Together, We can Make Sure Bicycling is Safe During the Pandemic. Here’s How:
By Vicky Clarke, Policy Director at Cascade Bicycle Club, and Davíd Urbina, Rides Program Manager at Cascade Bicycle Club
If you’ve dusted off your bike or walking shoes to get some sunshine in the last few weeks, you’re far from alone. March data from King County shows that trail use is way up on trails like Eastrail and Cedar River Trail, where counts show double the use compared to March of last year. Maybe you’ve felt the squeeze as you’ve been out biking and walking.
Trail crowding is a problem. That’s why Cascade Bicycle Club is calling on leaders to create more spaces across the region for people to walk, bike and roll. Those of us without yards or access to personal open space need ways to get outdoors that are safe and don’t rely on crowded trails.
Seattle leaders recently announced a “Stay Healthy Streets” initiative, starting this weekend, on neighborhood greenways in the Central District and West Seattle. These routes will limit vehicles to local traffic, and are intended as safe places for people to comfortably bike and walk. This weekend’s roll out is a step in the right direction. The city plans to grow weekly to a total of 15 miles of bike and pedestrian priority streets across the city.
More cities in King County should open streets for people. Our region can take the lead from Oakland, Denver, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and others to open some city streets for people, by closing them to cars. With vehicle trips in the region cut in half, if we can’t open streets to people now, when can we?
Riders also have a role to play. We are recommending that experienced cyclists strongly consider biking on streets instead of trails. This frees up space for walking seniors, less confident bikers, and for essential workers commuting.
In the same vein, those learning to ride bikes for the first time should consider using empty parking lots near home. Core to the novel coronavirus pandemic is remaining flexible to uncertainty – and that holds true when biking. If your route gets crowded, change up your destination, or find ways to stay active inside your home.
Finally, follow social distancing protocols by adopting the following precautionary measures, both for our own benefit and for the benefit of those around us:
Maintain social distancing guidelines at all times. Ride alone, or only with members of your household.
Carry your own food and water rather than stopping at grocery stores.
Avoid bathroom stops by planning your ride appropriately. Many public bathrooms and parks are now closed.
Don’t spit or blow “snot rockets.” Carry tissues or a handkerchief if needed, and carefully dispose of tissues.
Handkerchiefs, gloves, and sleeves attract germs; isolate them and wash them after every ride.
After the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order is lifted, the “new normal” will doubtlessly still require social distancing. Along with opening streets to people in the short term, let’s think creatively about how to support the community's basic needs of fresh air and exercise, especially in high density neighborhoods and those without much existing open space, which also tend to be low income neighborhoods.
Ideas abound. Seattle’s existing Play Streets program provides a template for safely opening loops of streets for people to explore by leveraging the volunteer power of caring neighbors. What about taking a leaf from Bogota - who made their Cyclovia permanent at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic - by opening Lake Washington Boulevard to bikes by making Bicycle Sundays permanent. There are many existing plans to create connected outdoor space, like the Lake to Bay Trail, which will one day connect Lake Union to Elliot Bay, via Belltown. Residents need more space to recreate safely now; why not pilot the full route now to test the concept?
Washington has been the #1 Bike Friendly State for 11 years running – for good reason. Our statewide leaders explicitly highlighted biking and walking as acceptable and bike repair as an essential service during the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order. The city of Seattle has partnered to make bike share free to essential workers during the crisis and ensure adequate bike parking once essential workers get where we need to go.
Now, we and our leaders must step up to protect the health and safety of our community. To fellow caring neighbors we ask: let’s respect these guidelines and needs of others around us. To community leaders: let’s be creative and identify more space for people biking and walking now.