Seattle fails to achieve ‘platinum’ bike-friendly rating + Here’s how to get there

BFC_Fall2014_ReportCard_Seattle_WA-platSeattle is, once again, a gold-level bike friendly community, according to the League of American Bicyclists.

While Seattle is the only gold-level community in Washington State and one of only four US cities with populations larger than 300,000 to achieve gold status, the reconfirmation of gold status shows that the city is not doing enough to be a true top-tier leader in becoming a truly bike-friendly US city.

The good news is that Seattle has done a lot of work to get up to speed on advocacy and planning. But the city has a whole lot of work left to do to build a complete and connected network of bike lanes and neighborhood greenways. Despite what some angry talk radio hosts or Seattle Times commenters might say, only 17 percent of Seattle’s arterial streets have bike lanes. That’s far lower than the platinum city average of 78 percent.

Seattle has a lot of work to do.

BFC_Fall2014_ReportCard_Seattle_WA-cardBut Seattle is almost on track with the platinum cities in one key measure: Fatalities per daily bike commuter. Unfortunately, 0.7 deaths per 10,000 commuters is still not low enough, and Seattle’s collision rate of 148.6 per 10,000 commuters is significantly higher than the platinum city average (90).

The League does have advice for Seattle as it tries to get in shape for its next application for Platinum status:

  • Continue to expand the on and off street bike network, and make intersections safer for cyclists. Focus on network connectivity. On roads with posted speed limits of more than 35 mph, it is recommended to provide protected bicycle infrastructure. Ensure that all Seattle bridges have safe entry and exit points for cyclists, as well as a safe space to cross.
  • Provide high quality on-street bike parking throughout the community, especially in the historic and landmark districts. Provide convenient and secure bike parking at event venues and major transit hubs.
  • Expand the Safe Routes to School program.
  • Dedicate SDOT staff time to encouragement and education efforts and better financially and logistically support bike-related encouragement and education efforts by advocates and bike groups. Set encouragement and education goals, metrics, and values.
  • Continue to expand your public education campaign promoting the share the road message.
  • Host a greater variety of family-oriented, low income and young professional-oriented bike events and rides.
  • Step up enforcement of the Vulnerable User ordinance , 20mph speed limits, and the Failure to Yield ordinance.
  • Aggressively implement the new bike plan by increasing funding.

For more thoughts on Seattle’s gold rating, see this post by Seattle Neighborhood Greenways.

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26 Responses to Seattle fails to achieve ‘platinum’ bike-friendly rating + Here’s how to get there

  1. Josh says:

    Not surprising, I suppose, that Seattle’s lowest score isn’t on infrastructure at all, but on enforcement, 4 of 10 possible points.

    How many of Seattle’s recent or planned sidepaths meet the League’s recommendation of focusing these segregated facilities on arterials with posted speed limits over 35 mph? That’s not Broadway, or Linden, or Second Avenue, or even Rainier Ave S.

    Meanwhile, safe bridge access seems to be a third-place concern, after sidepaths and greenways, even though bridges are key chokepoints for bicycle transportation in the city.

    Not saying SDOT should abandon the BMP in favor of the League’s checklist for progress, but it does seem to question some of the current spending priorities.

    • Andres Salomon says:

      The BMP prioritization metric drives me crazy. There’s such an easy formula here: start with bridge and highway crossings. There the most bang for your buck, right there. Ideally, figure out cheap, quick ways to make comfortable biking routes. For example, the Montlake Bridge? Turn that from 4 lanes into 3. There, cheap and easy.

      Instead, BMP prioritization seems to be focusing on the opposite. Make these nice connections, but ignore the various bridge chokepoints and I-5 crossings..

      • Law Abider says:

        So you criticize the BMP, and then offer a suggestion to turn the Montlake Bridge from 4 lanes to 3? I think Seattle is better off abiding by their BMP, rather than the Andres Salomon Bicycle Master Plan.

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        There’s an Andres Salomon Bicycle Master Plan? I’d support that! :-)

    • Al Dimond says:

      Time to defend Seattle’s bike plans, just for a second (then it will be back to my regularly scheduled program of complaining about Seattle’s lack of bike plans).

      Broadway was mostly about mitigating streetcar impacts. Say what you want about the streetcar — it’s happening. And Broadway is a more important place for a bike facility that makes it comfortable to ride slow than almost any 35 MPH road in the city.

