Is the Seattle Times falling in love with city cycling?

A recent Seattle Times editorial

A recent Seattle Times editorial

Seattle’s transportation culture is shifting fast. Bike lanes are extremely popular, and people want more of them. Transit is extremely popular and people want it to be faster and more reliable. People want our streets to be places, not just pipes and storage for cars.

And most of all, Seattle is willing to sacrifice some travel lanes and parking to make this all happen.

It’s not that “the bike people” are winning, exactly. It’s that the conversation has shifted. A much wider net of new voices have risen to the top of the city’s streets conversation. It’s not “bikes vs cars” anymore, it’s everyday people wanting safe, comfortable and exciting streets for people of all ages, abilities, incomes and means of travel.

Perhaps the best illustration of this is the palpable shift in tone and opinions coming from the Seattle Times Editorial Board. Not long ago, it seemed like there was almost a fight between cycling advocates and the Ed Board. When I saw a Times opinion headline pop up with the word “bike” in it, I would cringe: What ridiculousness would I need to debunk this time? Bikes were a political football, some kind of symbol caught up in disputes between a handful of city egos.

But now Times editorial headlines look like this one from Lance Dickie: Racing to catch up with Seattle’s bike culture

As Seattle works its way through improvements to the city’s cycling grid, the focus can get down to moving back and forth to work and school. One can easily forget, or be wholly ignorant of, the social network and community that those on two wheels can share. It is also an insight into the political clout to be organized in the name of better, safer bicycle routes.

Stay in touch with the progress on bike routes with the SeattleBikeBlog and the reporting of Tom Fucoloro.

Couldn’t have said it better myself! Also:

The social dynamic and memories of the pure fun of bike riding almost have me inspired to haul out my Miss Marple three-speed for a trip down the Burke-Gilman.

Do it! And I hope other radio hosts, columnists and city leaders do the same. Nothing diffuses bike skepticism as quickly as hopping on the saddle and giving it shot yourself, as one Toronto Star columnist described recently:

The idea was to provide us with examples of the perils encountered while riding, and to show us the need for and advantages of infrastructure that makes cycling safer and more viable.

But an unintended consequence of our journey was soon apparent: Cycling is an immensely enjoyable way to get around, especially on a fall day when moderate exertion results in minimal sweat.

It promotes a sense of well-being and gets the blood flowing without leaving one gasping for breath, and allows riders to quickly manoeuvre through heavy traffic without adding to the queue of gridlocked vehicles.

A note to any Seattle media: If you want to go for a bike ride some day, I’d love to give you a tour. Email me (I bike slow).

But back to the Times. The conversation about cycling on their pages has also shifted in large part to some new voices. Jonathan Martin, for example, wrote two great columns earlier this year making the case that data fully supports building protected bikeways on city streets. Both the large volume of people cycling and the harsh reality of recent deaths point to the need for higher-quality bike infrastructure:

But the death of Lance David, a 54 year-old veteran cyclist killed last week on his way to his job at Expeditors International (via Seattle Bike Blog), is a stark reminder that roads shared with two-ton cars, let alone multi-ton trucks, requires vigilance, by bikers and by drivers.It also calls for dedicated, separated bike paths – aka the city’s proposed cycle tracks – on the high-traffic routes.

He also wrote a good piece on why remaking the Burke-Gilman Trail through the UW would be a great TIGER grant project.

Meanwhile, while he’s not actually an Ed Board member, FYI Guy Gene Balk has been doing some great work crunching numbers on road safety and commute trends in the area. He’s written about walking safety, created a great map of bike commute trends by neighborhood and, this week, showed that young people in Seattle are increasingly less interested in driving:

Data firm Scarborough Research surveys thousands of people in the Seattle metropolitan area on the ways they get around.  The data indicate that among younger people there has indeed been a shift away from driving — and it’s happening at a fast pace.

Today, 80 percent of adults under 35 in the Seattle metro say that driving is a primary mode of transportation for them.  In 2008 — just five years ago — that number was at 90 percent.

In the same period of time, there have been significant increases in the percentage of young people here who walk in town at least one mile per week, and who regularly ride the bus.

The headline for that column: Is car culture coming to an end in Seattle? It sure seems to be coming to an end at the Seattle Times.

About Tom Fucoloro

Founder and Editor of Seattle Bike Blog.
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11 Responses to Is the Seattle Times falling in love with city cycling?

  1. Gene Balk says:

    Thank you for this, Tom.

  2. no traffic lights says:

    yep, the op-ed you speak of shocked me when I read it. Consumer sentiment is shifting and you can help facilitate that. Keep it up and when a media outlet comes with an acquisition offer, turn ‘n burn it.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I don’t like seeing headlines like that, because it seems to suggest only one mode of transportation can win; that there’s some kind of competition. My two main interests are cars and bikes, so I hate to see them clash like that.

  4. onshay says:

    I don’t get that from the editorial at all. It’s less about one mode of transportation winning over another and it’s more about actually sharing our infrastructure and providing safe means of moving through the city whether one’s on a bike, in a car, or on foot. As Tom pointed out at the top of the post, “It’s not “bikes vs cars” anymore, it’s everyday people wanting safe, comfortable and exciting streets for people of all ages, abilities, incomes and means of travel”.

    Part of the problem is that many people have a similar reaction as Anonymous. They read an article espousing the benefits of biking and the call for improved infrastructure and they feel that something’s being taken from them – at least in my experience. Improved bike (and pedestrian) infrastructure is a benefit to everyone; biker, walker, or driver.

  5. Gary says:

    “cars vs bikes”

    Since when is “winning” getting a mere 3% of the transportation budget? Comeon! When bicycle facilites get 97% of the budget, I’ll consider it a win. Meantime, the article on driving less says we should continue to invest in good Rapid transit, and bicycling. Since buses & bicycles use the roads, that means maintaining the roads. What it also means is that we might not need a 12 lane bridge across the Columbia if we had decent transit between Vancouver and Portland. And for sure we wouldn’t have needed a deep bore auto tunnel under Western if we had built transit from West Seattle to Ballard.

    It’s easy to think that bicycling fixes our transit and health problems when you ride in July, but not many folks around here are crazy enough, or have good enough facilites at work to ride in December and January. With our wet weather and longer commutes, we need a dry place to park our bicycles and generally a place to clean up, and that’s a shower. Not many office buildings have those facilities yet. Fortunately with the shift of workers to technology cube dwellers, these sort of amenities are one more reason to work for a particular company and are thus becoming more common.

  6. Gary says:

    Well it looks like not all of Seattle loves bicyclists..

    “Licences would keep us in check…” works so well for car drivers, no more DUI’s, speeding, etc thanks to that great auto licence program we have….

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