Riding with Rasmussen: Road opinions, sprinklers, tunnel talk …

July 21, 2010 at 3:17 pm | In Transportation, West Seattle news, West Seattle politics | 24 Comments

(EDITOR’S NOTE: We mentioned earlier that we had assigned a reporter to ride along on Councilmember Tom Rasmussen‘s open-invite bike commute today. Here’s his story, with photos along the way)

Story and photos by Johnathon Fitzpatrick
Reporting for West Seattle Blog

Seattle Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, an eight-year West Seattleite, has invited the public to bike-commute in with him all week as part of Mayor McGinn‘s Walk-Bike-Ride initiative. He has been writing online about his experiences; this morning at 7 am, he stood at Weather Watch Park with his Univega (rain bike) waiting for traveling companions.

A low fog clung to the shoreline across the sound as a ferry horn bellowed and seagulls picked their way across the early-morning low tide along Beach Drive. A group of four cyclists rode along with Rasmussen in the slightly chilly morning he considered to be more like October weather. “I sure hope summer’s not done,” he muses.

There’s a brief moment of awkwardness as the group navigates around a trash truck and yet another as a cyclist shouts “on your left! ON YOUR LEFT… (Expletive)!” Yet these are minor annoyances as Rasmussen plays tour guide and discusses transportation issues.

(The story continues, with more photos too)

He pointed out the Alki Statue of Liberty Plaza time-capsule, wondering how long it will last, then to the remnants of an old pier where he says a pool used to be. He listens to opinions on the Admiral Way (downhill) bike lane, and calls the poorly-designed West Marginal Way intersection a “logistical nightmare” after nine bikes queue up waiting for two crosswalk signals to change.

Just before this, Rasmussen describes his encounter on Monday with a sprinkler sneak attack. As the group cruises along a shrubbery-lined path, automated sprinklers water plants, pavement and people equally. “There I am minding my own business,” he says, “when suddenly they start popping up.” After the group navigates the water gauntlet, he states matter-of-factly “… and now I have wet ankles.”

The primary route for cyclists commuting to downtown is the “low bridge” (Spokane Street Swing Bridge). The northern end of the bridge leaves many cyclists confused as to where to go. A round-about trail winds around under the bridge to meet up with the main path on the other side, yet many cyclists, including Rasmussen, cross through heavy industrial traffic and cracks in the road to save time. “Trucks have gotten better at the cross-over,” he says.

Today he leads the group under the bridge instead, explaining that he is not as experienced as other cycling councilmembers Sally Clark and Mike O’Brien. His ‘cross-over’ route preference aside, Rasmussen says he is more of a safe cyclist. He prefers to not ride at night for fear of potholes, and switches between downtown streets and sidewalks to avoid traffic. He asks about putting bikes on bus racks, something he has never done. He worries his bike would fly off, yet his fellow commuters assure him otherwise.

Rasmussen is chair of the council’s Transportation Committee. His primary focus recently has been on the Alaskan Way Viaduct Central Waterfront replacement project. Shouting over the steady hum of vehicles on Alaskan Way, he says “I’ve spent endless amounts of time keeping that project moving. We’re making good progress,” He says, citing an article in the Seattle Times today on contract language and the intent of the state legislature.

Regarding Mayor McGinn’s most recent statement yesterday on the city’s liability for project cost overruns, Rasmussen says, “The mayor keeps on using this as a reason to keep us from starting, but that’s just a red-herring. He doesn’t want the tunnel, period.”

Returning to cycling issues, Rasmussen addresses the budget shortfalls facing Seattle’s Bicycle & Pedestrian Master Plans. He says the council is considering reinstating a commercial parking tax as well as creating a $20 vehicle license fee.

Results from the master plan are already apparent as the once patchy and harrowing stretch of road bordering the crane-speckled Port now gives way to a freshly-paved bike lane easily 15-20 feet wide.

Councilmember Rasmussen will complete his week of bike commuting to City Hall on Friday (an A.M. meeting tomorrow means no Thursday ride). You are invited to join him departing from Weather Watch Park (4035 Beach Drive SW) at 7 am Friday. He says on Monday nobody showed. On Tuesday he convinced a friend to ride in. But today he had four traveling companions, who said a WSB post inspired them to come out. The ride is flat and pleasant, lasting a leisurely 50-60 minutes.

24 Comments

  1. Hi:

    I think this is great. I would have loved to join him but 7AM is a bit early, and I’m working from home now. I commuted to SODO every day for 3 years from west of the Alaska Junction. It took me 20-30 minutes to do that and I’m no skinny racer.

    I admit I’m a pro level bike commuter though. They were likely doing something dumb when the experienced commuter yelled out “on you left” and “!!@##!”. The expletive was no doubt a pressed-for-time teaching moment.

    No excuse for not using the bridge underpass. Many newbies don’t realize it exists.

