The Seattle Department of Transportation recently released it’s report on the State of the Seattle Bicycling Environment. In essence, the report is a look at how well the city is implementing the 2007 Bicycle Master Plan, and includes data-supported advice for how the current plan update can improve on the old plan.
So, how are we doing? Well, we’re doing very well on one of the most important goals: Safety.
Using downtown bike commute counts as a key for changes in cycling numbers (though it is flawed, the downtown hand-counts are the only consistent data point we have going back years), the number of bike-involved collisions has not kept up with the growth in the total number of people cycling. In fact, Seattle is far ahead of the 2007 plan’s goal of reducing the collision rate by one third. This suggests we are not only on the right track, but that we should set a more ambitious goal in the plan update.
As more people cycle, riding a bike gets safer for everyone. And one key to getting more people to bike? Cycle tracks and neighborhood greenways, says the report:
One important priority for the BMP update is to incorporate new types of facilities that feel safe and appeal to a broad range of people. These facilities include neighborhood greenways, which are improvements made to residential streets to optimize biking and walking, and on-street bicycle facilities with a greater degree of separation from motorized traffic, such as buffered bike lanes and cycle tracks. The plan will include goals and policies that reflect community interest and support of these facility types and continued innovation.
As for facility implementation, the city is technically on track. About 68 percent of the facilities recommended in the 2007 plan have been implemented. While that is impressive, there are two huge caveats to this data:
- 82 miles of the complete facilities have been sharrows, many of them on busy roads. While perhaps not useless (when designed correctly, they can make scary roads marginally more comfortable and direct people to a safe riding position), they do very little to encourage dramatic increases in cycling. Since the 2007 plan, the use of sharrows on busy roads has grown unpopular and has been discouraged by the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board and other groups.
- Many of the bike lane miles completed are low-hanging fruit streets where redesigns of the roadways would meet little resistance. Many of these projects also failed to include intersection redesigns, leaving network gaps all over the city. While these low-hanging projects were certainly worthwhile, the remaining half of the projects in the 2007 plan are likely to be more expensive and more controversial.
Here’s a look at the city’s bicycle facility network before 2007:
Clearly, we have a lot of work to do. But we are on the right track.
One key metric the city where the city is falling behind, however, is the goal of growing the number of people cycling. The 2007 plan had the goal of tripling the number of people cycling by 2017. While cycling to work grew by an admirable 55 percent between 2007 and 2010, we are not on track to triple cycling at our current rate of growth. We have no good way of measuring the use of bicycles for non-work trips currently, and no way to compare such data to 2007.
But if we take bold action to install cycle tracks and neighborhood greenways where they are needed most—as the report suggests and the plan update will likely direct—there’s no reason we can’t reach the multitudes of people who would love to cycle, but don’t want to mix it with cars on a busy street even if there are sharrows painted on the ground.
Here’s the full report: