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UW accepts bike-friendly campus award, leaders talk about how to expand biking even further

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is by Jack Truitt, a UW News Lab student. It is published here as part of a partnership between Seattle Bike Blog and News Lab.

UW Associate VP of Facilities Services Charles Kennedy accepts award from League of American Bicyclists President Andy Clarke. Photo: Jack Truitt
UW Associate VP of Facilities Services Charles Kennedy accepts award from League of American Bicyclists President Andy Clarke. Photo: Jack Truitt

Biking needs to become an issue of climate change and personal health in order to escape the category of fitness hobby, according to the president of a national biking association who was in town last week to recognize the UW as a premier bike-friendly campus.

League of American Bicyclists President Andy Clarke awarded the University of Washington designation as a Gold Level Bicycle Friendly University Oct. 30. He then sat down with a panel of local cycling advocates to talk about how to expand cycling on campus and beyond.

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Out of roughly 200 applications this year only six moved up to gold status. UW is now one of ten universities to earn gold, and only two universities have ever earned the highest designation of platinum: Stanford and UC Davis.

Clarke praised the efforts the UW has made since earning the silver level designation in 2012, citing a rare combination of cooperative leadership in state and city politics, and an effective advocacy community at the grassroots level.

“You’ve got all those things in place right now in bucket-loads, that doesn’t happen very often,” he said.  “It may not be two years but two months before you get to platinum.”

Following the award presentation, a panel joined Clarke to discuss the role universities have as catalysts for creating bicycle-friendly communities. The major theme of the discussion was how to shift cycling from something seen by many as a hobby to a normalized mode of transportation part of everyday life.

(From left) UW Faculty Member and Green Futures Lab Director Nancy Rottle, Cascade Bicycle Club Executive Director Elizabeth Kiker, SDOT Director Scott Kubly, League of American Bicyclists President Andy Clarke and Pronto Cycle Share Executive Director Holly Houser. Photo: Jack Truitt
(From left) UW Faculty Member and Green Futures Lab Director Nancy Rottle, Cascade Bicycle Club Executive Director Elizabeth Kiker, SDOT Director Scott Kubly, League of American Bicyclists President Andy Clarke and Pronto Cycle Share Executive Director Holly Houser. Photo: Jack Truitt

The key to making this happen, Clarke said, was by connecting cycling to broader issues like climate change, traffic and parking congestion and personal health.

“To continue to make progress, we have to relate our issue to things that help other people solve their problems,” he said.

The panel discussed at length the virtues of bike-sharing and its ability to make biking a part of everyday life for the general public, as in countries like Denmark and the Netherlands.

“I think bike-sharing is a gateway drug,” said Seattle Department of Transportation Director Scott Kubly. Like an umbrella that’s there when you actually need it, bike-share stations make cycling convenient without  forcing riders to make the return journey by bike if the weather gets nasty. Pronto, a Seattle-based bike sharing service that launched in mid-October, has ten of its 50 stations located in the U-District.

But those stations have seen some of the lowest usage rates according to Pronto Executive Director Holly Houser, who was a part of the panel. Kubly, who has had experience with bikeshare services in Chicago and Washington D.C., said that below average usage was not atypical of university based stations, calling it “the hardest nut to crack.”

One solution he suggested is including some sort of bikeshare membership in the student fee like many schools, including the UW,  do with local bus services.

Among the biggest hurdles in creating a normalized cycling culture may be the cyclist community itself, members of the panel said. Clarke admitted that the cyclist community perhaps has been overzealous at times, and has failed to generate change and discussion beyond its own audiences, something that needs to change if broader progress is to be made.

Cascade Bicycle Club Executive Director Elizabeth Kiker said it’s important to frame cycling as relevant to everyone no matter their mode of transport, and not an exclusive club that hard-core cyclist culture can make it out to be.

“It’s riding your bike, you don’t have to sign in blood” she said. “You’re part of the tribe if you’ve been on the road.”

With environmental and congestion issues getting worse each day not just in Seattle but cities the world over, Clarke said that we don’t have a choice but to pave the way for more efficient and sustainable transportation.  And its clear which solution he thinks is most viable.

“We’re going to have to get people to bike a whole lot more,” he said. “We’re all in this together.”

Watch Associate Vice President of Facilities Services Charles Kennedy accept the award here:

Associate Vice President of Facilities Services Charles Kennedy accepts LAB award from Jack Truitt on Vimeo.

Without TIGER, UW searches for other Burke-Gilman funding options

Without a TIGER grant to fund the upgrading of the Burke-Gilman Trail through the campus, UW Transportation Services Director Josh Kavanagh said that funding is currently in redesign. Furthermore, the planned Life Sciences building to be built on campus will likely push the Burke-Gilman project south.

The construction details of the life sciences building lagged behind those of the Burke-Gilman upgrade, he said, but coordination between the two may allow both projects to save some money.

Kavanagh said that the TIGER grant would’ve closed the funding gap on Phase II of the project, and the department currently is looking into the WSDOT regional mobility program for $12.5 million dollars to help fund the $14 million needed for the upgrade. If that were to go through, the remaining $1.5 million would be much easier to find in the budget, he said.