    I think if he leaves at 8AM a few days he’ll get more company. I’ll ride with him too. I think it’s great he’s bike commuting and I’m sure he’ll be making the trip much faster with a little experience. faster than possible by car.

    Comment by I. Ponder — 4:58 pm July 21, 2010 #

  2. 50 to 60 minutes? Granted, one may have to wait for lights but that is slow. Google says it 8.3 miles to city hall along the water and through Sodo. I can’t see scores of new bicyclists saying gee, an hour to get to work? Car = 20 mins, Bus=35 mins, Water Taxi = 45 mins. Maybe McAginnit wants to increase the bus and car commute times to coax us into our spandex…? ;-)

    Comment by JayDee — 6:32 pm July 21, 2010 #

  3. Agree on using the underpass, I use it all the time as a cyclist and it lets you avoid the dangerous crossings down there. I see too many cyclists cross against the red light and many close calls – very worried I will see an accident sooner or later.

    As a new rider I too was scared to ride at night but some practice, a good light and necessity (it gets dark around 4:00 for much of the year you know) made it not a problem. Sidewalk riding is essential sometimes due to traffic aggression or a simple lack of a good bike route but not recommended due to peds/traffic entering and exiting the roadway. Motor vehicles block sidewalks more than the roadway.

    I ride to South Lake Union in about 30-40 minutes. My ride home takes me about 50 minutes. It’s faster than the bus and sometimes faster than driving if traffic is bad. And best of all, it’s fun!

    I’ll try to join him on Friday if I can, I’m usually on the road by 6:30 am at the latest since I’ve got an early job. An hour-long pace will make me late by at about 1 hour.

    Comment by Al — 6:39 pm July 21, 2010 #

  4. I’m sure there’s as much talking as riding on this particular commute. Staying as a group means the slowest rider sets the pace. I think this is a terrific thing.

    Those of us who bike commute want to set the record straight that’s it’s usually as fast as or faster than car.

    For my return trip home I always take the long way around Alki and up Jacobsen as opposed to Avalon. That only adds 15 minutes to my commute, but is priceless for what it does for my sanity.

    The average cost to own and operate a medium-sized car has risen 4.8 percent since last year to 56.6 cents a mile, or $8,487 a year, according to AAA’s annual cost study.

    The amount was based on 15,000 miles of driving each year.

    The study found a small car costs 43.3 cents a mile, or $6,496 a year, while a four-wheel drive SUV is the most expensive, at nearly 74 cents per mile, or $11,000 a year.

    When you consider that, is a $1,000 bicycle expensive?

    Comment by I. Ponder — 6:59 pm July 21, 2010 #

  5. I’m a newby bike commuter and have only crossed the bridge a handful of times (I usually grab the water taxi). Where is this underpass that you speak of? I find the path over the low bridge terribly confusin. Is there a good, detailed map of that section?

    Comment by Molly — 7:37 pm July 21, 2010 #

  6. Tom and other riders should also consider using the Water Taxi for a quicker multimodal trip when they want to. Ride to the 7:30 ferry and use the convenient bike racks. You will be downtown in ten minutes.

    That being said, I love my regular bike commute into downtown. The trail to Alaskan Way is well marked and industrial. Trucks are respectful because the crossings are well designed. I am not sure what the underpass is that you refer to. Once you get to Alaskan Way you have the option of the sidewalk on the left side which has few crossings or the bike lanes. It is fairly easy to look for your opportunity to cross over to the right hand bike lane. The pavement sucks because this street has a poor subsurface in cruddy fill. Neither the port nor the city seems to care too much, but the road is coming apart.

    Comment by Westside — 8:48 pm July 21, 2010 #

  7. Molly:
    When going EB on the low bridge instead of going for the obvious veer to the left across the street and into the path of oncoming traffic (i.e an 18-wheeler), take a sharp RH turn at the bottom of the bridge on the path, then whipping a U-e *under* the bridge to continue the path on the RH side of the road. Going WB you just reverse. It only works with elevated roadways, but is a handy trick for trails like this. It takes more time, but I’d rather not be a hood ornament on a Paccar truck…
    -
    As for a map, perhaps the wiser among us can help.

    Comment by JayDee — 8:50 pm July 21, 2010 #

  8. Here’s a google map of the low bridge underpass.
    Pretty cool that google is experimenting with a biking option for directions.

    Comment by owen — 8:59 pm July 21, 2010 #

  9. BIKE TO WORK!!! YAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Comment by AJP — 9:21 pm July 21, 2010 #

  10. I. Ponder, you could always ride your bike around the block before starting your workday.

    .

    That way, you would feel like your still doing your part in promoting bike commuting. ;)

    .

