The Dutch Influence on Seattle Bicycling
By Steve Angles
Amsterdam is full of bicycles. Seriously. I remember visiting some years ago and being floored by just how many bicycles were piled alongside each other near the central train station. Hundreds and hundreds. If you’re going to have that many people commuting by bicycle, on old streets, in sometimes foggy and rainy weather, you’d better have a plan for riders, cars, and pedestrians.
Does this all sound a little like another rainy city you know that is also full of bicycle riders? If so, you’ll be interested to find out that the Dutch way of having bicycles, pedestrians, and cars all move together in relative harmony is starting to make its way to Seattle. It’s about time, frankly. Everyone on the road wants to be safe, but the reality is that we’re seeing more and more terrible collisions between motor vehicles, bicycles, and people than ever before. Here are a few Dutch ideas you may see out on the streets in the near future:
The “Dutch Reach”
If you’re bicycling alongside cars, your greatest fear is that someone will suddenly open their car door without seeing you, instantly placing a barrier in your path with no notice. It’s called getting “doored”. If you’re getting out of a car, you always want to look over your shoulder to make sure it’s clear and safe, but sometimes things can come “out of nowhere”. A technique for drivers to make sure the coast is clear is called the “Dutch Reach”. It’s really simple and effective. Drivers should open their door with their right hand, forcing them to look over their left shoulder for oncoming bicycles. Of course, you should still use your mirrors, too, before you reach. If you’d like to see it in action, here’s a link to a video: https://boingboing.net/2019/03/11/the-dutch-reach-car-door-o.html
At many locations in and around Seattle, the designated bicycle lane ends just before arriving at an intersection. According to one study, 43% of fatal bicycle crashes in cities in 2017 happened at intersections. Those national statistics are close to the numbers for King County from 2013 through 2017. Some cities such as Pittsburgh have begun to build protected intersections, which are common in Dutch cities. Seattle could be next, according to Seattle City traffic engineers. Instead of having to wait beside motor vehicles behind a crosswalk before crossing an intersection, bicyclists in a protected Dutch intersection scoot up ahead of the cars, where they can be seen. The intersection has protected zones on every side that provide a much more defined degree of separation between motor vehicles, pedestrians, and bicyclists. For those on foot or on bicycles, there are protected areas to go through the intersection, make easy right hand turns, and even make left hand turns across the intersection. For a video illustrating exactly how these intersections could be designed, check out this link: http://bit.ly/Dutch_Intersections