Riding with Lee Lambert: a Q&A with Washington Bikes’ New Executive Director

  • Lee Lambert officially begins on Sept. 12 at Cascade’s Brats & Brews Family BBQ fundraiser.
  • We took a spin with our new ED to learn about his love of bikes, teaching his kids to ride, his views on how Cascade and Washington Bikes can boost bicycling–and make our organizations leaders in racial equity and climate action.

Lee Lambert has loved bikes since learning to ride as a child in a church parking lot. His first bike was an orange Huffy with a banana seat and rear suspension. These days, he rides a Novara road bike from REI for commuting and touring, a full-suspension mountain bike for weekend singletrack adventures, and a tandem bicycle on which he and his wife have completed STP, RSVP, and many other group rides.

“I’ve ridden bikes all my life for recreation, transportation, commuting, and exercise. Bicycling is part of who I am,” he says.

Lambert begins his job as the new executive director of Cascade Bicycle Club and Washington Bikes on Sunday, Sept. 12. Members and donors can meet Lambert that day by registering for the Brats and Brews Family BBQ and Pedaling On Fundraiser.

Lambert comes to Cascade following a long career in public service and nonprofit leadership, with stints as executive director of City Year Seattle/King County, and the Washington STEM Network, as well as staff roles with U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell and U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, of the 9th Congressional District. Read more about his hiring and background in our press release.

Lambert, 46, joins Cascade in its 51st year at a pivotal time in the organization’s history as it grapples with the challenges–and opportunities–of the pandemic. Revenues declined due to the cancellation of many events that fund Cascade’s advocacy, education, and community initiatives. But the pandemic also spurred a bike boom as more people across Washington took up riding for health and happiness. Cascade is now ramping up its events season to meet the public desire to get out and ride, while Washington Bikes is working to advance policy initiatives that support more bicycling infrastructure across the state to meet the increased demand for safe places to ride.

Lambert will have a hand in shaping Cascade’s and Washington Bikes’ new missions, as well as both organizations’ efforts to create a more equitable, diverse, and welcoming bicycling culture that helps more people ride for a healthier and more sustainable future.

Before he takes the helm, Lambert has been on a “listening tour” during which he rides with members of the Cascade staff and board to solicit ideas. We met for a quick spin over the SR 520 Bridge Trail that connects Seattle to the East side. We chatted about his lifelong love of bikes, and how he can use his background in public policy, youth empowerment, educational attainment, and diversity initiatives, to help Cascade and Washington Bikes advance their missions. One of his goals is to make Cascade a truly statewide organization despite its historical epicenter of work in the Puget Sound region.

Lambert and his wife live in Shoreline and have two teenage children. He has ridden STP four times (twice on a tandem with his wife), RSVP once, Chilly Hilly twice, and the Kitsap Color Classic three times.

Q: What inspired you to work with Cascade and Washington Bikes?

Lambert: I love bikes and I chose a career as a nonprofit director, so this is a pairing of my professional and personal passions.

Can you share some favorite memories of riding STP and RSVP, and what compelled you to participate in these signature Cascade events?

I did STP for the first time with my Uncle Andrew who has been my bike riding companion since I was a teenager growing up in Tacoma. He lived one block away and we would go on long rides together. One of those must have been around the time of STP because we saw the route markers. That was my first awareness of it.

Two of my STPs have been on the tandem with my wife. It’s a great experience. I’ve never been a fast rider but on a tandem you can really get cruising. Another tandem couple once told us: ‘Whatever direction your relationship is going, you’ll get there twice as fast on a tandem.’

Two years later we rode STP on our tandem again with friends who also rode their tandem. We had two tandems and we were flying. Somewhere near Chehalis we hooked up with a third tandem, so it was three tandems drafting in a pace line. We looked behind and there was a line of cyclists riding in our slipstream. It was a perfect moment that symbolizes how we can all accomplish more when we work together.

In 2017 I rode it for the first time by myself. I was recovering from knee surgery and wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. I met a great crew of folks, and the next May they texted me and asked, ‘Hey are we riding STP again?’

The community aspect of STP is one of my greatest memories. One year we were riding and I had overfilled the tires on our tandem bike. We had a catastrophic blowout. I was having trouble changing the tube. We finally got the tube fixed and headed out, and then I did a bad shift and twisted a chain link. We were stuck in the middle of our triple ring. We limped to the REI rest stop. One of the magic technicians there repaired our chain in no time. I wanted to tip the mechanic but they said, ‘No, this is what we do.’

STP is more than a huge cycling event that brings together thousands of riders from around the state and country. It creates a sense of community and camaraderie that binds us all together in a shared experience.

How have bicycles been important in your life for health, happiness, and for basic transportation?

Cycling is a way to clear your thoughts. You can do it together with other people but you are also by yourself with your thoughts. It allows you to think and focus. Exercising is when I get some of my best work done. It’s a time to think through problems and come up with solutions. It also has the magical ability to clear your head of stress or trivial matters.

Teaching children how to ride a bike is an iconic moment for parents. Can you tell us about that experience?

It was a big deal for me to teach our kids. Both of our kids first rode with training wheels. Then, for each of them we decided ‘this is the week’ to remove the training wheels. There is a paved track near our house in Shoreline. We went across the street to the track and did the hunched-over run-behind while pushing. We’d let go and they would crash on the grass. For each of them it took about 60 minutes over five days. It’s an incredible feeling when they ride away from your hand–and you hope they remember how to brake. My only regret is six months later another parent told me about this bar that goes behind the seat so you can run and push. How did I not know this bar existed? I could have saved myself a lot of back pain!

What barriers did you face or overcome in your bicycling journey?

A milestone moment was when I bought my first, quote, ‘nice bike’. I was 16 and had my first paying job. After a few paychecks I got a Trek 820. It was a key moment in my cycling experience. That bike took me all around Tacoma and through college. I used it to commute to work and classes. When I graduated and began my career, I used it to commute to work in Seattle. The 2nd Avenue protected bike lane didn’t exist back then. It’s incredible to see how far Seattle, the Puget Sound region, and Washington state have come in terms of providing more safe cycling routes and infrastructure. Cascade played a big role in those improvements.

Regarding barriers, there are many barriers that prevent people from riding. One of the biggest is safety. Many people just don’t feel safe riding on our streets. I had to overcome my fear of riding around cars in places where there isn’t dedicated bicycling infrastructure. Historically, Cascade and its policy work have made a big impact in making Seattle, the Puget Sound region and many communities in Washington safer places to ride. But there is much more work to be done. Pushing investments that make our streets safer is one way that Cascade and Washington Bikes can help break down barriers, along with continuing to push our Vision Zero goals.

What can Cascade do to increase access to bikes, especially for young people in historically underserved communities?

Growing up in Tacoma we had so-called ‘Franken Bikes’ that we put together with spare parts. Nothing teaches engineering skills like needing to fix your bike, especially when it breaks down 10 miles from home. Bike repair is a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) skill. It’s engineering and problem solving. The Major Taylor Project’s Build-a-Bike program is an example of how Cascade teaches engineering skills, and we can work to provide more of those opportunities.

