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Why Seattle must invest in protected bike lanes and transit summarized in one moving GIF

2nd-Ave-Gif-2The choice is clear: There is no choice. Seattle must invest in better transit and bike lanes if the city wants to grow. Here’s a moving GIF from 2nd Avenue in downtown Seattle that demonstrates why.

Inspired by this GIF that has been making its way around the web, I took the images from the Commuter Toolkit poster i-Sustain made about seven years ago with sponsorships from Seattle, King County and a bunch of other transit agencies and private organizations. You can download the poster here.

This image answers the question of why Seattle should invest in protected bike lanes. In addition to making the street safer and more comfortable for people walking, biking and driving, protected bike lanes actually add capacity to the street. The image demonstrates how a bike lane can carry an entire traffic jam, but that will only happen if it is safe and comfortable enough for people of all ages and abilities to consider using it.


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This is how protected bike lanes will revolutionize downtown Seattle and allow our state’s largest employment center to continue adding jobs.

The image also, of course, demonstrates the power of transit. Building a subway is like moving an entire traffic jam into a smoothly-running train underground. And without our buses, Seattle would have stopped growing a long time ago. Many of you would not even be here reading this blog. You would be in some other part of the country or world where you found work and a place to live.

Sitting in traffic is awful. Indeed, the first image in the GIF probably looks pretty familiar. And I understand that to people sick of sitting in traffic, it seems counter-intuitive to use any road space currently reserved for cars on transit, biking or walking instead. But it is the only way we will ever increase the ability for more people to move around our city and get where they’re going.


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28 responses to “Why Seattle must invest in protected bike lanes and transit summarized in one moving GIF”

  1. biliruben

    I’d recommend slowing it down a touch. I clicked through on the poster just so my eyes had time to absorb it.

    1. Andres Salomon

      Seconded. I found myself wishing there was a pause button.

      1. Tom Fucoloro

        If the GIF is too fast, you’re too old.

        – Youth of the Internet :-)

      2. I agree. I hurts my eyeballs to look at but I also must be too old. I know GIF’s are the way of the “future” but man are they old school. Don’t get me started on Mindcraft (otherwise am 80’s pixilated game). I remember the 80’s, I am THAT old Tom.

      3. Tom Fucoloro

        Ha! And to be clear, I was joking about the “old” thing.

      4. Andres Salomon

        Ideally I can push the pause button with my cane, which I’ll then shake it at you internet yoots.

    2. Jake

      I made a slower version, and attempted to line-up the photos better: http://i.imgur.com/KwZQggR.gif

  2. Bellinghammer

    And bike improvements are orders of magnitude cheaper than transit investments. We clearly need both bikes and transit, but it’s worth always keeping in mind just how cheap bike infrastructure is, even by Seattle’s inflated standards. Spending $200 million over 10 or 20 years to fully realize the Bike Master Plan may seem like a lot, but it’s the same price as just *4 months* of Metro service.

    1. Second that.
      Cheaper by any measure including per person-mile and per trip. I love this GIF because it shows that bike infrastructure can actually increase the bandwidth of the streets without having to increase the right-of-way width, as soon as enough people switch modes.
      I’d like to do one that illustrates relative cost of highway, bridge, streetcar, light rail above ground, light rail below ground, heavy commuter rail (the most dismal), monorail, protected bike lane, separated multiuse trail, and rechannelization.

  3. Gordon

    Second gif like this I’ve seen recently. Neither was stabilized. I it makes the visual comparisons less dramatic (instead of just the people moving if it were stabilized the whole image moves with every frame). Regardless, spot on!

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Yeah, the photos were taken at slightly different angles, so impossible to stabilize without taking new photos (a huge undertaking!)

  4. Ryder

    This is an oversimplification of the problem. Saying 200 people in cars at one space in time could be handled by putting all 200 of them on 3 buses is BS. Most people don’t go to the same place just because they are in traffic on the same road. If they did we could have only 1 bus line and 1,000 buses on it nonstop.

    I think the idea of the gif is clever but clever ideas that ignore basic use cases are not offering real solutions.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Seattle buses do not have trouble getting filled to capacity, especially at rush hour. So I’d say the comparison is fine.

    2. This criticism is extremely apt on 405, and considerably less apt on 2nd Ave in Seattle.

    3. Jeffrey J. Early

      I think what you’re saying is that putting 100% of people on buses is not the best solution to the transportation problem—which is totally true!

      But that’s not the point being made with this series of images. I would say the point is that,
      1) transporting people primarily with cars runs into a geometric (space) problem very quickly and,
      2) pretty much any other mode of transportation doesn’t have this issue.

