If Washington State were an NBA team, its bike-friendly championship streak would have just tied the 1959–1966 Boston Celtics at eight championships in a row, the longest ever by far.
But, of course, a major difference between the League of American Bicyclists’ bike-friendly state rankings and the NBA is that the other NBA teams are actually trying to win.
Cities across the nation are doing awesome, innovative work to make cycling safer and more welcoming. But every state is still living deep in the car age, pouring billions into expanding highway systems that only get more clogged with each new lane and interchange. State legislatures barely seem to be aware of bicycling. And many that are aware of bikes are trying to move backwards, proposing all-ages helmet laws, doomed bicycle license schemes and even mandatory dayglo vest laws.
So when Washington State passes laws like the Vulnerable User Law and invests a miniscule percentage of the transportation budget into trails, Safe Routes to School and bicycle education, that’s all it takes to jump over the low bar required to reach the top bike-friendly state spot. Washington only received 66 out a possible 100 points, but that solid D grade was enough to secure an eight-peat.
Come on, rest of the country, get it together.
The good news is that the past year has seen some significant changes within WSDOT, with Paula Reeves heading up the biking and walking efforts inside the department. For example, WSDOT has held trainings for local transportation planners to show them how to use modern safe urban street designs and urging them to break out of old design habits that have proven dangerous and intimidating to people biking and walking. Protected bike lanes and safe crosswalks in every city and town center in the state? How awesome would that be? From the state’s press release:
“This report card shows we’ve made incredible strides in bicycle safety, education and investment,” said Secretary of Transportation Lynn Peterson. “We’ll continue working with our bicycling partners and Washington’s communities on improving conditions to meet our goal of increased safety and opportunities for bicycle transportation.”
Washington Bikes is excited about the news, of course, but they point out that other states keep getting closer to matching or surpassing our state’s venerable D grade (our five-point lead has shrunk to a three-point lead). They put together this list of some things the state can do this year to make sure they stay on top for a ninth year in a row:
Here are some initial steps that Washington Bikes will be advocating for in the remainder of 2015 and beyond:
- Grow staff capacity for bicycling and update the bike/ped plan at WSDOT. The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) should build upon its past successes by increasing staff capacity for planning, engineering, and implementation of solutions that make bicycling and walking safer and more convenient. Additionally, so much has changed in bike/ped planning since the last bicycle and pedestrian plan was released in 2008. Then, sharrows were still seen as relatively cutting edge. We’re past that and without so much as an update to the plan by WSDOT since then, much needs to change before the multimodal planning at WSDOT begins to address bicycling in earnest.
- Grow bicycle and pedestrian safety focus at the state level. Outside of the hugely successful Safe Routes to School programs, safety education initiatives for bicycling at the state level are conspicuously absent. Deeper engagement of the Cooper Jones Safety Committee at the Washington Traffic Safety Commission and increased focus on data collection could help.
- Grow investments at the state level. This factor is one that everyone can work on, starting today: write your legislators. Funding and infrastructure is our lowest score and it’s the place we can make immediate improvements in the transportation funding package currently being negotiated by the Washington state legislature.
“This top ranking reflects the hard work of many, many people and organizations and we’re proud of what our state has accomplished so far,” added Chamberlain. “Now we as Washingtonians need to get work to make Washington even BETTER for bicycling, which makes it better for everyone on the road. We encourage our leaders in Olympia to make this happen so that next year we can again call Washington the most bicycle friendly state in the nation.”
It’s still unclear if the state legislature will pass a transportation package this year. If it passes, there is some good biking and walking stuff buried under all the typical highway expansion money. The Republican-controlled Senate has already passed their version of a funding bill. The Democrat-controlled House is working on passing their version, and then the two bodies will need to combine the versions into something they can agree on before sending it to Governor Inslee.
But just imagine if Washington focused its transportation funding on safe streets, system maintenance and true congestion reduction efforts like high-capacity trails and transit rather than expanded and new highways. We would not only easily secure the #1 spot for the next eight years or more, but we’d save lives and increase the transportation choices and quality of life for all Washington residents.
Read the full WA report card in this PDF.