Regarding making inroads into underserved communities and increasing access, we need to develop partnerships with organizations serving communities that haven’t traditionally had access to bicycling opportunities and ask them how we can help. We can listen and learn how to use our complementary strengths to make cycling more accessible. It might be a pop-up bike repair shop, bicycle safety class or advocacy. We have to go where there is need and leverage Cascade’s core competencies in service of our mission.

What excites you about our three pillars of bicycle work: community events, advocacy, and education?

It aligns with my personal passions. I am a policy nerd. I have the patience to see an advocacy goal and work incrementally until we achieve that goal. When I was working with Senator (Maria) Cantwell, we would tour cities and see improvements and new infrastructure that resulted from federal grants that we helped provide. Oftentimes this would be bicycle infrastructure. Sometimes those improvements are slow in coming but we keep working toward them.

As for events, group rides are great. I want to make participating in different Free Group Rides part of my routine, so that I can get input from participants and meet our members, volunteers and ride leaders. It’s fun to be in a big group of people on bikes. Someone described STP as a rolling party. It is that and so much more.

In terms of Cascade’s education work, learning how to repair a bike is a STEM skill. Can you identify and solve a problem? Sometimes it’s easier to do that with a bicycle after school than in the classroom dealing with abstract theory. For younger kids, learning how to ride a bike is a life changing event. It opens up your world, allows you to explore your neighborhood and venture out under your own power. I was astounded to learn that Cascade’s Let’s Go program was teaching 20,000 public school children basic bicycling safety skills prior to the pandemic. That’s a hugely impactful program, and it shows how relevant Cascade is to communities. As schools reopen and in-school learning returns, we will continue to ramp up programs such as Major Taylor and Let’s Go so that we are positively touching lives and giving more kids the opportunity to experience the joy and freedom of exploring their world by bicycle.

Cascade and Washington Bikes can also make a big difference by continuing to advance policy efforts that create more safe places to ride and link communities together with safe bike routes. Safety concerns are a big barrier. I used to commute by bike from north Seattle to the federal building downtown. This was before the 2nd Avenue bike lane and 4th Avenue bike lane. It was nerve wracking sometimes. When the city put those bike lanes in, it changed everything.

Cascade and Washington Bikes have made a commitment to anti-racism and are working to implement our board-approved racial equity plan. What do you see as the opportunities and challenges with our commitment?

I encourage people to read the blog post I wrote at City Year. We are all on a journey. You know you are doing the anti-racism work right if you’re a little uncomfortable. We all need to push ourselves a bit and listen and learn. The organization doesn’t have to be perfect right away. It should be on a continuous improvement journey. I have been pleased to learn about Cascade’s creation of a Racial Equity Committee to improve its internal and external processes and help eliminate systemic racism within Washington’s bicycling community. The way we become a more equitable society is by working to undo racism within our locus of control. We all have a sphere of influence. That’s true if you are a student or an executive director or a mayor. If we all do the work, we will get to a more equitable society.

You’ve managed a $5 million organization with a 25-person staff and 88 Americorps members successfully through the pandemic. What lessons did you learn that you want to bring to Cascade and Washington Bikes?

Prioritize your people. Prioritizing people and focusing on them while leaning into the core mission is what helped us navigate the pandemic.

Climate Justice is one of Cascade’s values. How can Cascade rally the bicycling community to press for greater action to help solve the climate crisis?

If we accept that riding a bike is better for the environment than driving a car, and we acknowledge that there are barriers to riding a bike, then step one in advancing climate justice is through making bicycling safer and more accessible to everyone. Bicycles can be a big part of the solution to lowering our society’s carbon emissions. We also know that underserved communities and communities of color are already being impacted harder by the climate crisis, and that will only worsen. The climate crisis threatens to exacerbate these inequities. If we care about racial equity, we have to help solve the climate crisis.

Climate change is also a direct threat to bicycling. Wildfire smoke has made it unhealthy to exercise outdoors on some days. The heat domes we have experienced this summer made it too hot to safely ride a bike. People who ride bikes in Washington state have historically enjoyed clean air and moderate temperatures. I have lived in Western Washington my entire life and I’ve never experienced smoke or heat like we’ve had recently. If we want our children and grandchildren to enjoy this activity we all love so much, we must do more to transition off of fossil fuels.

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Press Release: Cascade Names Lee Lambert as New Executive Director

  • Lambert takes the helm of Cascade and WA Bikes following a long career in public service and nonprofit leadership.
  • Executive director of City Year Seattle/King County, former staff member for U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell and U.S. Rep. Adam Smith
  • Four-time STP finisher, lifelong bicyclist

SEATTLE — Cascade Bicycle Club, the nation’s largest statewide bicycling nonprofit, and its sister organization Washington Bikes have named Lee Lambert as their new executive director. Lambert, who currently serves as executive director of City Year Seattle/King County, joins Cascade following a long career in state and federal politics and nonprofit leadership focused on education, inclusivity, and youth empowerment.

A lifelong lover of bikes for transportation, recreation, and fitness, and a four-time finisher of Cascade’s iconic Seattle to Portland ride, Lambert officially begins on Sunday, Sept. 12. Cascade members are invited to meet him that day during the Brats & Brews family BBQ and Pedaling On fundraiser at the organization’s Magnuson Park headquarters, starting at 5 p.m.

“As an active bicyclist and follower of state and local government, I have seen the impact that Cascade and Washington Bikes have made in Seattle, the Puget Sound region, and Washington state, where the amount of bicycling infrastructure continues to expand and where more people of all races, ages, genders, and backgrounds are riding bikes than ever before,” Lambert says.

“Washington consistently ranks as one of the most bike friendly states in the nation thanks in large part to Cascade and Washington Bikes’ hard work uniting people to experience the joy of bicycling,” says Lambert. “As we emerge from the pandemic and press forward with efforts to make bicycling and society at large more equitable, we have a tremendous opportunity to use our collective pedal power to drive progress–and use bikes as tools to improve our region’s health, safety, sustainability, and economy.”

Board President Tamara Kim Schmautz lauded Lambert’s experience and commitment to Cascade’s mission of bringing people together to experience the joy of bicycling through transportation, recreation, and friendship. “We are extremely excited and proud to find someone of Lee’s caliber to lead our organization, and help us chart a new path forward for the next 50 years,” she says. “Lee is a lifelong resident of our region who has devoted his career to public service and nonprofit leadership that is uplifting, collaborative, and unifying. We all look forward to pedaling alongside Lee as he begins this new journey.”

Lambert is the first Black Executive Director to lead Cascade in its 51-year history. He joins Cascade following a year in which the organization adopted a new Mission, Vision, and Values that reflects a stronger commitment to racial equity, as well as a Commitment to Anti-Racism.

About Lambert

As the executive director of City Year Seattle/King County since 2018, Lambert led a team of 25 staffers and 88 Americorps members while overseeing a budget of $5 million. Prior to City Year, Lambert served as director of the Washington STEM Network, managing a $2 million grant portfolio and advancing efforts to increase educational and career opportunities for systemically underserved students.

