Friday, October 17, 2008

City Leaders Bike to Work

City Council members, Planning Commissioners, and Public Works staff biked to work together this morning. Members of the Tacoma Wheelmen’s Bicycle Club joined the ride, as well as local media, Chamber and City staff. The event was organized by the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber and the City’s mobility staff and aimed to encourage policy makers (and stripe painters) to experience first hand what it’s like to ride on Tacoma’s streets.

Nearly 25 riders met in Proctor, East Tacoma, and near the Scott Pierson trail off of Union during rush hour this morning. All three groups rendezvoused at the Tacoma Municipal Building, where riders faced perhaps one of the biggest challenges of the morning: Where to store the bikes.

These “uh-oh” moments were just what organizers had hoped for, and as participants chatted over breakfast, the conversation was rich with more observations and insightful perspective on how Tacoma can become a more bike-friendly city.

Here are some of the themes of what people noticed and suggested:
  • Road conditions were inconsistent and often dangerous. Riders often have to make sudden decisions about how best to avoid potholes, which is particularly tricky and unsafe when there are vehicles nearby (driving and parked). The danger factor of potholes and other wear and tear – and whether people even notice them – often depends on how many wheels you have underneath you.
  • Bulb outs are great for pedestrians, but not always for bikes. Unless they are incorporated into the street design properly with all transportation modes in mind, these devices aimed to improve walking can be detrimental to biking.
  • We need better signage for what we do have. Even when there were trails or bike lanes, it was hard for newer riders to know how they connected.
  • The Pierce County Bike Map needs help. Badly. Commuters also need a bike map that focuses on downtown and residential areas. Connecting modes (like public transit) is also necessary, especially for those of us looking for ways to get out of downtown without climbing Tacoma’s treacherous hills.
  • Vehicles behave differently when there is a herd of bikes. Let’s be honest: with 7-8 riders and lots of reflective clothing, we were pretty hard to miss this morning. When you’re a lone cyclist, it can be trickier to know how to behave in traffic and bike predictably (read: safely).

On that note, the overarching call to action for the morning was the need for not only adequate biking infrastructure, but appropriate education for cyclists and motor vehicle drivers. Casual and avid riders alike emphasized that the instances in which they felt the least safe were when they either didn’t know how to behave as a cyclist or when cars behaved unpredictably around them. Becoming a city that encourages biking as transportation, recreation, and fitness means that we need to adjust our collective mindset and behaviors to be predictable, legal, and safe as we build better biking amenities.

This is certainly only the beginning of the conversation, and it is an imperative one for Tacoma residents to be a part of. Talk your City Council and City Staff about biking in Tacoma. Encourage them to keep these comments and issues in mind as they consider a Bike and Pedestrian master plan next year.

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