Seattle’s bike commute hot spots

Where bike commuters live, according to BikeScore

Where bike commuters live, according to BikeScore

Do you live in a bike commuting hot spot?

The Seattle Times’ Gene Balk (AKA: FYI Guy) published an interactive map today displaying bike-to-work rates according to neighborhood.

Unlike the map we posted last spring showing BikeScore’s bike commuter map (see attached), the Times map attempts to organize the data by neighborhood segment. “North University” comes in at the top on their map.

Interestingly, distance from downtown seems to play a double-sided role in bike commute rates: The neighborhoods furthest away from downtown are also the least-bikey. But neighborhoods in downtown, where everywhere is easily reachable by walking or transit, also had very low bike commute rates.

Clearly, there are many more factors at play than just distance from downtown. Far out neighborhoods like North Aurora and the south end of Rainier Valley also have poor bicycle facilities, and neighborhoods are divided and boxed by very busy streets that discourage bicycling. Biking in West Seattle faces a lot of challenges, such as safe routes connecting neighborhoods to downtown.

Interestingly, people who live along the Duwamish—where a flat and better-than-average bike route (almost) connects to the West Seattle and First Avenue bridges—are among the most likely West Seattleites to bike commute.

Also of interest: The Central District (where I live) is actually more bikey than Capitol Hill.

It’s also telling that, by all other measures, Lower Queen Anne should have very high rates of bike commuting. It’s flat and close to, but not part of, downtown. But it is also completely isolated from safe bike routes, with Denny and the downtown grid on one side and Aurora on the other. In fact, people on the north side of the hill, which is further from downtown but better connected to safe cycling facilities, are more likely to bike to work than those on the south side of the hill.

With the W Thomas Underpass now open, plans to reconnect Thomas and Harrison as part of the deep bore tunnel project (among the only good parts of that project) and plans for a cycle track on Mercer and downtown, Lower Queen Anne is on the verge of a cycling boom.

What do you notice in the map? Any surprises? What can the city do to address some of the barriers to cycling in neighborhoods with lower rates?

One caveat: The figures used in these maps comes from the Census’ American Communities Survey, which has several flaws. For one, people are asked via a phone survey to tell surveyors which mode they used most for commuting in the past week. If you combine biking and transit, but most of your trip’s distance was on transit, then you would not count as a bike commuter. If you only bike to work some days, you would also not count. And, of course, the data in no way considers all the other trips people make on bike (to the grocery store, the park, a friend’s house, out to eat, etc). So it is safe to assume that these numbers are a low-end estimate of cycling rates.

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19 Responses to Seattle’s bike commute hot spots

  1. Patty Lyman says:

    When there is better infrastructure, there is more options for biking. Not suprising that the Burke Gilman Trail helps folks get to work. South end has less options.

  2. Cathy says:

    See Roger Geller’s map of Bike Commuting in Portland 2008. I’m guessing it is pretty common for high numbers of transportation cyclists to increase closer to city and urban village centers where more transportation investments have been made.

  3. Deric says:

    To me it also seems to show how the ride-free zone hurt cycling mode share. This should be overlaid with not only cycling facilities but also race and income demographics.

  4. Al Dimond says:

    As with most stats on cycling I have to take it with a little skepticism… Laurelhurst bike commutes at a higher rate than any neighborhood west of Aurora? I can’t even think of a particularly nice route in and out of it off the top of my head (when I run to Laurelhurst I typically go through the wetlands).

  5. Don Brubeck says:

    Agreed on the effect of lack of safe routes. For very close in areas to downtown, I think walking takes over from bike riding, because it is less hassle and just about as fast.

    Another factor for differences between areas: If you turn on the “terrain” feature and think about where big parks (e.g., Carkeek, Discovery, Lincoln,) and steep forested greenbelts are, it explains quite a bit of the red area. Very few people actually live in a lot of these areas, so not much commuting from them. West Seattle has more urban forest that any other portion, and some really steep residential areas like the Arroyos that are tough to commute from by bike. NW Seattle has a lot of steep hills along the shore, too. Omit the big park, greenbelt and industrial areas and the colors would even out quite a bit.