Lambert also served as the founding director of the Washington College Access Network, while working for the College Success Foundation. Prior to his nonprofit career, Lambert worked for U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell as the Washington state special projects manager and grants coordinator. He previously worked for U.S. Rep. Adam Smith as a constituent services representative.

Lambert has a masters degree in public administration from Seattle University and a BA in political science from Washington State University. He lives in Shoreline with his wife and two teenage children, and he owns three bikes–including a tandem upon which he and his wife rode STP twice. Lambert learned to ride bikes in a church parking lot. He grew up in Tacoma, where he began exploring the region by bicycle, thanks to the mentorship of an uncle, Andrew Lambert. He has ridden bikes throughout his life for transportation, commuting, recreation, and fitness.

About Cascade

Cascade Bicycle Club, the nation’s largest statewide bicycling nonprofit, serves bike riders of all ages, races, genders, income levels, and abilities throughout the state of Washington. We teach the joys of bicycling, advocate for safe places to ride, and produce world-class rides and events. Our signature programs include the Seattle to Portland, Free Group Rides, the Pedaling Relief Project, the Advocacy Leadership Institute, the Bike Walk Roll Summit, Let’s Go, and the Major Taylor Project. cascade.org

About Washington Bikes

Washington Bikes increases investments to build and maintain bicycle connections as well as safe places to walk and roll; provides tools for local advocates to improve their communities; and promotes the health, safety, and economic benefits of bicycling. Our work and that of our many partner organizations means more people biking all across Washington, the #1 Bicycle Friendly State in America (every year since 2008)!

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One Year After a Driver Killed Her Husband, a Widow Speaks About the Need for Safer Roads

Teena Johnson of Tacoma urges people driving to be more cautious around people on bikes, and for car owners to buy Share the Road plates. Moreover, she wants elected leaders to invest in safer streets.

After a year of grief and healing, Teena Johnson is stepping forward to speak about the car crash that killed her husband as he rode his bicycle near Port Orchard.

“I want to speak out now and put a personal face on this issue. I want to spare others the same pain,” Johnson says.

Her message: people driving must be more cautious around people on bikes. And state, county and local governments must make our streets safer for bicycles.

Thomas Johnson, 56, died on May 9, 2020, after being hit from behind by an impaired hit-and-run driver. “Thomas loved to ride, and he was doing everything he needed to do that day to be safe,” Teena Johnson says.

Thomas was a safety-conscious rider who bicycled for health, happiness, transportation, and friendship, she says. “Thomas would have wanted me to speak out. People riding bikes are vulnerable and we are not doing enough to protect them.”

Thomas was also vocal about the need to make roads safer for people on bikes. Before heading out on his last ride, he wrote a social media post about a car crash that severely injured a member of the Tacoma bicycling community.

Thomas bought a Share the Road license plate for his car, Teena says. She encourages more people, especially people who ride frequently, to buy a Share the Road plate as well. “We need to do whatever we can to make drivers more aware of bikes on the road.”

Washington Bikes’ affiliate Cascade Bicycle Club encourages its members and all Washingtonians to get a Share the Road plate. Cascade receives $28 from the sale of every Share the Road plate by the state Department of Licensing. The revenues go directly to Cascade’s advocacy work promoting more bicycle infrastructure and safer streets.

Read about the history of Washington’s Share the Road plates and the 13-year-old boy whose death inspired them in our 2020 story, “The Legacy of Cooper Jones: How a Family’s Loss Led to Washington’s ‘Share the Road’ License Plates.”

A Police Officer at the Door

Johnson agreed to speak about the day of her husband’s death in the hope that sharing the story of her family’s painful loss will touch others and encourage people driving to empathize with people on bikes. “Thomas was a vocal advocate for biking and bike safety for the whole 25 years that I knew him,” Teena says, “and my kids and I hope to carry that forward for him as best we can.”

It was a beautiful day for a ride on Saturday, May 9, 2020, when Thomas pedaled away from home in Tacoma, crossed the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and headed through Gig Harbor toward Port Orchard. He and Teena planned to have dinner upon his return.

Thomas rode with a rear-view camera, a gift from Teena, on his bike. A growing number of road riders use these cameras to record the actions of cars behind or around them, so that the footage can be used by law enforcement in the event of a dangerous incident. “Thomas was very aware of the fact that many drivers who kill people on bikes get away with it and are never prosecuted because there is no evidence. Thomas had the camera on and it recorded the whole incident,” Teena says.

As Thomas rode on the shoulder of Bethel-Burley Road, a designated bike route, a car driven by a man who apparently fell asleep at the wheel drifted right and crashed into him. Thomas was found dead at the scene. The driver was arrested about a mile down the road.

When Thomas failed to return home on time, Teena repeatedly called him. No answer. Several hours later, a police officer wearing a chaplain’s badge showed up at their home. “The police were able to find me because of the RoadID bracelet that Thomas had on him,” says Teena, who recommends these bracelets.

The hours and days following were a blur. Teena called her adult children and alerted Thomas’s parents. Due to the pandemic, his parents, who are in their 80s, were unable to visit. COVID-19 also made it impossible to hold a proper funeral.

“These deadly crashes affect so many people. It’s not just the family that is impacted. There is a ripple effect through the community–friends, co-workers, acquaintances,” Teena says.

In March, a judge accepted a guilty plea from the man who killed Thomas and sentenced him to nine years in prison for vehicular homicide. In addition to family members, several of Thomas’s cycling friends addressed the court, telling the judge that they are haunted by the crash. Some said they are bicycling less.

In May, during National Bike Month, Teena spoke out publicly for the first time about the crash and its impact by writing a letter to the Tacoma Tribune. She was critical of a newspaper headline that focused on the “friction” between people driving and people bicycling.

She dislikes the “us versus them” attitude that some people have when driving cars. The anger or annoyance that some drivers show toward people riding bikes on the streets must stop, she says. People on bikes have a right to be on our streets.

“Because I have to, I urge all drivers to imagine that is your spouse, your child or your friend cycling on the road as you pass by and that you show them the care you would with your own loved ones,” she wrote. She added that “it is our duty as members of a community, and human beings, to watch out for those who are more vulnerable.”

A Birthday Memorial, Back on the Bike

A ghost bike has been erected at the crash site, and many people continue to leave messages and mementos to Thomas. He would have turned 58 next month.

The Johnson family and friends plan to hold a memorial on his birthday, July 17, in Tacoma’s Point Defiance Park. Teena says that anyone who wants to bicycle to the gathering is welcomed. She hopes for a big turnout in remembrance of Thomas.

Teena Johnson only recently worked up the courage to get back on a bike. She enjoys riding with her children and family members. “I didn’t want to ride at all last summer, and even now I’m very nervous riding near cars.”

She recently bought an electric bike. The electric boost is nice. It reminds her of the boost Thomas provided when they rode together. On long hills, Thomas would ride beside her and put his hand on Teena’s back or the rear of her saddle. He would give her a gentle push so they could reach the top together.

