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Cascade: Seattle is falling behind in bicycle infrastructure

Image from Cascade

The days of sitting comfortably as the second most bikeable big city in the country are over. With San Francisco, Minneapolis and now Washington DC and Tucson nipping at our heels, it’s clear that Seattle needs to make some bold decisions if we don’t want to fall back into the mediocre middle of the pack.

As Cascade Bicycle Club documented in their 2012 Seattle Bicycle Report Card (PDF), cities across the country are investing big in bicycling while Seattle’s investments neither keep up with the growing numbers of people biking nor keep up with the 2007 Bicycle Master Plan’s goals.

Cascade’s report is focused on emphasizing the need for modern protected bike facilities that have proven successful at encouraging people of a wide range of ages and abilities to take up biking in cities around the world and the country:

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Three years later, with the City of Seattle in the process of updating the 2007 Bicycle Master Plan, Cascade’s 2012 Seattle Bicycle Report Card is intended to help Seattle chart a visionary path toward a future city where bicycling is safe, comfortable and convenient for everyone who wants to ride.

It is beyond the point of debate: Protected bike lanes are the way to go. And Seattle’s downtown and many main commercial drags look stuck in the past with their unfriendly, car-centric streets. If we want more activity and more families in downtown, we need to have the streets be efficient and inviting. And if we want bicycle commuting numbers to increase significantly, we need an inviting place to ride in our region’s top employment center.

Master Plan Progress

So, how is the city doing on our 2007 Bicycle Master Plan? Well, we’re doing OK:

Halfway through the Bicycle Master Plan implementation, only 60 of the 155 miles of proposed dedicated bicycle infrastructure (bicycle lanes, bicycle boulevards and multi-use trails) had been constructed as of late 2011.

As you can see, the city is FAR ahead of their total miles of sharrows goal. Before 2007, the bicycle network was very much unconnected. Since then, sharrows were often used to “fill” holes in the bicycle network. Unfortunately, sharrows on busy roadways do little to encourage significant growth in cycling, and Cascade and other bicycle advocates are now pushing for separated facilities instead.

While the growth in cycling is lagging slightly behind the stated goal of tripling the number of people biking in the city, the bicycle crash rate is declining steadily. In fact, 2010 saw the collision rate decline that the plan aimed to achieve by 2016.

This supports the hypothesis that the growing numbers of people biking has made cycling in Seattle safer. Now, if we address long-standing major safety issues like 2nd Ave downtown and the Burke-Gilman Missing Link, just imagine how both the graphs above will improve.


Conceptual map of potential high-quality bike facilities (protected bike lanes, trails and neighborhood greenways mostly)

While the number of people cycling in Seattle continues to grow steadily year over year, funding for bicycle projects is slowly declining:

Bicycling is the fastest growing mode of transportation in the city, and yet on average, only 2 percent of the City’s transportation budget is being allocated to biking improvements – less than the current mode share and significantly less than the City’s goal mode share of bicycling.

Between 2007 and 2010, Seattle allocated $11-12 per person annually for bicycle-related improvements, the amount decreasing slightly each year. For international comparison – Amsterdam spends nearly $40 per person annually on bicycle infrastructure. As a result of this investment, along with transportation policies that make biking convenient, comfortable and safe, 41 percent of all trips in central Amsterdam are by bike.

Even though only 35 percent of downtown commuters drive to work alone (compared to 40 percent using transit, ten percent walking and eight percent biking), driving-centric projects get an exorbitant amount of the city’s transportation budget every year (not to mention the state’s multiple mega projects). The S Spokane Street Viaduct widening project alone cost the city an estimated $70 million (total estimated cost of $143 million with funding from other state and regional sources). The total annual bike budget is in the neighborhood of $6.8 million, and the Pedestrian Master Plan budget is even worse.

If the city only increased the walking and biking budgets to match the percentage of commuters who already use those modes today, the budgets would easily double. The city would then have the money to give our dated streets a world-class modern makeover.

Cities around the nation look to Seattle for inspiration. Are we going to be the city of the future, or are we going to stick stubbornly to unfriendly road designs that were modern during the 1962 World’s Fair?

