Category Archives: Seattle

Missing Dutchs in the US

Dutch style bicycles are the results of decades of good biking culture and intelligent design: they are durable, they allow to bike in an upright, ergonomic posture, they provide racks for your panniers, and their chainguards prevent your pants from getting stained while also reducing maintenance on the transmission system. As a matter of fact, Dutch style bicycles are great for rainy weather.

But here in the US, and specifically in rainy Seattle, they are nowhere to be found. People don’t ride them, stores don’t sell them, and even some components like chainguards are missing altogether.

Why is so? In my opinion, the social fabric that would use them is missing. Here in the US there are two sides when it comes to biking: the sunny-weekend-only, recreational riders (which ride a good looking bicycle, heavy and with fat tires); and those who ride it daily for ethical or healthy reasons (which usually aim for a speedy and lightweight bike).

So who is missing? John Doe. John Doe isn’t yet using the bike to commute to work or go to the supermarket. And although bike usage keeps growing little by little in the cities, one wonders if in 20 years John will by riding his Dutch bicycle, or he will sitting on a self-driving electric car.

Getting parking right

Getting parking right is key when it comes to biking infrastructure: do it wrong and you’ll create a deadly trap waiting for you to get doored, do it well and create a barrier that will improve the cyclist’s security.

If you think about it, often times drivers ride alone, which means that, often times, cycling on the right of parked cars is safer. Additionally, cars parked on the left of bikeways are a great substitute for physical elements plus you get them for free. Additionally, if cars park on the left of bikeways there is no interference between bicycles and cars when the later are about to park.

Seattle has at least a dozen different ways of designing parking, ranging from terrible through excellent, here is a very good one.


5pm madness

Just like werewolves get wild at full moon, and gremlins get really angry if they are fed after midnight, inner cities are a madness jungle at 5pm in the US.
Drivers block the intersections, stop at crosswalks, invade bike ways, and honk the horn for no reason.
Adrenaline pumps up, anxiety jumps, futile attempts to advance are tested, and resignation skyrockets because you are stuck in a traffic jam.
And in places like Manhattan this is the norm.
A couple days ago a fellow biker asked me “Do people just get crazy when they’re driving?”.
This is the result of 50 years of wrong transit policies by misguided politicians. And there are simple solutions that could solve it in a matter of months, here are some I’ve seen working in other countries:

  • Build free, big parking lots outside of downtown and have fast public transportation take you there.
  • Pedestrianize popular streets which, by the way, will have a positive impact on those retailers sales.
  • Every month, the police department should start a new awareness campaign. The sheriff appears in mass media warning drivers they are going to enforce something, lets say, blocking intersections. After a week, every single car that blocks an intersection gets a ticket no matter what. And after a month, we move to another campaign. In half a year transit safety improves exponentially without installing any additional infrastructure.

Community driven urban design

For several years I wished a gap on Seattle’s University bridge bikeway was fixed. It was something very obvious and that clearly endangered all the cyclist. And I wasn’t alone: It was very clear when the Seattle Department of Transportation created a public map to let people report fixes. That specific point was full of reports and, lo and behold, it got fixed almost immediately.

In these times when budgets are always under scrutiny, it’s vital to prioritize adequately what gets done and how. Another tool widely used here is Find it fix it, a mobile ap you can use to report potholes and other elements in need of a fix, and you can rest assured the SDOT will fix it on a timely manner.

Additionally, Seattle’s Greenways is an initiative that empowers neighbors to decide which streets should be made safer.

Shame and sharrows

It is no secret that urban infrastructure takes generations to be implemented city wide. Thus, if you want to correct a big mistake now the changes won’t be happening any time soon. That is why everywhere in the US you see lots of sharrows and only a few segregated bikeways.
If you pay attention you’ll notice that in the previous decades driving was THE mean of transportation. That’s why you see highways going through downtown and dividing cities, streets without sidewalks, and a shamefully low number of segregated bikeways that provide for an equally low percentage of bikers.
But going back to the 50s, 60s and 70s, when politicians and people only cared about cars, some urban designers tried hard to provide even a minimum cycling infrastructure. I can imagine how hard urban designers had to fight in order to get sharrows approved when everybody was crazy about oil and cars.
That’s why I really despise new sharrows being installed instead of segregated bikeways, but I’d like to praise the few great designers who envisioned a multimodal world half a century ago.


The Bike Shredder

The Bike Shredder is how i call this piece of urban design I use most days. Well, I shall say I don’t use it any day. Actually, most bicyclist just don’t. I tried it once and it is just scary because it offers a false sense of security, while exposing you to drivers with a very narrow field of view.

As you can see, the bike way detaches from the road where bicycles and cars are about to turn right. I’m sure most drivers who don’t use this intersection frequently think that a bicycle is turning right as the bike way detaches, but then, we actually turn left and join the road again on the traffic light, where most cars turn right. Also, notice there is neither protection nor paint by the traffic light.

It’s a crying shame that such a dangerous design was installed. but hey, I think it can be very easily fixed!. Here are my five cents: All we need to do is extend the bike way until it joins the sidewalk and merge both bikeways past the crosswalk but installing signals so bikers give priority to pedestrians. So simple, yet so easy to make secure!.