More Information:

Washington Bikes is grateful to Teena Johnson for sharing her story. We encourage our members and the broader bicycling community to buy a Share the Road plate when renewing their automobile registration through the Washington Department of Licensing.

People driving motor vehicles killed 12 people on bikes in Washington in 2020, according to the state traffic safety commission. That’s three more deaths than in 2019, but slightly down from a five-year average that had been steadily climbing.

Motor vehicles have killed at least two people riding bikes in Seattle this year. Read our stories about the memorial rides and ghost bikes erected in their honor in Georgetown and Seward Park.

Washington Bikes works to pass policies and increase funding statewide for safe bicycling infrastructure and safer streets. To reduce fatalities, Washington Bikes and Cascade Bicycle Club support Vision Zero efforts of the state and local governments to eliminate fatal car crashes that kill people walking and riding bikes. Seattle has taken a step in the right direction by lowering speed limits on most arterial streets to 25 mph. Reductions in motor vehicle speeds directly correlate with fewer fatalities for people both bicycling and walking.

Protected bike lanes such as the one being constructed around Seattle’s Green Lake are likewise effective at reducing fatalities. In Tacoma, where Teena Johnson lives, the city recently completed the Pipeline Trail, but there is a big lack of safe bicycling infrastructure citywide and across Pierce County. Tacoma residents interested in working to make streets safer for people on bicycles should consider joining the Tacoma Bicycle Pedestrian Technical Advisory Group.


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Seattle’s Traffic Engineer is a Bike Rider with a Vision for Safer Streets

  • Dongho Chang is a South Korean immigrant and bike commuter with Twitter celebrity status among active transportation nerds.
  • We took a spin with Chang during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month to learn about his efforts to improve safety for people walking and biking, and his first memories of riding a bike as a boy.

As one of the primary public officials working to make bicycling safer in Seattle, it’s ironic that Dongho Chang crashed on his first bike ride.

He was a 9-year-old boy living in South Korea, where his family lived prior to immigrating to Washington. Chang sold all of his toys to get enough money to rent a bike the day before his family moved. “It’s still one of my most vivid and favorite memories,” he says. 

Inexperienced, Chang lost control and crashed into a store. “My dad was really upset with me. I was in BIG trouble. But I was secretly happy that I finally got to ride a bike.”

These days, it’s Chang’s job to help avoid crashes. As the City Traffic Engineer for the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), Chang is involved with nearly all SDOT projects that involve changes to street infrastructure, signals and signage, bike lanes, crosswalks, and more.

Chang commutes by bicycle year-round and, when not riding, is a regular user of mass transit who walks daily with his wife. 

I met up with Chang to check out the construction progress on a multimodal project that will improve safety for people who bike, walk, roll–and drive–around Green Lake, one of the city’s most popular parks and recreation areas.

“Everything we are trying to do is engineer a safer environment for people,” he says.

While critics of Seattle’s car-centric streets have legitimate gripes about the slow pace of change, especially in the underserved neighborhoods of South Seattle, there is no disputing that the city is in the midst of a transformation in how people move through the urban environment on foot, by bike, and by mass transit. According to SDOT, the city plans to add 12 to 21 miles of bike facilities this year as part of its Bicycle Master Plan, including near the new Northgate and University District light rail stations. 

Green Lake Two-Way Bike Lane

We meet at the southern end of Green Lake where the street forks around either side of the lake. The city is building a 1.8-mile, two-way bike lane on the eastern side of the lake. “Once you put in a more comfortable and safe facility, more people will use it,” Chang says.

New concrete sidewalks, curbs, and bike ramps have been installed along with crosswalks and traffic signals, plus a push-button bicycle crossing signal, amongst other improvements. Temporary orange traffic cones currently separate the two-way bike lane from cars. In the future, flexible bollards will be installed, “and eventually we will want to put in hard curbing all the way,” Chang adds, separating cars from bikes along the path’s entire length.  

Chang rides up one of the many new bike ramps installed along Green Lake.

Although the work is continuing, it already feels safer to ride around Green Lake. Not long ago there was car parking on both sides of the street. People on bikes had to ride in the door zone, with motor vehicles whizzing past. Now the bike lanes are consolidated on the lake side.

“Let’s go ride it,” says Chang, who rides a utilitarian, steel-framed road bike. It’s his second bike of the same model. The first one was stolen while locked up during a night meeting related to the 2nd Avenue protected bike lane project–an infrastructure upgrade supported by Cascade that has vastly improved riding through downtown.

We proceed northward up the two-way bike lane, passing people walking, jogging, riding bikes and pushing baby strollers. We stop at the intersection of Ravenna Boulevard and East Green Lake Way North. In the past it was a baffling and dangerous intersection. Cars funnel through from four directions at odd angles, mixing with people crossing the street and riding through on bikes. To make it safer, the city has poured tons of concrete to shrink the road for cars and extend the pedestrian islands.

“It was a really wide and confusing intersection before, and it was hard for pedestrians to cross. People driving are now having to slow down. We are trying to maximize the space for pedestrians, make the car turns as slow as possible,” Chang says. 

“This is what Vision Zero is all about. Engineering the streets so pedestrians have the right of way, where crosswalks are clear, so that even as a bicycle rider you need to pay attention to pedestrians and yield to them,” Chang says. “We want to slow everyone down, reduce the crossing distance, make drivers take turns in a slow and predictable manner.”

Chang inspects the striping being painted by workers along the Green Lake two-way bike lane.

We pedal onward, and Chang stops to chat with city workers painting a crosswalk. He snaps a photo and, sure enough, the image ends up in his Twitter feed a few hours later. 

A Twitter Following

With more than 10,000 Twitter followers, Chang is hardly a Bieber-level social media influencer, but he is well-known among active transportation nerds. He posts photos of new curbs, crosswalks, bollards, bus stops, street realignments, signage and more.

The Seattle Times called Chang’s Twitter feed “a catalog of changes to Seattle’s street grid and urban landscape. Almost all those changes are small, but when taken together, they paint a picture of a city in transformation, one less focused on fast car travel and more focused on making streets safe and reliable for walkers, bikers, bus riders and drivers.”

Chang says his tweets are an important source of public comments. “We get a lot of feedback that is very helpful, and we learn about things we are doing well, but we also get feedback that tells us what we need to improve.”

Chang is well-known in the active transportation community. We bumped into Maxwell Burton, manager of Cascade Bicycle Club’s Pedaling Relief Project, during our ride and a discussion about protected bike lanes ensued.

We pedal onward to the northern tip of the lake, where another previously confusing intersection is being re-engineered with better signage, crosswalks, extended sidewalks, and a continuation of the bike lane up to 80th Street, where it intersects with another protected bike lake. 

All of this work around the lake is part of the city’s Green Lake and Wallingford Paving and Multi-Modal Improvements Project. While the project will improve safety and connectivity for the relatively affluent neighborhoods surrounding Green Lake, there is a huge need for similar work in South Seattle. Cascade and other organizations are urging faster action to build safe networks through Georgetown, SODO, Beacon Hill, the Rainier Valley, and South Park. 

