Seattle is getting press all over the country today from an AP story about the city’s new neighborhood and protected bikeway focus. Not only does the story by Phuong Le do a great job of capturing the city’s shift to next generation cycling facilities, but it also shows how the conversation about cycling in Seattle has changed:
“No one is trying to force anyone to pick mode of transportation,” said [City Councilmember Mike] O’Brien. “It’s not about taking away someone’s car keys and demanding they get on a bike. But for people who do want to do it, they have a right to be safe getting back and forth to where they need to go.”
As the city overhauls a plan currently aimed at tripling the number of cyclists in the city, many say they’d want features that cater to a broad range of riders.
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The current plan “is working great for people who are already comfortable biking in the city,” said Dylan Ahearn, who helped form Beacon BIKES after feeling the plan did a lot for commuters getting downtown but not as much for those getting around neighborhoods. “There’s a wider segment of the population that could be served if they (the streets) were safer.”
Ahearn says he understands the angst that motorists can feel toward cyclists. Neighborhood greenways with slower speed limits, signs, crosswalks and other features could help resolve some tension between them, he said.
Greenways “protect people by re-envisioning neighborhood streets as great public spaces, great community places,” said Cathy Tuttle, coordinator of Seattle Neighborhood Greenways.
Compare this to big media news stories just one year ago, and you can see how far we’ve come. The vision of the city’s bicycling future is one where just about anyone feels comfortable biking around their neighborhoods. People working to encourage more biking to school or to the park or the grocery store have had a huge impact on what biking means in our city. Since most trips in the Seattle region are less than five miles and one-third of residents cannot drive, making our neighborhoods more bikeable has immense potential to garner support beyond the hardcore bike commuter crowd.
Next generation cycling facilities in Seattle mean more than just a couple feet of extra paint on the road. They mean a shift in the common sense transportation options for the average residents of our city. It means cycle tracks downtown, neighborhood greenways near every home and a modern bike share system. It doesn’t mean that people won’t be able to drive, it means that biking will be so easy, safe, fast and affordable that people will rather bike instead. It’s not a carrot and a stick, it’s a harvest dinner and an acupuncture needle.
The AP story does go briefly into some anti-tax, pro-car arguments from the conservative think-tank Washington Policy Center, but the arguments come off pretty flimsy. Something about it not being “fair” when installing bike lanes means lowering the number of “auto lanes.” Since fairness usually involves some kind of sharing, complete streets that include bike lanes and safe crosswalks while reducing the number of car wrecks and auto passenger injuries are about as fair as you can get. And even the WPC seems to support neighborhood greenways:
“We don’t have a problem with the city investing in bike infrastructure,” said Michael Ennis, transportation director for the conservative Washington Policy Center. “It’s just when it’s at the expense of auto lanes, then we start running into issues of fairness.”
Sounds like Ennis wants to start an Enumclaw Neighborhood Greenways group. Which would actually be super awesome, because once he starts, he’ll realize that it is FAR less expensive to create new safe walking and biking routes if the arterial roads are already complete streets. In fact, safe streets are among the most fiscally responsible investments a municipality can make (Forbes says bicycling alone already saves the US at least $4.6 billion every year).
Unfortunately, KOMO decided to play up the tired cars vs bikes meme in their headline for the same AP story: “Motorists wary as Seattle tries to attract more bicyclists.” Oh please. That is in no way the subject of that article. A headline like that might fire up the anti-bike Internet trolls, but it’s tired and outdated. The conversation has moved on, and it would be great if the city’s big media would catch up.