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Bike safety picks up speed

The Seattle Times: Bike safety picks up speed

Nicole Brodeur
Seattle Times staff columnist


A week after Velda Mapelli died after being struck by a cyclist on the Cedar River Trail, Renton Mayor Denis Law went out there to pay his respects.

He got hit, too.

"It was pretty ironic," Law told me. "The first thing I heard was 'Oh, no!' and the next thing, I'm straddling a bicycle."

Law was walking the trail with his wife last Sunday afternoon. A group of cyclists started coming toward them, while two other cyclists were coming up behind them. The two cyclists were trying to squeeze between the Laws and the oncoming group when the first guy changed his mind and braked. His buddy hit him, and they both toppled over — one of them, onto the mayor.

"They were just stupid," Law said. "I guess you can't regulate common sense."

Law's was one of many stories readers shared in the days after my column about Mapelli, 83, who died April 19 from injuries sustained on the trail the day before.

Walkers and runners said that Mapelli's case drew attention because she died — but that hits and near-misses are a daily occurrence on area trails, where the speed limit is 15 mph, and, for the most part, ignored and unenforced.

Janice Knight wrote to me from home, where she is recovering from being hit by a bicycle on the Lake Youngs Trail in Renton. She spent 10 days in Harborview Medical Center with injuries to her face, head and body. "I almost lost my life," she said.

Another woman called to say that just that morning, she had been clipped by a cyclist's handlebars.

"That should tell you how close he was," she said.

And, sadly, I heard from Steve West, who was riding the Cedar River Trail with his son the morning Mapelli was hit, and came upon the scene soon after hearing "a huge thump."

Witnesses described to West how the cyclist called, "On your left!" and how Mapelli didn't seem to know what to do. She "appeared agitated," one witness said, turned right and then darted left across the trail, directly in front of the lead cyclist. He made hard turn in a failed attempt to miss her, and they both landed off the trail.

The problem, many said, is that bikes can be impossible to hear until they are right behind you.

Bikers may call "On your left!" but that can be startling and confusing. Do you move to the right? Left? Stand still? Where are they?

Maureen Curran walks trails, and bikes them, too.

"I know how you like to feel that wind in your hair and breeze on your face," she said. "Still, the safety and care of our human family is more important than our own need to satisfy our pleasures."

On top of it all, no one walks a straight line. And when you're on two wheels, speed and steering is tough to correct. Everything happens so quickly.

So what do we do, in this beautiful place where people are healthy and active and out — and where so many commute by bike, our trails have become the equivalent of thoroughfares?

"Banning bikes doesn't seem realistic," said Mayor Law. "And we're not going to ban certain uses from public trails. But we do need to make sure that people are using them appropriately."

(The accident that killed Mapelli is still under investigation, he said.)

Law is calling his staff together to evaluate the city's current regulations, examine their signage and striping (if there is any) and see what rules of the road can be enforced on the trails.

Law would like to cite cyclists who use excessive speed, as well as those who speed through stop signs and ignore other laws, such as stopping for school buses.

"If you can't slow down," Law said, "you need to go bike somewhere else."