A Real Proposal for Mayor McGinn: Protect Pedestrians and Bicyclists Throughout Seattle

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Seattle’s Mayor McGinn was elected using his “Mike Bikes” campaign slogan.  His detractors sometimes call him Mayor McSchwinn.  And yet, despite the rhetoric, Seattle remains a dangerous place for bicyclists and pedestrians.

The Stranger was instrumental in electing McGinn and has been pushing him to embrace the bicycle-focus on which he was elected.  Bethany Jean Clement’s recent piece calls for bike-only streets running north-south and east-west through the city.     A Modest Proposal for Mayor McGinn: “I Know You Like Bikes” | Slog.

Ms. Clement’s idea  is worth talking about, but in the unlikely event that the City actually made two bike-only arterials, it would probably just increase tension between motorists and those who have reason to fear motorists.  Instead, Seattle should improve our laws to protect pedestrians and bicyclists everywhere in the city.  We could do this without closing down routes to cars.  How?  By changing the burden of proof to determine who is at fault when a motorist hits a bicyclist or a pedestrian.

The burden of proof should be changed so that drivers are presumed to be at fault if they hit a pedestrian or a bicyclist.  It is already the law that bicyclists are required to yield to pedestrians when riding on the sidewalk.  That is a good idea.  We should extend this concept.  For instance, it is also the current law that drivers must yield to pedestrians and bicyclists in crosswalks.  Yet, many people, including far too many Seattle Police Officers, are unaware of this.

What we need is a simple concept that everyone can understand.  Here it is:  Protect the vulnerable.  Bikes should yield to pedestrians on sidewalks because bikes are faster than pedestrians and pedestrians can be injured if bicyclists fail to yield.  The same should go for our streets:  Divers should yield to both pedestrians and bicycles because cars are faster and are far more likely to seriously injure or kill people than the most crazed bicyclist on a sidewalk.

I’ve talked about changing the burden of proof against motorists who hit bicyclists and pedestrians at the Road Safety Summit in 2011 and wrote about it in the King County Bar Bulletin in 2009.  This is the handout I’ve provided to Mayor McGinn and others.  My proposal is not perfect, but it is doable.  Numerous European countries have similar laws.  I have reached out to Cascade and to the Bicycle Alliance of Washington on this issue but they have yet to bite.  I’ve heard nothing from our mayor.  Interestingly, in 2012 the League of American Bicyclists contacted me to help work towards these laws nationally.

Seattle could and should lead the US in protecting bicyclists and pedestrians.  Clarifying our laws to protect bicyclists and pedestrians could prevent numerous injuries and deaths.  Let’s not just be known for digging big holes… let’s be the city that best protects bicyclists and pedestrians.

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