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How to bike in a city that’s built for cars

Sep 15, 2010
How to bike in a city that’s built for cars

by Jen Kelly, Business Development Coordinator (and blogger at New Pioneer Square)

Yesterday, I attended zipcar’s “low car diet” ceremony to kick off living car free. At the end of the event, I handed over my car keys (or rather, the “token” car key they handed me) to Council member Mike O’Brien.


(he left his pants rolled up throughout the ceremony…he must be a true biker)

I am a resident of Pioneer Square — hands down the easiest neighborhood to be without a car. Not only do we have light rail, the free bus zone, the water taxi, bike paths, and the ability to walk to downtown neighborhoods, but we will also soon be getting the streetcar.

Although I work only two underground tunnel bus stops from where I live, starting this low car diet has inspired me to give biking in the city a try.

I have the bike, a helmet, a lock, a bell, and plan on buying saddlebags, and other great bicycle accessories. One big problem: I’m absolutely terrified of biking in downtown Seattle. 

Most bikers that I see in the city not only wear great looking spandex, but seem to be fairly aggressive and comfortable weaving in and around cars. That doesn’t even start to get into the animosity that seems to exist between bikers and car drivers.

As PubliCola’s BikeNerd put it, I’m a biker, not a cyclist.

My only previous experience of biking in a city happened when I lived in Holland, which I can only refer to as bike heaven. The bike paths are super flat, are very clearly marked with signs and colored pavement, there are tons of bike racks (see below), and there are so many fietspaden that are like “bike superhighways” — they are separated from the road with arterial paths that feed into them, and you almost feel like you’re out in nature, and not riding parallel to roads in the city.


I think this awesome time lapse video of an intersection in Utrecht says it all:

So how do you bike in a city that’s built for cars? 

It’s not like I’m expecting Seattle to magically become their own version of Holland’s bike heaven, because there are just too many challenges (read: hills). But it would be great for the city to set up a better infrastructure for “bikers,” and to help newbies like me feel more comfortable biking next to cars.

Someday soon, I hope to have a post on my first downtown bike ride and even though I will not wear spandex (unless going to an 80′s party), I hope that cars will remember that not every biker on the road is experienced. And if it made a difference, I for one, would not be ashamed to attach a neon sign to my bike labeled “student biker.” At least then drivers might be patient when I forget to bend my arm the right way, bike in the wrong lane, or end up on the sidewalk.