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Originally published February 18, 2012 at 3:32 PM | Page modified February 18, 2012 at 4:10 PM

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Seattle bicycle crashes holding steady even with more commuters

The Seattle Times' new interactive map of bicycle crash data from 2007 to 2011 shows annual totals holding steady even as more people commute by bike.

Seattle Times transportation reporter

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About once a day in Seattle, a bicycle crash is reported to police.

Seattle Department of Transportation data, which The Seattle Times used to create an interactive map, show 1,847 crashes from 2007 to 2011. Ten were fatal.

Police have yet to solve the July hit-and-run death of bike commuter Mike Wang, a 44-year-old photographer. He was heading home to Shoreline when he was struck by a brown SUV that turned left across Dexter Avenue North. The case remains an open investigation, said police spokesman Detective Jeff Kappel.

That tragedy helped discredit the fashionable idea in the 2000s that bikes, provided with lane stripes and icons, can coexist happily with arterial traffic.

A groundswell has formed for more separation. On portions of the Dexter bike route, bus-stop medians separate bikes from traffic. On Broadway, a "cycle track" will be separated by curbs, bollards or stripes as part of the future First Hill Streetcar installation. This winter, a trail extension opened joining Fishermen's Terminal to Seattle Pacific University — but a court ruling Thursday brought more delay to a Ballard trail link. The unfinished Mercer Street rebuild already provides some 20-foot-wide sidewalks offering a safer link to Lake Union.

Neighborhood advocates and the city are designing greenways, where plantings, curbs and a 20-mph speed limit would encourage bikes and pedestrians to take side streets, starting in Wallingford this year.

The five-year crash totals have held steady, varying from 359 to 392 annually. Among the 1,847 total crashes, a crossing car hit a cyclist 863 times, a cyclist ran into a crossing car 506 times, and there were 159 sideswipes.

Seattle may well be following a positive trend in Portland and Minneapolis, where more people are riding without a spike in crashes, said John Mauro, policy director for the Cascade Bicycle Club.

In the city's annual mid-September count, there were 3,251 cyclists commuting into downtown in 2010, up from 2,273 in 2007. When more cyclists are present, motorists become more conscious of them and safety tends to improve, said Sam Woods, bicycling coordinator for the Seattle Department of Transportation.

But the supply of road space here is tighter than in most U.S. cities, and getting inexorably more crowded through population growth, road projects and office campuses — including maybe a third Sodo sports complex coming mid-decade. Downtown lacks even one north-south bikeway safe for novice or nonathletic riders. The city doesn't have any major bike projects downtown this year, but will consider ideas in a pending update of the cycling master plan.

Protected bikeways will help, "but intersections are where the crashes are," says Mauro. "We need more than just separation, we need signalization."

Times staff reporter Justin Mayo contributed to this report.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @mikelindblom.

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