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Originally published Thursday, June 10, 2010 at 10:00 PM

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Nicole Brodeur

Breaking cycle of biking blame

Since I wrote about Velda Mapelli's death after being hit by a bicyclist on Renton's Cedar River Trail, I have become a clearinghouse for Tales from the Road. Cyclists show me knees and elbows scraped from where they fell after cars clipped them or cut them off. But more people — pedestrians — tell me of being hit by cyclists who don't think they have to follow the same rules as cars.

Seattle Times staff columnist

Alia Peterson lifted up her bangs to show me the damage done.

"He hit me so fast I couldn't put my hands down," she said of the bicyclist who ran the red light in downtown Seattle a few weeks ago, just as Peterson was crossing with the light.

"I fell flat over."

In the weeks since I wrote about Velda Mapelli's death from injuries suffered when she was hit by a bicyclist on Renton's Cedar River Trail, I have become a clearinghouse for Tales from the Road.

Cyclists show me knees and elbows scraped from where they fell after cars clipped them or cut them off.

But more people — pedestrians — tell me of being hit by cyclists who don't think they have to follow the same rules as cars. Rules about speed, stoplights and weaving through traffic.

"You ever see a cyclist pulled over for going through a stop sign?" one man asked me. "They do whatever they want."

This longtime debate is becoming more urgent as Mayor Mike McGinn strives to make Seattle as gas-free and green as possible.

He's pushing something called a "road diet," in which a four-lane arterial is retooled, creating two car lanes, a center turn lane, two bike lanes and raised medians for pedestrians crossing the street.

The idea is to lower car speeds and improve pedestrian and bicycle safety.

The Seattle City Council's Transportation Committee this week had a full house when it debated McGinn's plan for such a change to West Nickerson Street between the Fremont and Ballard bridges.

I have no quibble with the greening of the city, with people using alternative transportation. But anyone who drives or bikes around here knows the two don't always mix well.

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So if we're going to share the road, cyclists should be required to follow the same rules as drivers.

There are good cyclists out there. I see many who take to the road looking like they're about to summit Mount Rainier: flashing lights, bright clothing, helmets that would protect them from falling boulders. They follow the speed limit, they stop where they're supposed to, they look around.

God love them.

But there are those — like the person who hit Peterson — who seem to think they don't have to do any of those things. And if we're creating more lanes for them, well, that needs to change.

David Smith, 60, a certified instructor with the League of American Bicyclists, thinks the city needs to study cyclist-related accidents and behavior before it gives them more room on the road.

"It's shocking that we are reconstructing our entire road system without a simple study of whether cyclists would prefer learning the rules of the road and following those rules," Smith said, "or whether they just prefer their own lane."

Smith can't find any data proving that cyclists who ride in bike lanes are any safer than those who ride in traffic.

"It's like saying they won't study those who smoke and those who don't; they're only going to study treatments," he said.

For his part, Smith is updating his website to promote "self-improvement for cyclists."

"They do nothing for themselves and always blame the motorists," he said. "If you understand the rules of the road, you get along much better."

Velda Mapelli's death was enough for the city of Renton to take immediate action, by drafting new laws that would reduce the speed limit on city trails from 15 to 10 mph; increase signage; and establish passing, no-passing and dismount zones, among other things.

Police cadets will patrol the trails to assist with education. Violating cyclists will be issued warnings for the first two weeks, then citations for additional infractions such as running stop signs in various parts of the city, including the adjacent Lake Washington Boulevard.

The Renton City Council will vote on the proposal later this month.

Mayor Denis Law said he received a little blowback from bicycle groups and some cycling commuters who think the reduced speed limit will add time to their commute.

"But we didn't build the trails for their commute," he said. "We're not trying to be perceived as anti-bicycle at all. But those who aren't responsible are going to pay the piper for it."

I'd rather that than see more scars. Can't we all just get along and enjoy the ride?

Nicole Brodeur's column appears Tuesday and Friday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or nbrodeur@seattletimes.com.

She rides like Pee-wee.

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About Nicole Brodeur

My column is more a conversation with readers than a spouting of my own views. I like to think that, in writing, I lay down a bridge between readers and me. It is as much their space as mine. And it is a place to tell the stories that, otherwise, may not get into the paper.
nbrodeur@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2334

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