Friday, January 11, 2019

Against the wind - Picking up bicycling ahead of the viaduct closure and the Seattle Squeeze

By Bart Treece

It's cold. It's dark outside. It's frequently wet and rainy. This is my reality as a bike commuter during the winter months in the Pacific Northwest. There are days when it's more of a mental challenge to get out the door due to the conditions, but when I finish my trip, I'm glad I did it!

With the extended closure of State Route 99 in Seattle beginning Friday night, Jan. 11, getting around town is going to be difficult – not just for the three-week closure, but for several years due to construction and changes around town during the Seattle Squeeze. To keep the regional transportation system moving, we need folks to help us out by making different choices to how and when they travel because, well, everything is connected. Although incorporating bicycling into your commuting repertoire can seem a little daunting this time of year, kick-starting a new healthy habit could help you power through tough traffic for years to come.

It can be done. Some riders from West Seattle recently took a spin and posted a video to show how it works.

Want to try it out? Here are some tips to get you going.

Where the rubber meets the road – Making sure your wheels are in good shape
There are several different bikes for several different purposes. Don't worry about having a road bike vs. an off-road bike, vs. a gravel bike, etc. You just want it to be in decent condition for your regular route. A trip to your local neighborhood bike shop can help you determine what, if any, work is needed for a reliable ride. Unless you know how to change a flat (it takes some practice), know where the transit routes are and carry an ORCA card. If you haven't loaded a bike onto a bus, here's a nifty video that shows you how.
Gearing up
As the saying goes, "There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes." The reality is that you don't need fancy new bicycling gear to get on a bike. You do need to be comfortable. That means the rain or ski gear that you have now will probably be just fine on the road – basically what you wear to walk the dog on a misty day.

Visibility is "in"
Always remember to think about visibility and line of sight for the driver whose job it is to make sure they leave appropriate passing space or stop in time. Can you see the driver coming? Can they see you? That means bright white headlights up front and red ones in the rear. Research tells us that the most effective use of lighting or reflectivity in your clothing is to use "biomotion" — put those reflective strips or lights at knees and ankles. The motion of your feet and legs moving resembles walking and is more reflexively recognized as human movement by the brain of the driver. Reflective strips are now built into some outerwear, but more is better. This fall, I started using the reflective running vest I picked up for Hood to Coast. It's fairly inexpensive and adds more visibility on dark rides.

It should go without saying, but worth repeating, use hand signals (pdf 2 mb) for turning and stopping. Be predictable! Good communications on the road improves safety for everyone.
Left: Riding a bike for your commute takes some planning and getting used to, but can be a great option to avoid traffic, especially during the SR 99 closure. Right: Being comfortable and having a bike
in good working order are two keys to a good bike commute.

Getting around when the Viaduct closes and the new tunnel opens
A frequent question we've been asked: "How will people bike along Alaskan Way when the viaduct is closed?" The answer is, much like they do now. The route has changed slightly along the waterfront, but it will not be affected during the three-week closure of SR 99. Outside of special events like the Tunnel Ride, it will be closed to bicyclists. Later this year during demolition, there may be marked detours on the route.

How biking became my go-to choice
Looking back, picking up bicycling as a commute option was gradual for me. It was February 2011. I first tried one day a week, then two, then three, then I wanted to see how many days in a row I could keep it up. The tough hills eventually got a little easier. The more I did it, the more confidence I had to tackle longer distances for both commuting and for fun. Sure, the weather is better in May, but with several months of regular riding, the spring and summer became a welcome reward.