    Mike

    Comment by miws — 9:24 pm July 21, 2010 #

  11. Maybe instead of painting cycling marks on the roads the city can spend time, effort and money painting directional markings on the bike path to help people navigate safer routes. Post better signs to help people know where the underpass is so they can avoid traffic. There’s an idea… avoid traffic…wow, I’m a frigging genius.

    Comment by Mike — 9:34 pm July 21, 2010 #

  12. Mr. Ponder, I assure you the group was doing nothing stupid and the expletive was more of a assertion of dominance than a teaching moment.

    http://westseattleblog.com/2010/07/bicycling-to-work-day-3-city-councilmember-gets-an-earful#comment-744473

    Yes, 60 minutes is a long time, but this ride was at a conversational pace on purpose. This was constituency outreach by the council member, not a demonstration.

    I personally think (and told Mr. Rasmussen) the underpass is too narrow and tortuous to be considered safe transportation infrastructure. Some people may like cycle paths but they’re very often poorly designed and often far less safe than simply being a part of traffic.

    I’m sure cycling isn’t for everyone, but the degree to which it’s ridiculed in the comments section of the Seattle media (including WSB) is pretty sad. I don’t question or belittle your choice of vehicle (well, not much…) so how about you just let me be?

    Comment by JAT — 7:46 am July 22, 2010 #

  13. You keep this bike blogging up and we’ll start the Lesser Seattle Blog with the first post being, It’s the SWING BRIDGE!

    Comment by Byron — 8:18 am July 22, 2010 #

  14. I was impressed by the detail and depth of the Stranger article two weeks back about the many ways the very complicated tunnel project could go wrong and cost many billions extra. People need to appreciate how much this project is pushing the limits of tunneling… the unprecedented size of the bore, the complicated and unstable soils, and going under a city. I’m shocked that more people don’t see the very large risks.

    Another risk not discussed is the likelyhood that we will have a hard time filling the tunnel with cars 20 years from now. Hopefully the deepwater horizon fiasco has made it abundantly clear that we are in the era of very hard to produce oil with very big risks. America imports more and more oil from unstable or very polluting resources that are disappearing. We cannot run our automobile system on oilsands and deepwater oil a decade from now. The IEA forcasts severe shortages in just a few years. Electric cars do exist, but people vastly over-rate their ability to replace gas powered cars on any timeline.

    The tunnel if built will be a fiasco… it represents the psychology of previous investment… we are so invested in our current frame of transportation that we cannot imagine not investing billions more in a system that will not function in the future.

    Comment by Bill Reiswig — 8:59 am July 22, 2010 #

  15. JAT wrote: “I personally think (and told Mr. Rasmussen) the underpass is too narrow and tortuous to be considered safe transportation infrastructure.”

    In my opinion the trail that goes over the bridge and includes that underpass is one of the best designed and safest paths in the whole city. For one, it takes maybe 30 seconds to traverse that curved section under the bridge. If it’s tortuous, you’re going the wrong way. I’m thankful for any non-rutted infrastructure that separates cyclists and pedestrians from motor vehicles.

    It’s important for newbies to avoid crossing railroad tracks and trolley tracks embedded in pavement, which exist if you cross the street and do not use the underpass. Most experienced cyclists have fallen on tracks at some time, particularly during rain. They should be avoided if possible or handled with care.

    I much prefer semis (trucks) over cars because semi drivers are professional drivers, as opposed to car drivers who can be completely unskilled and who particularly in this town are likely to be text-messaging at all times. The other thing about semis is their acceleration matches or is slower than a bicycle’s. They don’t suddenly pull out in front of you from a standstill as cars often do. They are very predictable. I respect most of these pro drivers who are driving to earn a living and responsible for protecting their rigs and cargo. I’ve found them to be courteous for the most part. Seriously, the most consistently hazardous spot on my West Seattle to downtown commute is near the YMCA where young moms are looking for parking spaces while talking on the phone.

    Bicycle commuting may not be for everyone, but sitting in your car on the bridge wondering if you’ll ever get where you’re going isn’t a great alternative.

    Comment by I. Ponder — 9:52 am July 22, 2010 #

  16. A couple of months ago, I wrote to the parks department about their trash collectors driving down the bike path to collect the trash, even suggesting that they drive the route in reverse, using the right lane and keeping out the bike path. I got a nice reply that “They would look into it”. I guess I need to follow-up with them now.

    The issue with the person cussing them out as he passed is unfortunate.

    I think this is great that Tom is opening up an opportunity to commute with him. Perhaps, if I get enough sleep tonight, I’ll leave a bit early and join him for the portion of my commute that matches up with his (splitting off just before the swing bridge).