      The logical conclusion to draw from these points is that we need to *strongly* support other modes of transportation at this point.

  5. Teri

    I am reminded of a comment that an acquaintance once made when presented with the concept that buses are good for reducing traffic congestion.
    “That’s ridiculous!” she said. “Have you seen how BIG buses are? They take up lots of space.”
    I can’t remember how the conversation ended exactly, but I don’t think she really ever understood our point…

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Human beings are really bad at understanding how much space we take up. On a bike, people sometimes feel more visible than they really are, for example. In a car, I think people consider themselves one tiny part of a giant road system. This is apparent when people who drive get mad about traffic as though they are not part of it.

      I don’t think those people are stupid, I think that’s natural. It’s one of the psychological fallacies that allows car culture to persist despite ample evidence that beyond a certain population density or system size, it can’t work (at least not without significant biking, walking and transit). That’s why seeing images like the one above is so shocking the first time. The reality of how big cars are does not mesh with our experience of being in one. At least that’s my untested armchair behavioral science hypothesis…

      1. JAT

        I absolutely agree that people are bad at realizing how much space they take up which is the reason I’m so unwilling to support two-way cycle tracks.

  6. Jonathan

    This is brilliant Tom. –>shared.

  7. Geof

    It’s ironic that these are on 2nd Ave in Seattle. 2nd Ave has what is commonly regarded as one of the worst bike lanes in Seattle, lots of cross traffic. In fact, that’s one huge issue with trying to build “protected bike lanes” on existing streets; bikes need to turn right and left, and cars need to cross these bike lanes at intersections. By the time you’re done making allowances for all that, you’ve got lots of potential bike/car conflicts, but lulled people into the illusion of the “safety of the protected bike lane”.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Indeed, the 2nd Ave bike lane is awful and uncomfortable. No real efforts were made to deal with turning car conflicts or with parking cars. That’s why a protected bike lane is needed. If properly designed, it will include elements to remove most conflicts. This includes things like bike-specific traffic signals that make sure turning cars have red lights when people on bikes are crossing, etc.

      Data from cities as congested as New York show a clear increase in safety and comfort when bike lanes are protected in this way. If done right, Seattle will see the same results.

  8. Lisa

    Minor nitpick, but people can stand on buses, not just on light rail! (as happens on pretty much every rush hour bus)

  9. merlin

    That’s me on the middle bike in the front row! And my little Honda Insight (may she rest in peace!) is also visible as the third car from the front on the right. Mayor Nichols came down to shake hands with everyone and my buddy Patty asked him why he didn’t ride a bike. He said it was too dangerous downtown! She offered to give him some tips. Fun event.

    Regarding Teri’s comment: one reason people overestimate the percentage of people who drive is that CARS are really big and take up a lot of room, both when they’re moving and when they’re parked. Bikes are little, and when they’re parked, they’re pretty much invisible, especially if they’re stowed in a garage or in somebody’s office.

    1. Gary

      Which is why bike counters are key to getting more money spent on bicycle infrastructure.
      A million trips is hard for ignore.

  10. This is cool, but it may actually underestimate how awesome bikes are. It looks like it assumes the typical number of people in a passenger car, but full capacity on rail and buses. Bikes don’t roll empty… we take up only the space we actually need.

    Improving bicycle infrastructure is cheap. More bikes on the road means more room for people who need (or think they need) to drive. Everyone wins with more bikes on the road.

  11. Thanks, Tom, for posting this. It’s very interesting to read the responses. I thought some people might be interested in the background. We (i-SUSTAIN) did this about seven years ago, I think. At the time, it connected to a website with sections on all the innovations that were coming to decrease people’s reliance on cars, including the street car, light rail, smart cards, etc. We thought it would eye-catching enough that people would go to the website. We had many great partners including SDOT who shut down the street and paid for the crane for the photographer and covered the cost of the many police officers. We were able to get 200 volunteers to come out from 5:00 am to 1:00 pm on a Sunday, including Nickels and Sims, who rarely participated in anything together. It was a super fun and effective project, and I’m glad it’s still in circulation. — Patricia Chase

  12. The bike riders stretch up 2nd a lot farther than the bus or transit photos. Each bike rider has his own mind about how fast to go, when to turn, etc. At least the bus and transit riders are driven by one mind on a predictable route, a lot safer, useing less space and NO parking problem. I think it’s a good argument for public transit.

  13. merlin

    What I’d really like to see is a series of images showing the street with various mode shares: start with what we’ve got now and then play around with increasing transit, putting everyone in cars, doubling the bike share, etc. It would be especially cool if this could be an animation showing traffic moving. Anybody out there know how to do this?

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