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Saturday, September 2, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Bus death stirs urban-cycling issue

Seattle Times staff reporter

To some in Seattle, it was an accident waiting to happen, allowing bicyclists on city sidewalks.

The worst happened Wednesday, when a woman at a bus stop was bumped by a cyclist into the street, where she died under the wheels of a Metro bus.

The fact is, said Peter Lagerwey, coordinator for the city's pedestrian and bicycle program, injuries from cyclists on city sidewalks are relatively rare. But a day after two sons lost their mother, he said, that fact is no consolation.

"The numbers don't take away from a tragedy like this," Lagerwey said.

The 53-year-old bicyclist police believe bumped Betty Simon, 46, of Seattle, was arrested on suspicion of manslaughter. He was released on his own recognizance.

Police needed more time to complete their investigation, said Dan Donohoe, a spokesman for King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng — and state law requires that prosecutors file charges within 72 hours of arrest if the suspect is jailed.

According to the arrest report, the man smelled of alcohol. It is not illegal to ride a bike while intoxicated, said Jeff Kappel, Seattle police spokesman, but officers can put someone under the influence into protective custody for the safety of the public.

At the Cascade Cycle Club, one of the largest bike clubs in the nation, David Hiller, advocacy director, said it sounded like the man ignored the basic rules of the road, which include yielding to pedestrians and traveling at their speed.

Beyond the tragedy of one woman's death, Hiller said, the incident has stained the image of a community that is trying to make the streets of Seattle safer for both cyclists and pedestrians.

"To have one scofflaw who happened to be in possession of a bicycle turn this whole issue on its head is disappointing," said Hiller.

With about 7,000 people commuting into Seattle by bicycle these days, he said, there is growing momentum around bike safety. Just this week, about 500 people met to discuss the city's new Master Bicycle Plan. That plan will include much-needed bike lanes, Lagerwey said, as well as better signage.

Still, if you ask Joshua van Achtenberg, a biker himself, the city should reconsider allowing bikes on sidewalks. Some bike messengers, he said, just race right on through, without regard to pedestrians.

"It's pretty amazing that until now nobody else has gotten knocked down and pushed into traffic," he said.

There was a time, Lagerwey said, when the city fielded a few complaints a month about bike messengers on city sidewalks. But with more training for bike messengers, and an overall decline in the industry, he said the city now gets only a few complaints a year.

A ban on sidewalk riding, he said, would require more time, money and energy in enforcement than it is worth.

"I can almost guarantee that if you looked at our crash statistics, you wouldn't see a changed outcome," he said.

Staff reporter Jennifer Sullivan contributed to this report.

Cara Solomon: 206-464-2024

or csolomon@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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