No place to ride, safely — County cyclists talk about the reality of bicycling in Kitsap County

If you’re looking for a safe road to go on a bike ride in Kitsap County, David Brumsickle, owner of Silverdale Cyclery, will tell you to go to Sequim, in Jefferson County. If you’re a bike commuter asking for safe routes, he’d simply tell you good luck.

Brumsickle rides about 50 riding-miles each week commuting and for exercise. After 35 years of commuting on Kitsap County roads he’s not afraid to say that some drivers essentally attack riders with their vehicles.

“There is a mindset that we don’t belong on the road,” Lee Derror, president of West Sound Cycling Club, said.

Derror, who rides about 200 miles a week, said her worst “close call” was actually a hit when a car on an otherwise empty road pushed in close to her as she rode and hit her with the mirror while doing an estimated 50 mph.  Derror said the driver stopped and then backed up to yell  at her for breaking his mirror as she lay semi-conscious on the roadside.

“He wanted to be on the road and he wanted to be as close as he could,” she said.

No charges were filed, she said.

The Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office has logged  46 “collisions” between bicycles and vehicles in the last five and a half years, said deputy Scott Wilson, department spokesperson. Those incidents left three seriously injured and two dead, he said.

During those years 149 complaints were filed about speeding or wreckless driving. Only two were made by concerned cyclists, Wilson said, before noting that there was no coding system to track cyclist compaints against drivers.

Asked what county roads present a danger to cyclists using them Wilson said, “The list would be too long to mention.”

Balancing perceptions Wilson noted that in the same period seven investigations were done on cyclist only injury accidents such as a drunk bicyclist falling off a bike and injuring himself; bicyclists attacked by dogs running loose and teens riding bikes and colliding into each other.

There are numerous stories out there of people doing all sorts of things and the  hazards have gotten worse in the last 20 years – texting, talking on the phone, less shoulders and just more cars on the roads, Derror said.

Although Washington state is considered the most bicycle friendly in the nation, Kitsap County is not up with the rest of the state and it’s long been known.

Of the 24 most likely bicycle safety projects to receive state funds in the next two years,  only one is in Kitsap County – on Bainbridge, a bike-friendly city . That project, the Madison Avenue non-motorized safety improvement Project, will among other things widen the shoulders of the road.

Most cyclists in the county face roads like Brumsickle’s Anderson Hill Road commute.  Which he describes as a “bear.”  The shoulder is non-existent or too narrow for any kind of safe riding, he said.  Close-calls and near-death episodes are common, if not a daily experience for  riders around the county, he said.

“If I can hear the muffler, “I know there will be trouble,” he said.

While close calls that are indeed an “accident” are nearly constant, the worst situation is when a driver intentionally drives close to a cyclist ­– within inches for no apparent reason.

Brumsickle said when someone intentionally closes in on him while biking, it’s usually a big pickup truck.

“They would just assume I not be there,” he said.

Once a car full of high school kids drove past and chucked a handful of D cell batteries at him. Again, with luck, he was only grazed.

Unlike Derror, Brumsickle thinks the roads are getting more safe for cyclists, and he credits seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong with something Europeans have long known.

“Cycling is more than a weenies sport,” he said.

Regardless of the known local dangers, Kitsap County has a decent sized cycling scene, 300 in the women’s triathlon club alone, he said. Lots of commuters he said. Lacking is a place to take a child with you on a ride. There is no safe place for that, he said.

Brumsickle offers two safety rules to riders looking to avoid those who might do them harm on the roads. Pick the right time of day, stay off the commute hours when the roads are packed with people in a hurry. And ride as if you are completely  invisible to the drivers around you.

“If you take a recreational ride during rush, you’re asking for it,” he said. “It’s foolish to assume people will see you.”

Brumsickle said he continues to ride because it’s good for the planet and it’s good for his health and mindset.

“It’s something I believe in,” he said.

Some belief the county will one day come around and make the local roads safer for cyclists. Until then, many of his customers will continue to go to Sequim for a decent day’s ride.

Kitsap County resident Jason Mathews is one of the riders that leave the county for “safer” roads of Jefferson County, where he grew up. He rides about 100 miles a week to commute and for recreation.

Mathews most recent close call came Sunday, out near Keyport, when a few “young men” in a sporty coupe passed within inches of him as he rode uphill on Brownsville Highway. As with most complaints, Mathews said no other cars were coming from either direction there was no reason at all to hug the right side of the road.

“It was so close you could feel it,” he said.

Mathews has not been hit in Kitsap County but has suffered the fate of being T-boned by a car doing 30 mph while on a bicycle in King County. He said he still cycles because he can’t really stop. And, he acts as safe as he can to mitigate the dangers with flashing lights and hand signals.

“It’s just what I do,” he said. “Let people know that you’re there.”

Neysa Gallagher, avid cyclist and Mathews partner added that she offers a positive approach to rider safety by encouraging those drivers that  give her and other riders the space they have a legal right to when passing.

“I wave and say thank you,” Gallagher said  before adding that the county could do one major thing to add a layer of safety to riders on the road – add bike lanes.

Director of public Works Randy Casteel said the county had done much in the decade since the 2001 Kitsap County Bicycle Facilities Plan.

Glenwood and Lake Flora Road has had five or six miles of the shoulder paved. Clear Creek Trail from the skate park to Trigger Gate has been paved. And,  every new road construction project in the county is now required to build four-foot shoulders on the side of 11-foot-wide lanes – three feet longer than most current roads.

When it comes to the fate of rest of the hundreds of miles of road in the county, most  rural county roads, Casteel said.

“There’s no place to put bike trails,” he said.

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