      The purpose of Linden can’t be evaluated in isolation (its implementation can be, but that’s not relevant to your complaint). It fills a gap in the Interurban Route, whose purpose is to be an AAA route all the way from Shoreline to downtown Seattle. The 2nd Ave ‘track is also, down the line, intended to be at the core of the city’s AAA network. To fulfill that purpose it’s got to be separated from all but the slowest and lightest traffic, and it should take the most logical route for its users, regardless of the speed limit on adjacent roads.

      Rainier Ave S, like (e.g.) 15th Ave W, has a speed limit that’s observed by practically nobody. It would be the height of silliness to plan our bike network according to car speed limits instead of actually enabling bike access!

      • Josh says:

        Broadway definitely needed something, thanks to the streetcar, but it would have been better to develop a facility that was comfortable and safe to ride in. The current facility seems to have led most cyclists to ride elsewhere, not on Broadway.

        Second Ave, like Broadway, is clearly not designed as an all-ages-and-abilities facility. It’s unsafe for riders at moderate adult speeds (12-15 mph) to share with slower, more vulnerable riders (6-8 mph) — an AAA traffic mix has a lot of speed differential and a lot of passing, and Second Ave doesn’t have safe passing clearance, or turning clearance, or sight distances to obstructions.

        Unless you have evidence that Seattle has a particularly severe speeding culture among motorists, moreso than say New York or Chicago, complaining that drivers on Rainier don’t obey the speed limit is pointless — the 35 mph posted speed limit reference used by the League is based on the speeds people actually drive with a 35 mph posted limit. Sidepaths are the safest infrastructure for high-speed arterials with limited intersection density, but are more hazardous than bike lanes or riding in traffic on slower urban streets with high intersection density, where the primary contributors to car/bike collisions are intersection conflicts that are exacerbated by hiding bicycles from motorists until the point of impact.

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        Josh, the reason most people use a route other than Broadway is because construction at Denny essentially forces them to. Signs say the road is closed to bikes and point people to Harvard. It’s not because of the bike lane.

        Unfortunately, the bike lane won’t be truly useful until it is extended the rest of the way to at least Roy. When that happens, you’ll see lots of people in that bike lane. But the streetcar extension is years away.

      • Josh says:

        There’s some plausibility to that, but many people aren’t going past Denny anyway — what about the Denny intersection would make someone choose 12th instead of Broadway to get between Seattle Central and Yesler Terrace?

      • Al Dimond says:

        Just because there’s a standard doesn’t mean it’s right everywhere it might be applied. What sort of evidence does the League have that its standards work anywhere, let alone in the conditions prevailing in Seattle. Again, what matters is whether the bike network actually allows people to get places by bike safely, conveniently, and comfortably.

        I don’t think the question of whether Seattle has a greater speeding problem than other big cities is relevant. Most of the US (by population) experiences a mostly suburban or exurban built environment that works a lot differently at a given speed limit. Go for a walk around Totem Lake and compare the roads there to the roads of Seattle. Higher speed limits, more lanes, and wider lanes for roads of every purpose, a higher ratio of uncontrolled turns, and no coherent transportation network at all without using the biggest and fastest roads. Here where side streets are abundant greenways are easier to put together and more relevant, something we’d be crazy not to take advantage of at their cost! And narrower arterials where we can actually control most of the turning traffic and manage visibility can reasonably carry sidepaths… even minor arterials, which are more likely here to have heavy traffic (of all modes) and difficult passing conditions than in most of the US. Speed limit doesn’t come close to explaining the range of different infrastructure and traffic conditions!

  2. Al Dimond says:

    In a city with as much construction as we have going on, both public and private, the results of these construction projects say a lot about our regard for transportation cycling. After all, the things we build new should be things we build according to our current values, right? Well, we’re breaking all our promises along Mercer. SDOT is talking up its Construction Hub Coordination Program, which would make you think someone’s there actually considering impacts to people that actually use the streets. Yet appalling impacts prevail, and even things the city controls directly, like signal timings, are extremely auto-centric when we install them new!

    How can we even deserve a gold rating when we treat our cyclists like dirt?

  3. Allan says:

    Seattle deserves a bronze because I am sure that there are worse cities somewhere. I am planning to leave Seattle and choose some place better to ride a bike.

  4. Cherokee says:

    Seattle is Platinum in my book. F@ck Andy Clarke and his fascist agenda.

    http://bicycleuniverse.info/transpo/bikelanes.html

    • ChefJoe says:

      Wow, it’s almost like bus drivers in europe don’t tolerate bikes in their lanes when the bike lanes disappear. Hard to believe the problem is so universal.