    • Al Dimond says:

      The rates given, I think, are supposed to be per-capita. So it doesn’t really matter if you have a big park like Disco Park that’s not really in anyone’s way. What matters is when there are barriers that are in people’s way.

      Carkeek would hardly matter if 3rd Ave NW was more usable, particularly during rush hour. Disco Park and Lincoln Park are up against water — they really don’t block many people from getting where they’re going. The Magnolia Bridge and Fauntleroy Way (farther north where it’s really a barrier) do. Industrial areas can matter because they’re often monolithically large… but there’s a difference between the industrial areas along the Ship Canal, where cycling is quite strong, and those in SODO, where it’s quite weak. That difference is, essentially, that the Ship Canal is lined with bike paths, and SODO is cut in half by a railyard that’s not much fun to cross (the Airport Way South Bridge helps things, but there are still lots of problems).

  6. biliruben says:

    I was very surprised to see a decent showing from my Lake City. Especially compared to View Ridge and Sandpoint, that have a front road seat to our only bike highway of note, and a highly active greenways group. You need to climb 200 feet of bluff to get to Lake City from the Burke, but I guess that doesn’t deter folks. Good to see, and it makes me have higher hopes for our nascent Greenways movement up here in the land that Seattle forgot. At least when it comes to spending money on infrastructure, transit and services. They don’t mind the loads of low-income density we’ve taken on. Now it’s time to help give our kids a place to go to school, play and everyone get around safely without piling in the car.

  7. Peri Hartman says:

    What is this study measuring? Maybe I missed it in the article, but does it measure the number of people originating from a neighborhood, ending in a neighborhood, or either? Or something else? The meaning of distribution would be quite different depending on this condition, although I suppose the average would be the same.

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  9. A says:

    The problem with commuting between west Seattle and downtown / points north is marginal way. Between the road condition and no separation between a bike lane and almost exclusively semi truck traffic that pays no mind to cyclists it’s like nothing else in the city. The southbound bike lane is underwater for at least six months out of the year, disguising potholes you could lose a smartcar in and semis drive in the northbound bike lane (whether in use by actual bikes or not) to avoid the holes that have gone unrepaired for so long they’re more like canyons. Possibly the worst stretch of marked road to ride with any regularity in town.

    • Nate Todd says:

      Not to mention it’s bounded by gravel. Semis spit gravel all over the bike lane. It’s more like mountain biking than road riding!

    • Mike Lindblom says:

      As a West Seattle resident, would disagree with A. Crossing downtown SB in the evening is far more dangerous and unpleasant than anything E. Marginal Way can serve up. The sloppy shoulders along Marginal ought to be nicer, but I can enjoy it anyway because there’s hardly any cross traffic.

      • A says:

        It’s fine that you’re afraid to ride in traffic but at least downtown is paved, and there is a sidewalk all along alaskan to get out of town. Marginal way is a WWII era no mans land.

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        I say we fix them both!

      • Gary says:

        Coming from Fairview heading South I used to ride West to 9th Ave N, turn left, ride 9th to where it intersects with Bell. Ride Bell to 1st turn left on 1st, then ride 1st to Lenora, turn right on Lenora, ride down one block to Western and turn left on Western, then ride Western to Pioneer Sq. at Yesler. With the tunnel down there I’m not sure if that’s still the best way to get through downtown but I bet it beats 2nd which is a death trap as currently marked.

        Also serious lights help a lot when riding in traffic. And I’m not talking about a single planet blinky here.

  10. Don Brubeck says:

    I’m with Tom — and we’ve got East Marginal Way in the Bike Master Plan update to include a separated cycle track, so now we just need to work with City Council, the Port of Seattle, the Freight Advisory Board and truckers and SDOT to make sure it gets funded and well designed.
    It can be a no man’s land at night. I rode home to WS at 8:30 pm a week ago last Sunday and passed two pedestrians, and met zero bikes and zero cars or trucks the whole way. Peaceful, safe, and a little weird.

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