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Friday, September 16, 2011

Seattle Grapples With Cyclist Deaths, Like Portland Circa 2007

Posted by Sarah Mirk on Fri, Sep 16, 2011 at 3:44 PM

Our sister paper up in Seattle is going ahead and declaring war on cars after a string of deadly car-bike collisions. The city has seen a spike in bike traffic deaths recently, prompting bike-friendly Mayor Mike McGinn to call for an immediate summit on the bike safety. Cycling has jumped 60 percent in Seattle over the past decade.

This is eerily similar to what happened back in Portland in 2007, when six cyclists died on our streets. Though we've had a recent uptick in crashes, the rate of fatal crashes has declined significantly since then.

Advocacy group the Cascade Bicycle Club (Seattle's version of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance) held a big press conference yesterday, rallying for immediate investment in road safety improvements for bikes and an end to "bikes vs. cars" rhetoric.

"We've seen an unusual number of deaths regionally. We're making this a turning point," Cascade Director of Policy, Planning, and Government Affairs John Mauro told me later. "We are calling on electeds, community members, and ourselves to do better."

Mauro points out that Minneapolis had the same phenomena in 2004 that Portland had in 2007 and Seattle is seeing now. As more people start biking in large numbers, "there's a blip where crashes go up and then right after that, you see a rapid reduction in crashes and an increase in the number of bike commuters."

After those blips, more people biking and infrastructure improvements seem to combine to lead to a decline in the number of deadly crashes overall.

BikePortland.org Editor Jonathan Maus notes that the pro-bike rhetoric that's flooded national politics recently (see: Ray Lahood) leads to actually, seriously improving the roads for bikes.

"There's a real liability for cities that are going to make a lot of noise about biking, but then not do a lot of work on the street to make that safe. Throwing bikes a few bones by putting a few stripes of paint down—that's unacceptable."

The string of fatal crashes in 2007—and callous police response—built momentum in Portland for safety improvements. The green bike boxes that now dot inner Portland intersections are a direct result of Tracey Sparling's death beneath the wheels of a right-turning truck outside the Crystal Ballroom that October.

"When you have tragedy, it transcends the controversy of bike funding. It definitely led to Sam's mantra since then of 'safety, safety, safety,'" says Maus.

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