Chang hears the criticism loud and clear. Two days earlier, Chang attended a memorial ride for a person killed by a hit-and-run driver in South Seattle, where he spoke about the need for safer bike infrastructure.   

“We need to do more of these projects, especially in our underserved communities in South Seattle,” Chang says. “Connectivity and safety for people on bikes is important. As our city grows we need to think about the values of our society and how we reflect those values in how we build our streets and services, and how we make our society more equitable.”

Childhood Memories of Learning to Ride

As a family man and longtime resident of Seattle who has worked for the city for almost 10 years, Chang certainly wants to make Seattle safer and more equitable for his own family. May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, providing the opportunity for us to speak about his immigration story. Chang and his wife have two children, and they live in a bilingual household with Chang’s mother. “We recognize special holidays and make traditional meals, and we also recognize that the United States is a huge cultural melting pot,” he says. 

Then he laughs: “But my kids are truly American. They haven’t taken on the Korean culture as much as we would hope, but maybe later in life.”

When Chang arrived with his family in Olympia as a child, he quickly tried to learn a few words of English so that he could talk to a neighborhood boy who owned a bike. “I made an instant new friend,” Chang says. “We made ramps with plywood and cinder blocks and took turns jumping and crashing.” 

Those childhood days of riding a bike turned into a lifelong pursuit. As an adult, Chang enjoys the ease of getting around by bike, the friendships it helps form, “and the joy and relaxation that the simple act of pedaling brings,” he says. “I’m so glad that I got a chance to crash that rental bike as a boy.”

The Recipe Book for Roads

Seattle’s bike community can also be happy for that childhood crash. In addition to working to increase the safety of Seattle’s streets, Chang is among the urban traffic engineers who are urging big changes to the federal guidelines that determine the design of American streets. 

The Federal Highway Administration is in the midst of revising one of the main playbooks for traffic engineers such as Chang–the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. It has been called the recipe book for roads, and many safe streets activists and bicycling advocates feel it is outdated and in need of a major overhaul. Many standards in the manual reflect the car-centric philosophy of previous generations.

“That manual has consequences for our streets. How we design our bike facilities is mandated in many ways by that manual. What we hear from the community is that we should separate users where we can, and make those separation barriers more robust. But the manual is sometimes telling us the opposite.”

Tens of thousands of individuals, organizations, and agencies provided comments to the Federal Highway Administration about revising the manual. SDOT provided comments, as did Chang personally. He is hopeful that U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg will help direct federal transportation priorities toward a more multi-modal philosophy of street design. 

“We have a lot of work to do,” Chang says.

Our time finished, Chang rides away to look at another traffic intersection, snap some photos for Twitter, and get back to work on the long process of making Seattle safer for people on bikes. With every pedal stroke he lives out the dreams of that 9-year-old boy learning to ride, and preparing to embark on a new life in a faraway land.

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Share Your Inspiring Work at the 2021 Washington Bike Walk Roll Summit!

We are requesting proposals for the virtual 2021 Washington Bike, Walk, Roll Summit. Submit a proposal today and help us build stronger, more sustainable, more connected communities across Washington.

The 2020 Washington Bike, Walk, Roll Summit brought together more than 600 community advocates, transportation professionals, and planners for our first-ever virtual summit. Thanks to our incredible speakers, thoughtful panels, and engaged audiences we were able to have in-depth conversations on everything from bike connections through Yakama Nation to policing in transportation. Expanding our focus to include folks walking and rolling allowed us to build stronger connections and brainstorm equitable and accessible solutions for communities across Washington.

This year’s summit will be held virtually from September 27 to October 1 and will highlight the intersections between transportation, climate, housing, public health, and more in order to fully understand how we build and rebuild communities as the United States begins to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our 2021 Request for Proposals is now open until July 2, and we welcome submissions from the public, private, non-profit, and academic sectors. We’re looking to hear from communities large and small, rural and urban, and everywhere in between! The work, stories, and experiences of advocates, engineers, and community leaders around the state will help us envision and create a state that is resilient, sustainable, and equitable.

Check out the panel conversations from last year, and share your proposals today!
Please send us your completed proposals by Friday, July 2, and stay tuned for more updates and information about the 2021 Washington Bike, Walk, Roll Summit.

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Significant Progress for People who Bike in a Challenging Legislative Session!

$10 million increase to Safe Routes to Schools and bike and pedestrian grants.

The 2021 Washington state legislative session was held in a mostly virtual manner due to COVID-19 pandemic. In January, legislative leaders began the session promising to deliver progress on: the COVID-19 response, economic recovery, racial equity, and climate change. Investments and reforms that passed included a low-carbon fuel standard, early learning and childcare program expansions, a host of police accountability and reform measures, and critical expenditures to address the impacts of the pandemic.

While federal stimulus dollars and revenues from healthy segments of the economy bolstered the operating budget, the transportation budget was hit hard by the pandemic. Gas taxes, toll revenues, ferry fares, and other fees and revenue sources that fund transportation infrastructure were depressed due to less driving and traveling.

These budget constraints and revenue declines added urgency to the need for a transportation investment package that Washington Bikes supported. It came down to the last days of session and in the end the two chambers did not reach agreement on a final transportation investments package. We worked throughout the 105-day session to lobby legislators on behalf of greater investment in safe streets, accessible routes for people of all ages and abilities, and multimodal investments that strengthen communities.

Even though a final package didn’t pass during the 2021 legislative session, our voices were heard. Many Washington Bikes supporters spoke up throughout the session in support of active transportation programs. Many of our funding priorities made it into the House version of the transportation investment package. Over the 105 days we saw Senate transportation leaders move in the direction we’d been asking, and in the final committee hearing on the transportation investments package they expressed a desire to increase spending for active transportation priorities in a final version of the package. We are in a good position to achieve progress when this conversation resumes.

Meantime, the two-year transportation budget contained a big win for bikes: a $10 million increase in the active transportation grants programs. The Safe Routes to School and the pedestrian and bike grant programs are consistently over-subscribed. These grants pay for projects such as sidewalks, bike lanes or safe routes, street crossing improvements, and ADA accessibility improvements. Washington Bikes was able to help secure this increase despite a final 2021-2023 transportation budget that was defined by its austerity.

Washington Bikes will continue to advocate for increased investments in active transportation as new revenue becomes available. Meantime, we are grateful that the legislative leaders acknowledged the need to increase bike and pedestrian infrastructure funding.

There is a big demand for Washington’s active transportation funds. The last grant cycle marked the highest number of requests ever for these dollars. The pandemic has changed how people move through their communities and the state. More people are biking and walking. At the same time, crash data indicates safety is declining for people who walk, bike, and roll. While we held our ground and had some small victories during the 2021 session, much work remains.
Check back for updates on a transportation investments proposal. There is a possibility that the Legislature might convene for a special session to pass a transportation investments package. We’ll keep you updated as we learn more.

