Danny Westneat and I had an excellent chat Tuesday about Seattle’s resurging “bikelash” this past week. Coincidence or not, this week has also had fantastic weather for riding a bike.
The frustrations started with the announcement that Mayor Mike McGinn has hired former Cascade Bicycle Club Advocacy Director David Hiller. This hiring sent at least two local TV news stations into attack mode, and the result has riled up anger at Seattle bicycle riders in general and kickstarted the “cars vs bikes” meme all over again.
While King 5 was running this video last night, people were gathering in Gas Works Park for the 7th annual Ride of Silence. The ride is a somber event in memory of people who have died while riding bicycles over the years in our community and across the country. King 5’s Linda Brill scoffs at the idea that a “bicycle expert” could be a transportation adviser to the mayor, but the number one reason people do not ride bicycles in Seattle is because they do not feel safe riding near cars on our city’s streets.
Underneath the criticism of the mayor’s vocal support for cycling is an assumption that bicycle use is not a legitimate form of transportation. Yet every day, more and more people in Seattle are discovering the nearly indescribable joy, freedom and practicality of riding a bicycle. The city’s investments in bicycle infrastructure are paying off. The number of people in this city choosing to ride a bike will keep rising, and the number of people driving will continue falling (as they have for the better part of the past decade, long before Mayor McGinn took office).
Behind the endless debates about “road diets,” signal timing and market rate parking, there is a beautiful vision of a city where people get where they need to go efficiently, cheaply and in better health. Cars are here to stay, but our city, state and federal governments have all spent massive amounts of money over decades in an attempt to make them the most practical way to get around. They are engrained in our culture and for some purposes, they are very useful. However, we cannot fit more cars into our city. Ignoring the toxic exhaust hurting every citizen in this city, the environmental impact of burning gas and the danger motor vehicles pose to all road users, there simply is not any more room.
This image says it all:
Well, maybe it doesn’t say everything. That image makes a very clear argument for transit and bicycle use in an urban setting, but what about the fun? What about the parties, the community, the wind in your face, the smiles and the laughter? No, I think this photo from last year’s Tour de Fat actually says it all:
Well, maybe that’s not quite right, either. In reality, for the majority of my everyday bike riding I am either alone or with a good friend that I love. Time spent on a bike brings me closer to my city and to myself. It’s time to reflect or just watch the world and smile. No, I think this simple photo says it all:
I met this woman a few months ago next to the playground at the old T.T. Minor School in my neighborhood. She rides her bike as much as she can, pulling her young daughter in a trailer behind her. At this moment, her daughter was off playing and otherwise being a kid while this woman just sat on this bench watching her as the night rolled in.
With a new biking season finally getting into high gear, it is up to us, as people who ride bicycles and/or urban advocates, to present to our fellow citizens an image of what bicycling is and what it can be. Perhaps this is where the mayor could most improve. When McGinn speaks about bicycle use or vastly expanding transit, he is talking about ideas that can make Seattle more affordable, safer and happier. But he can’t just say the words and the statistics, he needs to make us understand what that means and what it looks like. I’m talking videos, people smiling, diagrams, animations showing how traffic flow works during a road diet, etc. People need to get excited and feel like part of an ever-improving Seattle.
Bike to Work Day is Friday. A lot of people are going to experience first-hand how empowering it is to get where they’re going under their own power. Some of them will discover that a street that used to be scary is now much safer with bike lanes and calmed traffic. They may choose to make a habit of riding. More people will be added to ranks of daily rush hour commuters who choose to ride bicycles. These safer streets are just a glimpse of how our city could be with a more complete bicycle network.
We will not successfully rebut misinformed bits of bike rhetoric until we can effectively present how much better life for everybody in Seattle could be if more of us rode bicycles every day.