscdn.com/uploads/mediaembed/images/1565/9700/original.jpg?w=600&h

    Darkest color = protected bike lane

  • p_chazz

    Your logical fallacy is Tu Quoque. You avoided having to engage with criticism by turning it back on the accuser – you answered criticism with criticism.

    Pronounced too-kwo-kwee. Literally translating as ‘you too’ this fallacy is also known as the appeal to hypocrisy. It is commonly employed as an effective red herring because it takes the heat off someone having to defend their argument, and instead shifts the focus back on to the person making the criticism.

    https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/tu-quoque

  • garyyngve

    I only cross Aurora at traffic lights, in the crosswalk, with a walk signal. My problem there is drivers who make right on red without stopping, potentially hitting me, if I am not proactively looking for them. Literally there will be a box truck in the 5th lane that I am crossing, blocking my view of the 6th lane, and a car racing down the 6th lane can’t see me, and when I stop in front of the box truck to peer into the 6th lane, the car comes screeching to a halt in the middle of the crosswalk and I have to walk around it. Usually it is some macho dude swearing that he saw me and would not have hit me.

    For other crosswalks, during busy times of day, it is reasonable to wait for a large gap on one side of the road but not yet on the other. The goal is to occupy the side with the gap, making sure that traffic behind the gap stops for you, while waiting for the other side of the road to stop for you. The law is crystal clear here: “The operator of an approaching vehicle shall stop and remain stopped to allow a pedestrian or bicycle to cross the roadway within an unmarked or marked crosswalk when the pedestrian or bicycle is upon or within one lane of the half of the roadway upon which the vehicle is traveling or onto which it is turning.” It is illegal (and painful) for me to step in front of a car such that it cannot stop in time, but once I step onto the roadway, my direction must stop. Traffic the other way must stop as well on a 2-lane road, or once I reach one lane away from the middle. I’ve also had situations where I am at the midpoint of the crosswalk and a car on the side street runs the stop sign to cut a right turn in front of me, instead of waiting for me to finish crossing. If any of this comes out as Ped Good Driver Bad, it is because it is Driver Illegal and Ped Dead.

  • Reality Broker

    I wish the world were as simplistic as you’re presenting it.

    Here’s a typical intersection on my walk home (John going westbound from 15th to 11th).

    – When I have the pedestrian right of way at a traffic signal, cars have the right to make high speed (25 mph+) turns at the same time. Approximately 20% of the drivers I see are visibly inattentive/on cell phones/etc.

    – High speed traffic in both directions on John. However, I can’t see whether they’re going to turn into me because the parked cars block my ability to see their turn signals (which are often not used anyway).

    – I have to monitor traffic from four sources of 25 mph or greater, even though I only have eyes in one part of my head.

    – Typically a car trying to access John will be blocking the entire crosswalk I need to cross for at least 45-60 seconds, perhaps because the parked cars on the street block their view. So in order to cross, I have to walk behind the car (which means a car turning fast in the other land can’t see me and will run me over — and I can’t see them either).

    OH, and it’s PITCH BLACK ’cause the lighting is all for the drivers and not for the sidewalk.

    Welcome to the Seattle Sidewalk hunger games.

  • garyyngve

    Yep, there are jerk cyclists who do team training on the multi-use trails. And there are jerk peds who walk four abreast or have a dog with a long leash across the path. But most cyclists and peds are nice. We just need to get rid of the jerks.

  • Michael Waters

    Good points, Reality Broker.

    I agree that there are many problematic crossings which demand a boatload of caution.

    I won’t argue with your experiences.

    My only point is that in general there is pedestrian irresponsibility which contributes to dangerous situations, situations exacerbated by lousy government planning, inattentive/impatient drivers, and general overcrowding in respect to automobiles and people.

    The precise problem with many pedestrians is their facile belief that “the law” will protect them, and so they too often step into crosswalks without applying the lessons their ma taught them, to look both ways and cross the street only when it’s clear. Nope, most common sense has flown out the window of life, and most pedestrians act like the angels will protect them.

    Between cars stopping when they don’t need to and when I don’t want them to, and pedestrians crossing whenever they please regardless of approaching traffic, my approach is to keep my mom’s advice in mind, crossing only when it’s clear (and not when some well-intentioned person stops when I’m at the curb) and maintain maximum awareness on populated streets.

    I’m emphasizing pedestrian responsibility because I don’t notice others doing so. Most people blame the drivers only. But I’m pointing out it’s a two-way street, with the pedestrians causing at least some of the purported bad driving behavior.

  • del

    Jim – Red herring. Look it up. Then come back to the internet without it.

  • del

    Then perhaps they should get off the Burke-Gilman Trail. It’s like the Autobahn for angry, entitled cyclists.

  • del

    As a person walking who lives 1 block off of the Lake Wa bike loop (and thus on the street cyclists prefer for some reason) I, and my children, have had quite similar experiences repeatedly – being shouted at by cyclists for exiting our own driveway. Or, God forbid, for having a child on training wheels trying to cross at the corner.

  • del

    Pedestrians have the right of way and cars must yield in a crosswalk. Regardless, cars speed through my crosswalk (end of my block) at 30mph even when I am standing in it, waving a neon orange flag provided by the community council for our crosswalks.

  • del

    Try crossing 5th and James downtown. Or 29th and Madison in Mad Valley. Or 15th Ave East (anywhere). And the last time I tried to judge distance/stopping speed of a car on 15th Ave E. I was nearly killed because the driver was looking at her lap (smart phone) and looked completely horrified to put her head up and see me – throwing my coffee in the air and running. You’re driving a car. Yield to pedestrians you lazy, distracted, speeding, selfish folks. Jesus.

  • Michael Waters

    “Pedestrians have the right of way and cars must yield in a crosswalk.”

    It’s illegal and immoral for cars to hit pedestrians, period, regardless of where they’re walking.

    In crosswalks, if the pedestrian is only beginning to cross, a car on the other side of the road may cross if the road is a two lane road each way. In fact, it’s dangerous for everyone, drivers and pedestrians alike, if well-intentioned but unknowing people stop needlessly when the pedestrian is a long way from even crossing the centerline. Ill-informed pedestrians make a mockery of safety laws when they act put-out when a car passes safely in a crosswalk. Moreover, pedestrians are not supposed to mindlessly walk out into a crosswalk with a car rumbling at 35 mph a hundred feet away, but this happens too much. Mindless, unaware pedestrians who haven’t put enough thought into something as basic as crossing the street.

    I’m not defending lousy drivers who endanger pedestrians, but I’m trying to say that the problems with crossing the street are caused by a combination of unaware/unthinking pedestrians, laws ill-worded and insufficiently thought out, and, yes, impatient, selfish drivers.

    Framing the situation strictly in terms of bad drivers is not helpful.

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