Let’s show the country we are still serious about being a leader in city living. Let’s get the plans moving now so we can build protected bike lanes downtown next year.

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24 responses to “Cascade: Seattle is falling behind in bicycle infrastructure”

  1. Anthony

    Wow, a post where I can side with Cascade to an extent. They don’t say it openly, but clearly reinforce what I’ve been saying for some time, the City of Seattle really doesn’t give a crap about cyclists in many respects. They love to spend money on the study, but real world results are critically lagging in comparison.

    The one good thing I like about this report are the crash stats falling. And noted that is due to the new daily commuters on bikes helping to reduce that number. Nice!

    But, if this city wants to get serious, the first place is to educate those drivers who still seem to think that cyclists are their own personal playthings, which we aren’t. Lots of good drivers in Seattle, but quite a few still who are atrocious, at best.

  2. […] more: Cascade: Seattle is falling behind in bicycle … – Seattle Bike Blog This entry was posted in Blog Search and tagged aimed, biking, city, decline, declining, growth, […]

  3. Interesting pictures. I hope we remember two things:

    1. Cycletracks cross intersections just like bike lanes and sharrows do. Long stretches of road with curb-protected cycletracks make nice photos, but when it comes to safety, intersections are where it’s at.

    2. A 2nd Ave. cycletrack should be two-way. I am all but positive about it. One-way streets are about maximizing automotive throughput, and that’s just not such a concern with bike traffic.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      1. I have faith the city can design this to make it far more clear and obvious how drivers should make left turns safely. Right now, I think a lot of people don’t even notice that the bike lane is there.

      2. I fully agree that the 2nd ave cycle track should be two-way. In fact, I bet the contraflow bikes would actually be in a safer place from turning cars than the people biking with traffic (assuming it is clear to everyone that people will be biking in both directions).

  4. @Anthony: BTW. in Cascade’s last bike report card, 40% of respondents had a crash in the past 2 years (if I recall).

    It was really unnerving to read. Could you imagine motorists accepting that as a tolerable crash rate for their vehicles – or allowing 40% of pedestrians to be hit every 2 years by cars?

  5. Austin

    Removing all of that parking along 65th, and turning the four lane freeway between SLU and Fremont into something livable. I think these concepts may be too bold, too progressive for Seattle.

  6. seadog

    Any of you ever think about the fact that people are aging in place? Which means that single-family home owners that are baby-boomers are going to hang onto the houses they have equity in and age in place? From that point, think about this: they ain’t going to be riding bikes, they are going to be using mass transit.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      I fail to see what people owning houses has to do with bicycling.

    2. Todd

      Deep thinker Seadog? I’m 45 and commute in on transit and ride out on bike. What’s your excuse?

  7. Breadbaker

    I’m 56, live in a single-family house and bike to work. Your point again?

  8. George Harvey

    I’m 65 and a daily, year-round commuter.

  9. These pictures show a lot of infrastructure. Cyclists will never get what they want until they start paying for it directly. Not indirectly through general taxes and diversion of road funds, but as direct taxes in the form of licenses for bicycles and cyclists.

    NOTE: One doesn’t get a free pass from carbon emission guilt if one requires a hard, flat, and smooth surface to ride upon (and every dangerous spot fixed).

  10. merlin

    Seadog, a world-class transportation network includes walking and biking facilities that connect to mass transit and are comfortable, convenient and safe for people of all ages, kids and old folks included. People who walk and bike for transportation throughout their working life will continue to walk and bike well into old age.

  11. @Wadical: I know you’re trolling, but I bite.

    So, are you suggesting that the infrastructure in every city in this report (where citizens don’t pay special street taxes if they ride a bike vs walking or transit) is imaginary and doesn’t actually exist?