    • jay says:

      I’m confused by your video link, Seattle too has bike lanes that abruptly end plus, as likely as not, they were in the door zone when they did exist. We also have transit drivers who don’t believe in “Give them 3 feet”, though I don’t recall any hit and runs involving transit as the offender.
      Or was the “Seattle is Platinum in my book” facetious?

      I don’t understand the scoring, how does 50% = Gold, where everywhere else 50% would be a failing grade? If they want to go for “nobody gets left out, everybody gets a ribbon” why not adjust the scoring so Seattle gets 8/10? And what kind of medal does Copenhagen get? Diamond?

      BTW;
      0.7 / 0.5 = 1.4 “almost on track ”
      148.6 / 90 = 1.65 “significantly higher”
      not really that huge of difference, and dead is a lot worse than the average “crash”
      I haven’t found anywhere that gives comparable statistics for other places, specifically Copenhagen, but I did find one place that stated Copenhagen, between 2009 and 2012, averaged 3.3 cyclist deaths per Million “residents” or 0.033 per 10K , even in Copenhagen probably less than half of those are “daily bicyclists”. So, one can get Platinum with an order of magnitude more deaths than Copenhagen? Admittedly that is an unrealistic target, but an order of magnitude? setting the bar a bit low in my opinion.

      • ChefJoe says:

        Not that the bus driver did so, but the RCW only specifies ” shall pass to the left at a safe distance to clearly avoid coming into contact with the pedestrian or bicyclist, and shall not again drive to the right side of the roadway until safely clear of the overtaken pedestrian or bicyclist.” http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=46.61.110

        The “3 ft rule” has no more legal basis than dan savage’s “campsite rule.”

      • Doug says:

        Just because it’s not illegal doesn’t make it a dirtbag thing to do.

        I would argue that anything less than a few feet is not a “safe distance.” Getting buzzed is pretty terrifying, even after many thousands of miles of riding in an urban setting. I just can’t shake the impression that it’s an implicit threat. Also, I’m not sure the possible threat is worse than simple callous negligence.

      • Ben P says:

        I find Seattle bus drivers very competent and polite. Most of my bad experiences have involved pickups.

  5. William Wilcock says:

    I notice that there is nothing about the quality of the roads. Roosevelt has “a bike lane” but it is full of potholes. Personally I would rather ride on well paved arterial in traffic than on the poorly paved bike lanes that Seattle seems to specialize in. I think Seattle’s gold status is pretty generous and entirely based on enthusiasm and advocacy rather that the quality of bike actual infrastructure.

    • J.D. says:

      Agreed – many of Seattle’s bike lanes, especially on arterials, are so poorly designed that they are unusable. They actually make things worse because drivers get angry at cyclists for not using them, even though they are potentially fatally dangerous. Roosevelt is a perfect example (although it is potentially getting fixed).

    • Virchow says:

      I agree that Seattle’s status is probably based mostly on enthusiasm and advocacy. There may also be a political calculus there. Seattle has a BMP, Seattle’s politician’s talk a decent game about bike infrastructure and projects are being implemented at an accelerating rate. Now all of these things are frustrating for us on the ground, who want the BMP to not only exist but to be funded, want our politicians to put more skin in the game for bike/ped/mass transit and who see missed opportunities to implement more and better bike infrastructure.
      But by putting Seattle at Gold and above lots of other similarly sized cities, the national group gets to point to things we are doing/saying when other cities want to do more to promote biking.

      I actually thought their categories scores (5/10 etc.) were pretty close to where I would ballpark us.

      • Al Dimond says:

        It’s sort of like the UW thing a bit ago. UW is ranked much higher than Illinois, where I studied. Illinois is a vastly better cycling campus (at least for students living on or near campus), with a comprehensive network of cycletracks, but nobody really makes much noise about it.

      • William Wilcock says:

        I absolutely agree with Al Dimond.

        The UW makes a lot of noise about bicycles but the infrastructure support is minimal. The Burke Gilman through campus from the East is in such bad shape with tree roots that it will soon be preferable to ride on the campus roads or even Montlake. There have been a series of diversions that turn a west bound ride on the Burke Gilman into a tour of campus and the U district and there seems to be no incentives to the entities that have closed the Burke Gilman (Seattle Light) to get a move on – most days there is no visible activity on the closed portion of the trail.

        The Pend Orielle / Burke Gilman 4-way stop “experiment” has resulted in a return to the status quo but with the addition of new signs in the middle of the road telling vehicles to yield to pedestrians which could reasonably be interpreted by omission as telling vehicles that they do not need to yield to cyclists.

        The UW provides all sorts of benefits to bus riders who buy UPass in the form or merchant discounts that are not available to daily bicycle commuters.

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