My name is Max Albert, I am a Dutch student who is currently doing an internship at Seattle Neighborhood Greenways. I have ridden my bike on a daily basis ever since I was 4 years old and would say I am extremely comfortable on it. In case you haven’t heard of the Netherlands, its literal translation from Dutch is “low lands”, meaning that there are almost no hills.
When coming to Seattle I naturally had the intent to ride my bike everywhere, without a helmet of course. However, this quickly changed as I first explored Downtown. The sight of people blending in with cars on the busy roads and flying down the hills was a completely different sight from what I was used to, and made me think twice about my previous made statement about riding my bike everywhere. I had been warned that it could be dangerous but this was truly something else.
I received a bike from one of my colleagues at the office where I am doing my internship which is located Downtown near Pioneer Square Station. The bike was waiting for me in the basement and ready for use. On my first day one of my colleagues and I went on a trip by car, with bikes on the bike rack, to evaluate two of the recently finished Greenways in Delridge and Ballard which were quite comfortable, definitely something I could get used to.
Unfortunately not all roads in Seattle are Greenways… The house I am staying at is, according to Google Maps, a 45 minute bike ride from the office. Since I have no problems with long bike rides in the Netherlands, I was planning on biking to my office every day. However, it took me 1 ½ weeks to gather the courage to finally ride my bike home. I wouldn’t say I get scared easily, but this just seemed like an impossible mission to me until last week.
The weather was nice, I had looked at the route on Google Maps about 100 times, I was ready. The start of the ride was pretty comfortable. It started on 2nd avenue with a protected bike lane, making it very doable. After a while I had to turn right on a road without a protected bike lane. This is where things became a bit more uncomfortable.
I have ridden between the cars and the sidewalk often so this felt natural. However, I knew the next turn was going to be to the left at a 4-way intersection, which forces me to take the middle lane at the traffic lights and be surrounded by cars. Now remember, I have ridden a bike for as long as I can remember and am always comfortable on it, but this situation just went against all my instincts.
Every 4-way intersection in the Netherlands has a separate crossing for cyclists, right next to the pedestrians. But now I suddenly had to blend in BETWEEN the cars. I just couldn’t do it. My ego took some serious hits while I had to swallow my pride and jump up the curb to cross with the pedestrians. I did this for all 4-way intersections whenever I had to turn left, but since it got me where I needed to be safely, I didn’t mind. During the rest of the roads Downtown nothing special happened. I was very cautious because there wasn’t a lot of room and every road was full of cars and caused the trip to be far from pleasant.
After I left Downtown and reached Fairview Avenue things got a bit better. There was more room and there were other cyclists I could follow which was comforting. Eventually I ended up at a big parking space along the water which created beautiful views and led to a path with barely any cars. This finally allowed me to relax bit and enjoy the ride for a while.
When I had to cross the bridge to get to the University district, the moments of relaxation ended as I had to get on Eastlake Ave, back between the cars. They had a pretty narrow, non-protected strip for cyclists which the cars would drive by very closely. When riding over the bridge I was so focused on not colliding with a car that I completely missed the beautiful view that the bridge has on the water which was disappointing.
University District was similar to my experience Downtown, but with fewer cars. I knew the best routes to avoid traffic which resulted in a decent, yet still relatively uncomfortable end of my ride. When I finally parked my bike in the basement I was glad it was over.
To conclude, the reason why I don’t feel like this commute was a total disaster only has to do with the fact that I could get a few moments of relaxed riding on the parking lot and part of Fairview Avenue. This, together with my rides on some of the greenways made me realize that Seattle really is a beautiful city and has the potential to be an awesome place to ride my bike in. If only there were more safe roads..