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:
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
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.
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.