2021 Policy Priorities at a Glance:

HB 1330: We wrote about our support for this electric bike sales tax exemption (read our blog post) that would make e-bikes more affordable to more people. The bill was approved by the House, but didn’t make it out of the Senate.
SB 5472: Electric bikes are banned on some state lands. This bill directs the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Department of Natural Resources, to study and collect information about e-bike use on lands they manage, with the goal of determining where e-bike use may occur and which classes of e-bikes are acceptable. Delivered to the governor for signature.
HB 1301: Signed by the governor, this bill seeks to decriminalize transit fare enforcement. It allows a regional transit authority (RTA) to establish an alternative fare enforcement system, allowing for the issuance of a notice of violation rather than a criminal penalty that can disproportionately harm individuals unable to afford a fare. This law goes into effect on July 25, 2021.
HB 1099: Improving the state’s climate response through updates to the state’s comprehensive planning framework. This bill passed the House, but didn’t make it out of the Senate.

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Solidarity with our AAPI Community

Cascade Bicycle Club and Washington Bikes stand in solidarity with Washington’s Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community and are heartbroken by the racism and violence that led to eight people dying in Atlanta. 

We have been listening to local community leaders, and know the violence and racism targeting those who were killed in Atlanta is happening here in the Pacific Northwest, too. Local businesses have been targeted; elders and community members fear for their lives. More must be done by elected leaders to hold those who target AAPI community members accountable. 

But this scourge of anti-AAPI hatred goes beyond the acts of violence and aggression that increased after the introduction of COVID-19 into our communities; it is baked into our history as a country and as a region. From the Page Act of 1875 — our country’s first federal immigration law, which specifically banned Asian women — to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to the Japanese Internment Camps during WWII to the American occupation of the Philippines, this history goes deep. It is important to learn our history so we do not repeat it. 

Today, inadequate safety infrastructure for people biking disproportionately impacts the AAPI community and other communities of color, while white communities face less policing and have more protected bike routes. Negative discourse around Chinese bike manufacturing can emerge while bikes and manufacturing parts from other countries are presumed OK. While 10 percent of Cascade’s major rides participants identify as AAPI, we don’t have specific outreach strategies for those communities. We can — and should — do better. 

Beyond sharing the resources we have added below, Cascade and WA Bikes are committing to three ongoing systems of improvement that we believe will make our community safer for all who join our rides and programs:

  1. A Riders Code of Ethics. This will help establish group norms and a code of expected conduct for all who participate in our activities and events.
  2. A complaint submission form. This will enable riders who participate in events to report micro or macro aggressions and any racist or exclusionary behavior.
  3. Anti-racism trainings for Cascade and WA Bikes Board, Staff, and high-level volunteers.
  4. Goals to translate materials and advertise with local community newspapers


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WA Bikes Supporting Legislation to Make Electric Bikes More Affordable

  • Electric bikes are a practical and healthy solution for addressing the climate crisis and transforming Washington’s transportation sector–the state’s largest source of carbon emissions.
  • Submit testimony in support of the e-bike bill before its next hearing on March 23.

What hill?

Washington Bikes is encouraging its members to support a bill that would reduce the cost of electric bikes, with the goal of boosting e-bike sales and enabling more people to pedal rather than drive.

HB 1330 would exempt e-bikes, which can cost several thousand dollars, from Washington’s 6.5 percent sales tax, making them affordable to more people. The bill has passed the House and will be deliberated next Tuesday, March 23, by the Senate Ways and Means Committee, which would have to approve the legislation before it could be sent to the full Senate for a vote.

“The more we make this emerging technology affordable, the less we have to worry about traffic, parking, greenhouse gas emissions, and steep car payments,” says the bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Sharon Shewmake of Bellingham. Shewmake, elected in 2018, is an avid e-bike rider and a Washington Bikes champion in the state Legislature.

Members and supporters of Washington Bikes are encouraged to contact their state senator to voice support for the measure. Individuals can also give their thumbs up to the Ways and Means Committee by going to this link, clicking “pro” on the Position menu, then filling in their name and information.

“It’s a win for our wallets, the environment, our health, and people who just want to get around town easily,” Rep. Shewmake says.

Why E-Bikes?

Hugely popular in bike-friendly European nations, e-bikes are less common in the United States, where their sales are growing. E-bikes must be pedaled like regular bikes, but they provide a boost that amplifies a rider’s power, making them a practical solution for replacing cars for commuting and running errands, especially in the hilly Pacific Northwest.

If passed, the exemption would take effect Aug. 1, 2021 and expire in 2027, or when $500,000 in sales tax exemptions have been granted.

Bike manufacturers and e-bike shops are speaking up in favor of the legislation. “These tax incentives will help lower the cost of acquiring an e-bike, making a purchase accessible to many more riders in the state,” says Larry Pizzi, chief commercial officer for Alta Cycling, the Kent-based parent company of bike brands including Diamondback and IZIP. “E-bike trips will replace car trips, easing congestion on our highways, benefiting the environment and improving riders’ health.”

Brian Nordwall, owner of Seattle E-Bike, says he has potential customers for whom the sales tax exemption would make a big difference. “The social, health, and environmental benefits of this bill would far outweigh the loss of revenue to the state,” he says.

Supporters point to the subsidies Washington provides to the buyers of electric cars as a precedent for passing this bill into law. Washington provides up to $2,500 in sales tax incentives for purchasing electric cars. The state sales tax incentive is in addition to a federal tax credit of up to $7,500 for buying an electric car. “We already provide exemptions to electric vehicles in Washington state, and we should do the same for e-bikes,” Shewmake says.

Cars and the Climate Crisis

Increased use of electric bikes could help solve the climate crisis, which is being driven in large part by gasoline-powered motor vehicles.

Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Washington state, accounting for nearly 45 percent of the state’s emissions in 2018. Transportation is likewise the biggest source of carbon emission in the United States, accounting for 29 percent of the U.S. carbon footprint, with gasoline alone comprising 22 percent of the U.S. carbon emissions.

More than 45 percent of car trips in the United States are three miles or less, according to the National Household Travel Survey, while more than 20 percent are one mile or less. A large percentage of these trips could be accomplished with an electric bike by people of all ages.

A study conducted in Portland, Ore., estimated the city’s carbon emissions would drop by 12 percent if electric bikes were used to replace 15 percent of car trips. “These estimates show that e-bikes have the potential to help cities and regions achieve their climate goals,” the study’s authors wrote.

A survey of e-bike owners by the National Institute for Transportation and Communities shows that, once people have an electric bike, they use their cars less. Electric bike owners ride more often, and they feel safer riding the streets on an electric bike than a traditional bicycle. Respondents said that 76 percent of their e-bike trips would have otherwise been made by car.

“It doesn’t get treated as a serious commute mode, but it is,” says Rep. Shewmake, a professor of environmental economics at Western State University in Bellingham. “I lost 10 pounds and began riding it everywhere after I got an e-bike.”

E-Bike Subsidies Work

Washington’s e-bike bill is part of a growing national and international effort to boost the use of e-bikes as car replacing vehicles. The U.S. Congress is considering an e-bike bill. The Electric Bicycle Incentive Kickstart for the Environment (E-BIKE) Act would give a 30 percent tax credit up to the amount of $1,500 for an e-bike purchase.

