EVERETT — When it comes to quality of life, the great Pacific Northwest generally compares very well with other regions of the country.
And when it comes to bicycling, the state of Washington is second to none, according to recent rankings by the League of American Bicyclists, a national advocacy group for bicycling as a form of fitness and transportation.
Washington came out No. 1 on the list, ahead of runner-up Wisconsin and No. 3 Arizona. Northwest neighbor Oregon was fourth.
And according to area bicycle enthusiasts, what’s true about Washington statewide is also very true here in Snohomish County. This county is “a great place to ride,” said Kristin Kinnamon of Marysville, past president of the Bikes Club of Snohomish County and a board member of the Bicycle Alliance of Washington.
“I bike here virtually every day,” Kinnamon said. “Now, could it be better? Yeah, I find that every day, too. But the truth is the weather is moderate in Western Washington, the roads are generally not too crowded, the car drivers are reasonably friendly, and there’s beautiful scenery.”
“In Snohomish County,” added Bill Weber, current president of the Bikes Club of Snohomish County, “you can bike wherever you want.”
Biking, as many devotees know, is a wonderful form of exercise. It is less punishing to the body than jogging, and yet still provides a robust cardiovascular workout. Bikers are also outdoors, where they can enjoy the beauty of the passing landscape and the company of fellow cyclists.
Here in Snohomish County, bicyclists have lots of options. Many county streets are accommodating to people on bikes, and there are other routes closed to motorized traffic. Of the latter, two of the most popular are the Interurban Trail from north King County to Everett and the Snohomish-to-Arlington Centennial Trail.
There is also the nearby Burke-Gilman Trail, which loops from Seattle to Redmond around the north end of Lake Washington.
Serious cyclists do so for recreation and fitness, but some also commute frequently to and from their jobs on bikes. Among them, Kinnamon.
“Most people think of bikes as being toys, but with the coming of high transportation costs I think more people are coming to see the bicycle as a means of transportation,” she said.
In addition, she went on, biking “is a good stress reliever for me. When I ride my bike in (to work), I start the day with a little exercise. And when I ride home, I can get relaxed.”
Getting started in biking can be as easy as pulling out the old 10-speed from the back corner of the garage. But being a serious cyclist — and, more importantly, a safe cyclist — involves a bit of homework and a whole lot of common sense.
“Most everyone will say, ‘Oh, I know how to ride a bicycle,’ because they learned when they were a kid,” Kinnamon said. “But there is definitely a learning curve for safely driving a bicycle. Riding a bicycle is one thing, but driving a bicycle by safely following the rules of the road is a whole other matter.”
Just she other day, Kinnamon pointed out, she saw two cyclists riding against traffic in a bike lane, which is both illegal and dangerous. Car drivers making right turns onto streets from driveways or other roads might not think to look for bicycles coming from the right, she said.
Generally speaking, cars and bikes coexist well in Snohomish County. Still, there is a sometimes uneasy and occasionally antagonistic relationship between cyclists and automobile drivers.
“There are frustrations,” acknowledged Kinnamon. “I’m sure I’ve had some shake-your-fist incidents this year, although right now I can’t sit here and recall anything that was so bad.”
“You’re going to always find people who are going to roll down their windows and scream on their way by,” Weber said.
A fear of automobiles — or more specifically, a fear of being hit by an automobile — keeps a lot of people from trying biking, Weber believes.
“There’s a perception of how dangerous it is to be hit by a car,” he said. “But I try to convince them by asking, ‘How many bicycles have you hit?’ It’s not occurring as often as people worry about.
“I think Washington is reasonably bike friendly,” he added. “I’ve been in areas (of other states) that I think are friendlier, but I think statewide we’ve done a fair job.”
For all the positives of biking in Washington, there are areas to improve, Kinnamon said. The Bike Alliance, the statewide advocacy group, is pushing to strengthen the current safe-passing law with a specified minimum distance of 3 feet for cars to pass bicycles. The group is also concerned about bicycle safety and convenience through road construction zones, and about traffic lights that are not triggered to turn green for cyclists.
“Definitely the Puget Sound area is far and away one of the leaders around the country as far as having bicycling and walking embraced by officialdom,” said Gordon Black, president of the Bike Alliance. “And it’s easy to be reminded when we travel elsewhere (in the country) that we really have come a long way.”
Still, Black went on, he needs only look to Oregon to see that Washington has catching up to do in some ways. In Oregon, he explained, most roads have a paved shoulder of 4-5 feet for bicyclists.
Washington has made strides, he said, as evidenced by the League of American Bicyclists rankings, “but there’s still room for improvement.”