After Brian Fairbrother’s bicycle crash on Fairview Ave N late last month, the city initially denied that they received complaints about the danger the staircase could pose to someone riding a bike. Now, the SunBreak reports that a 2008 email chain between a concerned citizen and the Parks Department and SDOT warned of the hazard in eerie detail:
As the Parks Department had put up a sign soliciting feedback, [Michael] Hoffman responded with an alarming prescience:
It was nice ride in general but there were a few places that were a bit confusing or even dangerous for an unfamiliar rider. I’m not sure if the loop is considered finished yet but I thought these comments might be helpful. [...] There is a bit on the east side where the trail seems to go down a lot of steps and then back up. It is not apparent until you are near the steps that they are actually steps rather than a ramp. I think this is dangerous currently. I would strongly recommend some warning signs here. If cyclists are meant to instead travel on the nearby road against the traffic flow, the trail needs signage and road markings to indicate this.
So does this show that the city needs to be more responsive to citizen comments and hazard warnings? Maybe. The city told the SunBreak that this note was “one of many comments received during that process.” A quick look at BikeWise.org, a website that tracks citizen-reported hazards around the city, shows zero hazards reported at that spot
Yet, once it became clear where his crash occurred, many people (myself included) recognized the location and were familiar with the hazard posed by the stairs. Would the city have acted more quickly if more of us had been persistent about the need to fix the problem? Maybe.
For many types of hazards, the city is very responsive to citizen reports. Issues like potholes, some sidewalk issues and dangerous sewer grates are often fixed in a reasonable time period. Perhaps a more useful question for the rest of us at this moment is: What can we all do to help prevent something like this happening elsewhere?
Asherah posted the following sound advice at Seattle Bike Blog:
I read the comments on here a few days ago, and three separate people said they’d fallen at that same spot, and that it wasn’t well marked or that there used to be a sign there and then wasn’t. Then I read in the Times that the city had received no complaints about it…..No sense blaming or second-guessing now, but PLEASE bikers when you find a particularly unsafe, unmarked spot in a Seattle bike trail or lane, let the police and city know.
Here’s how you can report hazards (bookmark and/or add to your phone books):
- Report the incident to SDOT’s online Street Maintenance Request Form. Even if it doesn’t seem to fit with their options, just choose whatever fits best (SDOT, updating that form to allow for bike-related hazards would be awesome)
- Call SDOT at 206-684-ROAD
- Report the hazard at BikeWise.org. Not only will your hazard report be public, but the site attempts to forward your concerns to relevant departments in the city, county and state. Pretty cool!
- If you have a smart phone, download the slightly buggy but also pretty cool BikeWise app (search your app store for “bikewise”). The app lets you start a hazard report where you are, marking the location and type of hazard. It then emails you your started report so you can complete and submit it at the BikeWise website. Maybe it’s a little roundabout, but it’s still pretty cool.
Where are the persistent hazards you see on the Hill? I have one: There are bike-wheel-grabbing sewer grates on 16th Ave E near Denny.
Report your hazard to the city and note it in the comments below so the rest of us are aware. Telling city planners about dangers is part of the battle. But making community attention — and action — part of the solution may be, in the end, just as important. We’ll never get to 100% safety. But, yeah, we can do better.