E-bike subsidies are also popular in Europe. In Sweden, a government subsidy caused sales to increase by more than 50 percent. England is preparing to introduce subsidies for e-bike purchases. Oslo, Norway, has offered subsidies for residents to buy electric cargo bikes–the so-called pickup trucks or minivans of e-bikes due to their hauling capacity.

An electric cargo bike for hauling heavy items.

California passed a bill in 2019 that provides residents of low-income communities up to $7,500 to buy an e-bike or join a bike-share program if they trade in their car. The California Legislature is now considering the E-Bike Affordability Bill, which would create a $10 million fund to help individuals buy electric bikes.

Rep. Shewmake’s bill would also provide a sales tax exemption for up to $200 in cycling equipment including helmets, lights, and locks. She called it bipartisan legislation. “Definitely contact your senator, send them an email, and share your personal story if you have an e-bike.”

Learn More and Support the Bill!

Read Rep. Shewmake’s bill and follow its progress in the Senate.
Submit a comment on the bill.
Submit a “Pro” position to the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

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Helmets Yes, Helmet Laws No

  • Washington Bikes and Cascade Bicycle Club encourage and support helmet use but oppose criminalizing people who don’t wear head protection.
  • Please read our Q&A about why we feel helmet laws are unjust, and how they distract from the more important issues of road safety and motor vehicle speeds.

If we distilled Washington Bikes’ new position on bike helmets down to a bumper sticker, it might read: Helmets Yes. Helmet Laws No.

As Alexander Lew of the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board told the Seattle Times: “I wear a helmet every time I ride a bike, but it shouldn’t be something that is criminalized.”

A lively debate has erupted online and in the media about the pros and cons of repealing the King County bicycle helmet ordinance. In addition to the Seattle Times, media outlets including Bicycle Retailer and Industry News, the Seattle Bike Blog, and Crosscut have written about the issue.

There has also been progress: the King County Board of Health, which enacted the law in 1993, is now reviewing the helmet ordinance, with the possibility of repealing or changing it.

Unfortunately, there has been confusion about the law, its harmful impacts and unintended consequences, and why Washington Bikes and Cascade support the effort to review and repeal. To clarify our intent and rationale, we’ve created a Q&A:

Is Washington Bikes anti-helmet?

No! We encourage everyone who can afford a bike helmet to wear one. And we continue to require them to participate in our events. In addition, Cascade will continue providing them to youths involved with its Major Taylor Project and Let’s Go programs, as well as providing helmets free of charge to Learn to Ride participants.

If you encourage helmet use, why are you supporting the effort to repeal the King County law?

We believe the helmet law was enacted with good intentions in 1993, but we have learned a lot in the nearly three decades since. Nationally and locally, we have seen other cities repeal or alter their helmet laws due to evidence of racial bias in enforcement, with Black, Indigenous, and People of Color often ticketed and stopped at higher rates. Last year, Tacoma, Wash., repealed its bicycle helmet law.

In light of these developments, our board of directors approved a policy position calling for the repeal of the King County law, which led to our staff joining the King County Helmet Law Working Group and local coalitions working to examine the King County law and its enforcement in Seattle. This effort is guided by our  Commitment to Anti-Racism.

A researcher with the King County Helmet Law Working Group, Ethan Campbell, recently released the results of his lengthy and exhaustive study of helmet ordinance infractions issued by Seattle police. Campbell’s data shows that Black people have been ticketed at a rate nearly four times greater than white people, despite the fact that Black people make fewer bike trips in Seattle. The law has also been used to target homeless populations.

Due to this data showing racial bias in enforcement and the targeting of vulnerable populations, Cascade and Washington Bikes decided to publicly support the effort to repeal the King County law, and to speak out on behalf of efforts to decriminalize bike riding in Seattle and King County.

In addition to racial bias, socioeconomic factors are also important to consider. Bike helmets are expensive. Should a person coping with homelessness be criminalized for riding a bike to their job without a helmet?

But don’t helmet laws make bicycling safer?

No. We found no conclusive data to support the claim that places with bike helmet laws are safer. In fact, helmet laws may make bike riding more dangerous by discouraging some people from riding and thus reducing the “safety in numbers” effect. This is why groups including Transportation Alternatives for Safe Streets for Families oppose mandatory helmet laws. Places where more people ride bikes tend to be safer, and helmet laws can have the negative consequence of shrinking the number of people who ride. This is contrary to Cascade’s mission, and to the public health goal of encouraging more people to bicycle.

OK, helmet laws don’t improve safety, but does wearing a helmet make you safer?

It sounds like an easy question, but it’s actually quite complex. First we must separate the issue of head protection from safety. Head protection is just one aspect of safety. In some types of crashes, helmets have been shown to protect people from head injuries and reduce the severity of head injuries. That is why Cascade encourages individuals to wear a helmet, and why it requires them at its events, and why it provides them for free to youths in its programs.

However, helmets are not designed to protect people riding bikes from the most frequent cause of fatalities–being hit or run over by a person driving a motor vehicle. “There are many misconceptions about helmets, unfortunately,” a spokesperson for helmet maker Giro told CyclingIndustry.news. “We do not design helmets specifically to reduce chances or severity of injury when impacts involve a car.”

Unfortunately, deaths from vehicles hitting people walking and biking have risen nationally in recent years. Researchers point to several trends: distracted driving, more SUVs and larger vehicles on the road that have more blind spots and which inflict greater harm when striking individuals, and an increase in the number of miles being driven by Americans. In short, the behaviors of people behind the wheel and trends in American vehicle use pose the greatest danger to people on bikes.

A Dutch study showed that people wearing helmets are actually more likely to be injured when wearing a helmet. That’s because Dutch people rarely wear a helmet when bicycling to town, but they do wear helmets when mountain biking or riding competitively. Wearing a helmet, the researchers theorize, may induce people to take more risks when bicycling. The study shows how statistics can be misleading, and it illustrates how the issue of helmet wearing defies knee-jerk reactions and dogma.

So how do we make it safer to ride bikes?

The European nations of the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany show the answer: protected and safe infrastructure, and policies that encourage more people–especially women–to ride bikes. In these three countries helmet use is extremely low, people ride more often than in the United States, but fatalities are much lower. In the United States, where the percentage of people who wear a helmet is far higher, the fatality rate is more than three times greater. This data shows that helmets are not the key to safe bicycling. This is why Cascade and Washington Bikes advocate for more protected bike lanes, more funding for safe bicycling infrastructure, and laws such as the Safety Stop.

Does that mean we should stop wearing helmets?

No! We will continue wearing ours, but it should be an individual choice. If safety is the goal, we should all focus our efforts on reducing the incidence of people driving motor vehicles striking people on bikes. Helmet laws have “distracted from the much more important work of designing safer streets and reducing motor vehicle speeds in cities,” says Streetsblog. This is why Cascade supports the effort underway in Seattle to reduce arterial speeds to 25 mph.

