Monthly Archives: February 2021

King County helmet law to be reviewed

Last week, members of Central Seattle Greenways joined with Cascade Bicycle Club, Real Change, and others in calling for the King County Board of Health to reconsider its bicycle helmet law. Take our survey to share your thoughts:

Around the country, Black, Latino, and Indigenous people are disproportionately stopped by police for minor infractions while biking. Amid calls for racial justice last summer, members of Central Seattle Greenways’ Racial Equity Committee decided to investigate whether similar disparities exist in Seattle and how we could help.

This led to the formation of the Helmet Law Working Group, a collaboration with Cascade, Real Change, and members of other transportation and equity-focused groups. Using public records requests, our research found that Seattle police have invoked King County’s bicycle helmet law to stop and ticket Black cyclists at about four times the rate of white cyclists since 2003. In December, investigative reporting by Crosscut found that over 43% of helmet citations since 2017 were issued by Seattle police to homeless people.

Our research found that Seattle police issue helmet citations (right column) to Black cyclists at about four times the rate of white cyclists.

We believe that unnecessary contact between police and people who bike should be minimized, and that Black, Indigenous, and homeless riders should not disproportionately bear the burden of helmet citations in Seattle. While helmets can reduce head injuries in some crashes, we are concerned that the helmet law does more harm than good.

With these considerations in mind, we have asked the Board of Health to conduct a thoughtful review of the helmet law that focuses on its unintended impacts and includes community voices. Last year, King County declared that racism is a public health crisis, stating that “white privilege and anti-blackness cannot be fully addressed until the same systems that have ‘worked just fine’ for white people while acting as the foot of oppression for indigenous, Black and brown communities are dismantled.” Reconsidering the helmet law is one small step that can be taken towards this goal.

Additionally, as safe streets advocates, we know that safer street infrastructure and lower vehicle speeds are more effective at preventing cyclist injuries than helmet laws. We hope the Board will take this opportunity to not only address the problem of inequitable enforcement of the helmet law, but also consider interventions aimed at the most urgent threat to cyclist safety—collisions with cars.

At the Board of Health’s meeting last Thursday, King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles introduced an amendment committing the Board of Health to reexamine the law this year. We are grateful for Councilmember Kohl-Welles’ leadership on this issue. In the discussion that followed, other members of the board, including Seattle City Councilmembers Teresa Mosqueda and Andrew Lewis, King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay, Bellevue City Councilmember Janice Zahn, Burien Deputy Mayor Krystal Marx, and Board member Dr. Bill Daniell, voiced their support. The amendment was adopted in a unanimous vote (12-0).

We look forward to working with the Board and community to find ways to keep cyclists safe that don’t involve police enforcement.

Share your perspective: We want your voice to inform the Board’s review process and shape the future of the helmet law. Take our anonymous survey to share your ideas and stories about interactions with police while biking:

Learn more: You can read about our effort in the following venues’ coverage:

Looking backward… and forward

Hello, friends of Central Seattle Greenways! We apologize for our radio silence on this blog over the past few months. We’ve been busy, and have lots of updates to share from the second half of 2020 and the start of 2021.

Our regular meetings on the second Monday of each month have continued through the pandemic, virtually on Zoom (where else?). Many thanks are due to CSG’s tireless leaders, Brie Gyncild and David Seater, for keeping the group chugging along and making each meeting a welcoming and productive space where everyone can make their voices heard.

If you’d like to join us, subscribe to our Google Group email list to receive updates about meetings. Our next meeting is around the corner, on Monday, February 8 from 6-8 PM.

Here are a few things that CSG has worked on recently:

  • In September, CSG members attended SNG’s Racial Equity Workshop and discussed how to live our racial equity values within our neighborhood action plans. 16 (!) people from CSG also attended SNG’s “Defining Community Safety” conversation with Aaron Dixon, founding member of the Seattle chapter of the Black Panther Party. His presentation was recorded and can be viewed here.
  • Members of CSG attended the Washington Bike, Walk, Roll Summit virtually in October and shared insights with the group. These sessions are also available to watch on YouTube (highly recommend checking them out!).
  • In November, CSG penned an open letter to City leadership expressing our concern and frustration about the wall around the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct building in Capitol Hill. Though some plywood on the building’s windows briefly came down, the wall remains, a concrete symbol of the divide between Seattle police and our community.
  • Also in November, CSG member Christopher Hoffman applied for a permit to add 14th Ave E from Olive Street to Volunteer Park to SDOT’s Stay Healthy Block program. For over a month, hundreds of Capitol Hill residents enjoyed having the extra street space to socially distance while walking and biking. Under new restrictions from SDOT, however, 14th Ave reverted to its original, car-centric state in December, as detailed by Ryan Packer in Seattle Bike Blog. SDOT has created a survey where you can share feedback about the Stay Healthy Block program.
  • Members of CSG provided input on Seattle Central College’s Major Institution Master Plan update during a meeting in November, and followed up with a letter summarizing our recommendations. We view the plan as an opportunity to make this campus at the heart of Capitol Hill an even more vibrant space, with amenities and infrastructure that facilitate walking, biking, and transit use, while reducing single-occupancy vehicle trips.
  • In January, CSG members voted to support SNG’s endorsement of the “Washington Can’t Wait” campaign championed by Futurewise, which aims to update the Growth Management Act to address climate change, environmental justice, and housing affordability.

And these are some of our top priorities for 2021:

  • Continuing an ongoing effort that originated in CSG’s Racial Equity Committee back in July to reduce contact between police and members of vulnerable populations who bike in Seattle. Analysis of public records requests filed by CSG member Ethan Campbell uncovered stark disparities in rates of bicycle helmet infractions issued to Black and Indigenous cyclists by Seattle police. This led to the formation of the Helmet Law Working Group, a collaboration between CSG, Cascade Bicycle Club, Real Change, and members of other transportation and equity-focused groups. Read about our work in this article from Cascade, and take our short survey to share your perspective on the policing of cyclists and find out how to get involved. More soon—stay tuned!
  • Advocating for improvements to 12th Ave S between E Yesler Way and S King St, together with members of Beacon Hill Safe Streets. Existing infrastructure and street conditions are dangerous and harrowing for cyclists. This section is a vital connection for those biking to destinations in the Central District, Chinatown-International District, and neighborhoods north and south—especially via the new bike lanes over the Jose Rizal Bridge.
  • Responding to attempts to modify or discard Seattle’s Bicycle Master Plan through SDOT’s draft “modal integration policy framework.” (More details from Seattle Bike Blog here.)
  • Working with SDOT to shape their plans to make Stay Healthy Streets permanent, and advocating for Lake Washington Boulevard to become permanently car-free, too (see this Urbanist article explaining why this is important).
  • Monitoring ongoing and planned projects in our neighborhood, including protected bicycle infrastructure along the Pike/Pine corridor, E Union St, and Eastlake Ave E, and signal upgrades and other intersection treatments at Broadway/E John St/E Olive Way.
  • Supporting Seattle Neighborhood Greenways’ priorities for 2021. These include advocating for efforts by the “Whose Streets? Our Streets!” workgroup to reimagine traffic safety in Seattle, elevating the concept of 15-minute neighborhoods in our local conversation, and advancing safe infrastructure projects in historically underserved areas of Seattle, particularly the South End.
  • As COVID restrictions and stressors ease, we look forward to collaborating with Bailey Gatzert Elementary School again on Safe Routes to School.
  • Developing a set of bylaws for Central Seattle Greenways.