SDOT on the state of bicycling in Seattle

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:

And here’s the bicycle facility map today:

But my favorite map in the whole report is the map of bicycle gap and corridor opportunities (the red boxes show area currently without nearby bike facilities):

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:

StateofSeattleReport Final Oct24

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17 Responses to SDOT on the state of bicycling in Seattle

  1. Al Dimond says:

    Odd thoughts on the report:

    1. It’s amazing how nice the Spokane Street Bridge looks when you photograph it from overhead, crop out all the traffic, and don’t have to listen to it.

    2. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I looked at the system gaps map in SODO. The gap map is full of gaps!

    I mean, between this and some of the utterly inexplicable stuff built “for cyclists” in Seattle, does anyone at SDOT actually commute by bike?

    • Andres says:

      That is rather odd. Perhaps SDOT considers SODO to be one big crossing/corridor gap. I know I do (with the exception of the SODO trail & light rail). :)

      • RTK says:

        I ride through SODO daily, there is a fair volume of bike commuters in the region. Without significant improvements I don’t really see the number growing, not an appealing place for most folks to ride. The Airport Way bridge does seem like a lost opportunity. I wrote a couple of times to the project managers, didn’t seem like bikes were something they were focused on in the project or the detour routes.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      There is plenty of room on 1st and/or 4th for a bicycle facility.

      • Al Dimond says:

        I think if I had to choose, I’d be putting a bike lane on the Airport Way Bridge (currently under construction with no bike facility for stupid reasons) and working on northern and southern extensions of the SODO trail to connect it to downtown. I’d also build a cycletrack on the west side of East Marginal Way south of Spokane Street, at least as far as Georgetown (I don’t think that would be expensive or difficult — it would be a lot like the bike path along West Marginal Way). Whatever facility you prefer, the fact that no north-south corridor through SODO was identified as a gap in the cycling network is patently absurd!

        But the most crazy, insane gap in the gap map is that they correctly identified Spokane Street from the bridge to I-5 as a gap, and they identified the east side of I-5/west side of Beacon Hill as a gap (which is less obvious, but they did)… but they didn’t draw in a connection between them! If they built perfect facilities along these two identified gaps the facilities wouldn’t connect!

      • Al Dimond says:

        (Actually I’m wrong about East Marginal Way, there are railroad tracks on the west side of the street that I think are still in use.)

      • Jessie K says:

        The tracks are most definitely still in use–I’d love to see a way to work a cycle track onto E. Marginal Way, though. Or, as has been pointed out, any sort of dedication to to to cycling infrastructure in SODO. If you’re not getting run down by semi trucks you’re denting your rims on potholes….

      • Michael says:

        Don’t think there is plenty of room on 1st unless parking is removed, which I’m 100% positive the many businesses along 1st would vehemently oppose. Plus, 1st has high traffic volumes, not too comfortable-there are better alternatives such as extending the trail, or 4th, or maybe something along the E4 busway?? haven’t looked at that too closely.

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  3. Michael Jacobs says:

    Does anyone know the units for the y axis on the collision chart?

    • Matthew says:

      The units aren’t defined 100% transparently in the report, but it’s a normalized measurement of the number of bicycle collisions, controlling for both number of cyclists and number of cars. See p. 19. My understanding of it is that they use bicycle count data downtown to estimate 3,330 “total cyclists,” then divide the number of reported crashes by 3,330 and somehow control for the auto traffic increase between ’07 and ’11.

      It’s not entirely clear if this really is a “collision” rate or just a bike accident rate — in other words, if you wipe out crossing the tracks along the “missing link,” but your accident was caused by a lack of safe cycling infrastructure rather than by hitting a car or a pedestrian, does that count as a collision?

      It seems like a strange metric at first, but it seems like the data they have available doesn’t allow for the calculation of many other safety metrics. I do think it’s unfortunate that we have to define it in a negative way, by the number of collisions. We could imagine more positive metrics. Imagine a “safe trips” index: the number of bicycle trips per year per cyclist that did not involve an accident, or total miles traveled without incident, etc. Something that reinforces that cycling is actually a safe activity.

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  5. Matthew says:

    The report states that SDOT is on track to deliver on the goal of 3,000 new bike racks between 2007 and 2017. However, they only added 806 in the first four years, which would leave them well short of the goal if the pace of installation remains unchanged.

    Let’s hope they’re right and the next five years will actually bring 2,000 new bike racks to Seattle, as well as more high-density bike parking.

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