Washington Bikes encourages its members to do further research and reading. Helmets are not a panacea for safety. We acknowledge that Cascade advocated for the helmet law when it was implemented and that it will take education to undo the common assumptions about helmets and safety. The behaviors of people driving, however, appear to be highly relevant to the safety of people on bikes. This study shows that people driving are more likely to drive closer to people on bikes wearing helmets, while giving people not wearing helmets more space. Helmets, that study would indicate, cause people to drive more dangerously.

If enforcement is the problem, why not fix enforcement instead of repealing the law?

This question deserves discussion. The number of helmet citations has declined over the past decade, from a peak of 789 in 2011, down to 118 in 2019, and just 17 through June of 2020, the last date for which Campbell collected data. The reduction in tickets issued, however, does not mean police are stopping and questioning fewer people for not wearing a helmet. Just a fraction of stops result in citations, Campbell says. As long as the law is on the books, “there is nothing preventing the police department from increasing enforcement, and for those vulnerable populations it’s still an issue as long as this law is on the books,” explains Campbell.

At a time of budget cuts and national discussion about the role of law enforcement, is it the best use of limited resources to have police stopping and ticketing people for not wearing a helmet?

If King County repeals the law, could we replace it with incentives to wear helmets?

“Repeal and replace” is one of the issues being discussed by the Helmet Law Working Group. Ideas include education about the benefits of helmets, and incentives that would lower the cost of helmets. Virginia Tech runs one of the most respected helmet testing programs, and its top four rated helmets range in price from $50 to $240. Some individuals can’t afford that expense. Cars come equipped with seatbelts, making the decision to wear them easy. Bicycles do not come with helmets.

How can I get involved or learn more about the King County helmet law?

The King County Board of Health meets on the third Thursday of the month at 1 p.m., with the next meeting scheduled for March 18. People can give public comment thanking the board for adding the issue to their agenda and share their thoughts. Individuals can also email Board of Health members directly.

More Information:

Pro bicyclist Phil Gaimon articulates the “victim blaming” attitude of the media and law enforcement when cars strike people on bicycles. We urge you to watch it.

New York Times story on the rising death toll from motor vehicles hitting people walking and bicycling.

Streetsblog article: “More Evidence That Helmet Laws Don’t Work.

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Cascade and Washington Bikes Support Decriminalizing Helmet Use

  • A new study shows that Black people have been disproportionately ticketed in Seattle for violating King County’s helmet ordinance.
  • Washington Bikes urges its members to learn about the negative impacts of bicycle helmet laws on communities of color.
  • Cascade and WA Bikes fully support helmet use, but want to decriminalize their useage. 

Seattle police have stopped and ticketed Black people for not wearing bicycle helmets at a rate about four times greater than for white people since 2003, according to data obtained by the King County Helmet Law Working Group, of which Washington Bikes is a member.

Black people represent about eight percent of Seattle’s population but they received more than 17 percent of the tickets for violating the bicycle helmet law, the group found after reviewing Seattle Municipal Court data on 1,667 helmet infractions.

The disproportionate ticketing of Black people riding bikes is even more notable in light of the group’s data that shows Black people make less than five percent of all the bike rides in Seattle. Due to this new data and a growing body of evidence showing that helmet laws disproportionately impact communities of color across the country, Cascade Bicycle Club and Washington Bikes are working with the Helmet Law Working Group to gather data and community input to create a process for decriminalizing helmet use in King County and Seattle.

The Helmet Law Working Group was formed last summer by Central Seattle Greenways, a member of the Seattle Neighborhood Greenways coalition, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement and its focus on racism in policing. Members include Cascade and its sister organization Washington Bikes, Real Change, and individuals from other transportation and equity-focused groups. Cascade and Washington Bikes are participating as part of their Commitment to Anti-Racism and with support from the Board of Directors to pursue initiatives that decriminalize helmet use.

The group’s data analysis was done by Ethan Campbell, a 26-year-old University of Washington Ph.D. student who got involved with the issue last summer after joining with other bike riders to support the Black Lives Matter protests. Campbell produced a Technical Report explaining the methodology and findings. He hopes to refine the study and submit it to a peer-reviewed journal for publication.

People who would like to share their thoughts about the helmet law in King County, which Seattle enforces, are invited to fill out an anonymous survey about their experiences with police enforcement of bike infractions..

Cascade previously advocated for King County’s helmet law but is now calling for public officials to review the law with the potential for repealing it. The case for repeal is even stronger in light of recent reporting that shows nearly half of Seattle’s helmet tickets go to people experiencing homelessness.

Cascade and Washington Bikes support the voluntary use of helmets, as they can reduce head injuries, and will continue to require helmet usage in Free Group Rides and at community events and all Cascade lessons and programming. However, data shows that other public policies including safer street infrastructure, such as protected bike lanes, and reductions in vehicle speeds are more important for reducing injuries and deaths among people riding bikes. That’s why Cascade supports the effort underway in Seattle to reduce speed limits to 25 mph on most arterial streets.

“The data shows conclusively that the number one safety issue for people biking or walking is vehicle speeds,” says Alex Alston, state policy director for Washington Bikes. “Anything we can do to slow down vehicles saves lives.”

Racial disparities in the enforcement of helmet laws is not just a problem in Seattle. National reporting has shown that communities of color have been ticketed and stopped at disproportionate rates in other cities, leading some communities to repeal their helmet ordinances.

Tacoma, Wash., repealed its bicycle helmet law in the summer of 2020. In 2018, a federal court ordered the city to pay $500,000 to a teenager who was thrown to the ground and tased by an off-duty city police officer after being stopped while bike riding without a helmet. The incident can be seen in this video, but be advised the video shows violence.

There are other reasons to oppose mandatory helmet laws beyond racial profiling. These laws can discourage people from bicycling, especially people who cannot afford helmets, which is an impediment to the public policy goal of getting more people to ride bikes for both health and environmental reasons.

Campbell’s analysis shows a dramatic decline in tickets issued for bicycle infractions over the past decade, from a peak of 789 in 2011, down to 118 in 2019, and just 17 through June of 2020, the last date for which he collected data. The reduction in tickets issued does not necessarily mean there are fewer police stops, however, as just a fraction of stops result in citations, Campbell says.  

If police are issuing fewer tickets for bicycle infractions, why is it important to repeal the helmet law? “There is nothing preventing the police department from increasing enforcement, and for those vulnerable populations it’s still an issue as long as this law is on the books,” Campbell says. “But for the wider public, your chance of getting stopped while riding a bike is almost nonexistent.”

Campbell, who is Asian-American, was stunned to see how people of Asian and Pacific Islander descent were one of the least-likely groups to be ticketed by police while bicycling. “It was staggering for me to see that Asian cyclists get cited for not wearing helmets at a rate 11 times lower than expected for their share of bike trips.”

“What that tells me is that police are being totally discretionary in whom they stop. Police are able to use this law to target certain communities that, for whatever reason, they already want to stop,” Campbell says.

More Information:

Attend the King County Helmet Law Working Group’s next meeting on Feb. 10.

Read Campbell’s Technical Report with data, methodology and findings.

King County Board of Health helmet law text

The Washington Department of Transportation has compiled a list of municipalities in the state with helmet laws.

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