    Comment by Mark K. — 10:58 am July 22, 2010 #

  17. I like the underpass, but also think its not the greatest bike path: the first power pole at the bottom of the bridge is too close to the path, that corner is also banked away to the outside of the turn, the path should be a bit wider through the wiggles, and the turn coming out of from under the bridge needs better sight distance.
    .
    But all that can be solved by riding at a slower speed. And even if you don’t slow down, I still feel its much safer than the dash across traffic.
    .
    The two worst spots on my morning ride are at the ends of the bike path – crossing E Marginal Way when heading to downtown, and crossing Harbor Ave to start the Admiral climb on the way home.

    Comment by owen — 12:03 pm July 22, 2010 #

  18. @JayDee: This group was riding at a conversational pace so that they could discuss bicycle commuting related issues along the way. Their 1 hour commute was in no way representative of what it is like to commute from West Seattle to Downtown.
    .
    My daily bike commute from North Admiral to Lower Queen Anne takes 20-25 minutes door-to-door. Keep in mind that my commute takes the same amount of time EVERY SINGLE DAY (except when caught by the low bridge which might add another 5-10 minutes). This is regardless of how bad traffic is or whether there is construction going on along the route.
    .
    What’s also important is that cyclists do not have to spend time/gas searching for parking (or paying for it either).

    Comment by mondo — 12:20 pm July 22, 2010 #

  19. I agree that “crossing Harbor Ave to start the Admiral climb on the way home” is potentially dangerous. Drivers exiting the high bridge onto Harbor Ave. are allowed to make a right on red. They are typically looking out for cars to their left coming down Avalon. Bicycles attempting to cross Harbor Ave. even with a green walk light are at risk. This is a clear safety issue that should be addressed. I do not believe putting a NO RIGHT ON RED sign will have any effect, as drivers will just ignore it.

    Comment by I. Ponder — 12:42 pm July 22, 2010 #

  20. Just to clarify I meant the underpass is tortuous in the sense of twisting and turning (which is an objective fact) not torturous as in like a stay in Abu Ghraib,…

    I don’t want to quibble with fellow cyclists (unless they blow through red lights and stop signs). Different people have different approaches just as different motorists do. Cycling is a great way to get around and more people should try it.

    And yes, I’ve fallen on railroad tracks; it hurts. Newbies should avoid it.

    Comment by JAT — 2:57 pm July 22, 2010 #

  21. All of you have GREAT input regaring problem areas along the West Seattle route: Harbor Ave crossing, lower bridge and signage along east side of bridge, confusing routes, crossing issues on Marginal, etc., etc.

    I attend various meetings at SDOT and post information here: http://westseattleblog.com/forum/topic/viaducts-038-bicycle-routing

    I received information in the recent past that SDOT was going to re-paint the crossings on the east side of the lower bridge this summer and put up new signage. To date: No new paint and only one new crossing sign.

    If you all start emailing these people you may see some improvements. The SDOT groups that work on cycling improvements are actually responsive. If you build a relationship with them and give good input (not just complaints, but suggestions on how to improve things) we may see some help.

    BIKEBOARD@SEATTLE.GOV and WALKANDBIKE@SEATTLE.GOV are the two “general” boards. Email them! Attend the SBAB meetings the first Wednesday of each month at 6:00, City Hall, if you can. You don’t have to stay the whole time – they allow time for citizen comments at the first part of the meeting.

    Comment by Al — 3:05 pm July 22, 2010 #

  22. Al: That’s great info.

    It makes me think about going out with a can of paint and making simple (and neat) route markers. There are big things that the government needs to do in terms of safety, but I’m wondering if simple directional signage can be done locally by cyclists in the community without involving the bureaucracy.

    For the record, every organized ride uses symbols painted on the road called “Dan Henrys”. Directional symbols are painted directly on the pavement at points where riders need to turn. A secondary marker is painted a distance ahead confirming that the cyclist is on the right path.

    These are likely a bit too simplistic for general use by the public, but the method is sound and cheap.

    Comment by I. Ponder — 6:57 pm July 22, 2010 #

  23. Trying to track all that’s going on here — politician bikes to work cause McGinn does, but not fast enough and on a supposedly unsafe route. Meanwhile hundreds of cyclists do this everyday, some of them use the underpass. The 8 (think it’s 9) corners at Marginal way is the worst, but overall it’s not bad. Some cyclist ride Admiral or skip the path all together. Unsure of the times Rasmussen is leaving but he should have plenty of cyclists to ride with during commuter hours and bonus if the Swing Bridge closes cause he’ll see hundreds of them. There’s always something going on there:

    http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=swing%20bridge&w=60389800%40N00

    Comment by Byron — 9:23 pm July 22, 2010 #

  24. I think bicyclists would get farther in their relationships with car drivers if went ahead and used the road, but moved toward the side if they are holding up a car. Riding 10-12 miles an hour on a road bicycles pay no taxes to maintain, is irritating to drivers who do pay for road maintenance and construction. I’ve always done this, and had very few issues on the road.

    Comment by Peter — 4:42 pm July 23, 2010 #

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