  12. A person who walks

    Give those who ride bikes whatever road changes they want, just get them off the sidewalk. Seattle is the only city in North America that allows grown men and women to ride bicycles on sidewalks, and as a result our city is a dangerous, and unpleasant place to walk. With the seemingly endless promotion of biking it is only getting worse. I don’t own a car or bike. I walk, or use Metro, and get along fine, however I am sick of reckless and aggressive sidewalk bikers. I would suggest that bikers who do not like dealing with people walking grow up, and ride in the street like responsible adults. All the lip service paid to walkability or pedestrian safety etc. is cynical, and hypocritical. It is the bike lobby that directs transportation policy here, and they clearly don’t give a damn about people that walk.

  13. Daniel

    Gas taxes have not paid the full cost of road construction and maintenance in many years. The vast majority of SDOT’s budget comes from sales and property taxes, which cyclists pay just like anyone else.

    The carbon emissions connected to road construction continue to be a big problem. We do need more environmentally friendly paving solutions.

  14. We wouldn’t need to spend nearly so much money paving things if commute distances were so long. Even when people want to live close to where they work and shop, it’s hard to do when a couple has jobs in different places and neighborhoods with amenities close by are scarce and expensive. And when long commutes are such a norm that employers think nothing of moving your job across the region.

    We’d need a lot less pavement per-capita if we built fewer freeways.

  15. Shane Phillips

    Yeah, I’m not sure I follow the logic here. Are you trying to say that people haven’t been aging in place before now? I’m not even sure it’s true that it’s true people are aging in place, with all the stories you here about empty-nesters and the elderly moving into smaller homes and more urban areas nearer to health care facilities.

    Either way, this doesn’t change the fact that Seattle is a growing city that will continue to attract many young people looking for a great job or a great education, and we should offer them (and everyone else) the active transportation options that they desire. It’ll also probably help us attract, support, and retain the older individuals who are looking for the same healthy options for getting where they need to go.

  16. Shane Phillips

    Sorry, the above was in response to Seadog’s comment. Not sure what happened.

  17. RTK

    The only issue I can think of with the contraflow would be traffic light sequencing. The major one way streets downtown are timed for minimum stops. It might take forever to get up the hill. Fourth is optimized for northbound flow, but with the long up hill from Pioneer square a bike is still going to get stopped a couple of times. Second might be much worse.

  18. spare_wheel

    while separated lanes might be preferable on busy arterials or commercial streets, the good old-fashioned bike lane (especially those that are 6+ feet wide and/or buffered) are often a better option (and better bang for your buck) than a narrow enclosed lane with no room for future growth.

  19. […] There is no clear and safe route for cycling on this flat and direct connection between the Fremont Bridge and South Lake Union/downtown. Even with the completion of the Dexter buffered bike lanes, many people choose to bike through the Westlake parking lot to avoid the significant climb on Dexter. Cascade Bicycle Club has been after a Westlake cycle track for years, and they even included a mock-up of what it could look like in their recent report card on Seattle’s bikeability: […]

  20. […] (the mode share percentage grew by 33 percent). Meanwhile, bicycle-specific investments make up only 2 percent of the city’s transportation […]

  21. Harrison Davignon

    It is so amazing how Washington state is the number one bicycle state, yet Seattle and other cities in the state are lagging behind other bicycle cities. You think it would be the opposite, that the cities have most of the bicycle infrastructure. The problems with bicycle infrastructure growth across the nation are one, greedy oil companies, who don’t want to see there profits disappear, so they use there money to persuade politicians to be on there side and cut funding to bicycle riding, 2 people who are unable to ride because of job requirements, physical inabilities, or time restraints, 3 our fast pace, long our work life, our instant gratification society, prevents us from having the time to bicycle ride, 4 a lot of businesses are very professional and most see bicycle riders as sweaty, drowned rats, and in some cases maeby immature, 5 converting car infrastructure into bicycle infrastructure is costly and decision filled, like how too make sure we still provide care access to people who need to drive, 6 drivers who see cyclists doing all sorts of crazy, like riding against traffic, no lights at night, running lights, and the cops seem to ignore these traffic violations, causing motorists to rebel against bicycles, and finally our love affair for the car is still very much alive and a lot of people think bicycles are anti american. Those are some of the reasons bicycle riding lags behind in Seattle and the united states compared to other countries. We need to keep pushing efforts to make Seattle and america a better place to ride bikes.

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