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Bike boxes help Northwest drivers and cyclists share the road

May 17, 2012

SEATTLE – In celebration of National Bike to Work Day this Friday, thousands of Northwest bicycle commuters will take to the streets to share the road with four-wheeled motorists on the ride to work.  The latest poll from PEMCO Insurance suggests that while drivers in Washington and Oregon generally favor cyclist-safety laws, Portlanders better understand road-sharing precautions.
 
The PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll asked drivers in Washington and Portland specifically about their awareness of designated boxed-off areas at intersections, often painted green, that are intended for bike commuters. 
 
The poll revealed that nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of Portland drivers are familiar with the green bicycle boxes commonly known as "bike boxes," and 72 percent know the right way to approach them.  In Washington, just one-third of drivers say they’re aware of the boxes.
 
The boxes, painted on the ground just before crosswalks at major intersections in Seattle and Portland, are designed to make the roads safer for bicyclists and drivers. In both states, motorists are legally required to stop before the green box.
 
"The goal is to help make cyclists more visible to drivers and minimize collisions between cars and bikes that often happen at intersections," said PEMCO spokesperson Jon Osterberg. "Our poll results show that there's opportunity to further educate drivers, especially in Washington where the bike-box program is relatively new."
 
Leaders from Seattle's Cascade Bicycle Club agree that more can be done to increase both riders’ and drivers’ awareness of bike boxes and other road-sharing safety tools. 
 
"We are working with and supporting the efforts of the City of Seattle to create street design for riders of all abilities, including 'willing but wary' riders who aren't yet comfortable getting on the roads with motorists. Bike boxes provide one effective solution to help increase drivers' awareness of riders by making them more visible at intersections. Riders have the additional benefit of avoiding vehicle exhaust and the grouping of riders at the head of the intersection results in fewer delays for drivers," said Max Hepp-Buchanan, Advocacy Campaigns Manager for Cascade Bicycle Club.
 
According to Hepp-Buchanan, the National Association of City Transportation Officials recently adopted recommended guidelines to accept bike boxes as an effective-traffic management tool, which will likely make them more well-known to drivers nationwide.
 
While Washington drivers are less aware of the boxes than their Oregon neighbors, Portland’s program has steadily grown since 2008 and includes more than a dozen painted intersections throughout the city.  
 
In fact, national census data published by the League of American Bicyclists reports that Portland has the greatest bicycle-commuter rates out of the 70 largest U.S. cities. Seattle trails closely, coming in as the third most popular city for bike commuting. 
 
Despite Washington drivers’ inexperience with bike boxes, about half (53 percent) understand they should stop before the painted outline. Three-quarters of Portland drivers know that it’s illegal to occupy a green bike box.
 
In Washington, the fine for violating green bike-box laws is as high as $194, and in Oregon the fine is as high as $242.
 
The boxes also often prohibit drivers from making free right turns on a red light. Yet, despite the restrictions on drivers, PEMCO’s data shows public support for the policy, with a majority of drivers in both states favoring the boxes more than they oppose them.
 
For more information about Cascade Bicycle Club’s role in supporting National Bike to Work Day, and to learn more about the local festivities planned for Seattle commuters, visit www.cbcef.org/btw/btw_day.
 
To learn more about the PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll and to view a summary of the results, visit www.pemco.com/poll, where the public is invited to participate in an informal version of the poll to see how their own responses compare with those collected by FBK Research of Seattle in November 2011.
 
About the PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll
PEMCO Insurance commissioned this independent survey that asked Washington and Oregon drivers several questions about driving habits and attitudes toward current Northwest issues. The sample size, 600 respondents in Washington and 402 respondents in the Portland, Ore., metro area, yields an accuracy of +/- 4.1 percent and +/- 5.0 percent respectively at the 95 percent confidence level. In other words, if this study were conducted 100 times, in 95 instances the data will not vary by more than the associated error range.
 
About PEMCO Insurance
PEMCO Insurance, established in 1949, is a Seattle-based provider of auto, home, boat, and umbrella insurance to Northwest residents. PEMCO Insurance is sold by community agents throughout the region and through PEMCO offices. For more information, visit www.pemco.com.

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