Those who use the trail might wonder why the funding cannot be found in light of the university announcing a $376 million plan to tear down and renovate dorms on campus. The new dorms will have residents paying for the project through their rent.

“I’m not about to throw up a toll booth on the Burke-Gilman,” Kavanagh said.

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13 responses to “UW accepts bike-friendly campus award, leaders talk about how to expand biking even further”

  1. Cheif

    What a crock. The u district is a nightmare to ride a bike in, the campus a clusterf and the burke-of-construction with no forseeable end is an embarrassment. This is the George Bush Mission Accomplished of bike related awards.

    1. Adam

      “Oh dear, I can’t reach the bar!”

      “No worries, we’ll just lower it for you.”

    2. Bob

      Or the Obama Nobel piece prize award.

  2. kpt

    Were there examples given of exactly why UW was considered Gold, and I missed them? I saw a lot of talk about connecting biking with climate change issues, but what has UW done to make campus more accessible? What are they doing about bike theft, for example?

    As someone who passes through UW on the trail, my only real experience with UW’s relationship with cycling is a poor one. It seems to me that UW doesn’t really get the trail, and is actively hostile to managing it well.

    Maybe I’m wrong, and there’s lots of great stuff about UW and cycling here. I hope so – I’d love to read about it!

  3. biliruben

    I’m really scratching my head trying to think of something uw has done to earn this reward. I’ve been riding to and through campus for 20 years, and all I see is neglect. Yes, the are lucky to have had the Burke dropped in their laps 40 years ago. And yes, they have some interesting plans on paper, and the west campus pilot project. Other than that, its a pretty hostile environment for bikes.

    There are no reasonable east-west or north-south bike paths for upper campus.

    There is no safe, direct connection to u-village. There is no safe, direct connection to university bridge. There is no safe, direct connection over the cut. The bridge over montlake is a disgrace.

    They subsidize parking and driving, providing no monetary incentive to staff for riding a bike.

    They have completely fallen behind children’s and the hutch in progressive benefits, with little convenience regarding showers and such.

    I get that they are pinched budget-wise, but we shouldn’t be awarding this to them forctheir most glaring failure: the clear neglect of the treasure that was the Burke, but is not a root infested death trap.

    1. Lynn

      I too think the Burke Gilman’s lack of maintenance is getting to be pretty dangerous. I was referred by SDOT to Leon Maurer (leonm AT u.washington.edu) to process my maintenance request. Perhaps if enough of us ask for some of the worst areas to be fixed we’ll get some action.

  4. Gary

    “not enough riders on the Pronto system… lets include the fee in a student pass”, ie force the students to join Pronto. Unless there is a significant discount, it’s cheaper to buy a beater bicycle and ride that, vs joining Pronto. No wonder the ridership is lower.

    1. asdf2

      Part of it is also the limited location of the stations. There simply aren’t that many origin->destination pairs within the U-district that make Pronto enough faster door-to-door than walking to make it worth the price.

      For instance, why is there no Pronto station located on campus next to the Burke-Gilman train? Or one that connects with express buses down 520?

      1. Virchow

        I agree. I think if the system expands to Fremont, Greenlake and Wallingford, then students may use the system to get around some. I don’t think a terrible number of students go downtown and its not worth the price of subscription to bike among the spots in the U-district.
        If you commute from Cap Hill, then its a long and hilly enough commute to warrant getting your own bike. The trip in reverse is not overly attractive for new bikers.
        I think the U could be successful in a larger system but its not going to thrive as the end of the line.

  5. S. Rose

    Here’s an idea for funding repairs to the trail: grab the coins shaken out of riders’ pockets as the ride over the washboard surface at the north end near the NE 45th crossing.

    One is left with the impression that UW is only interested in fixing the trail if it can be done as part of a glitzy, high-profile, high-cost project. Simple maintenance is just meh. They are astounding poor stewards but varsity-team payers of lip service.

  6. J.D.

    I have to agree with the commenters – UW bike policy is quite poor. Many racks are over capacity during the day. The Burke-Gilman detour is a catastrophe – getting through that area takes over double the time it did before. Many UW students, faculty, and staff bike to UW, but in spite of UW policy, not because of it.

    1. David Amiton

      Yes! Nobody bikes to the UW anymore, there are too many bikes parked there!

      I think you’re maybe seeing some cause and effect: the University installs bike parking –> new parking creates greater demand –> racks fill up –> time to add more parking! Is there a lag in that last step? Probably. Just like there’s a lag in adding new buses to route that reach or exceed capacity, upgrading on-street bike infrastructure to keep up with growth in ridership etc. But it’s just plain wrong to think that the UW sees full bike racks, shrugs their shoulders, and just moves on. Oh, and if a parking area IS consistently full you could always let the transportation office know.

      And yes, the detour adds some time to your trip. It’s a detour. That’s what detours do! The detour is addressing the capacity and maintenance issues that folks posting above are so laser-focused on. You simply can’t have one (trail upgrades) without the other (trail reconstruction). And unfortunately there aren’t a lot of additional options for detouring folks. My advice for folks passing through campus: relax, slow down, and maybe spend some time enjoying the world-class buildings and landscapes around you for the year or so that you’re forced to travel through them.

  7. […] Last week the University of Washington kicked of its annual Ride in the Rain contest with an award ceremony and panel discussion. Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists, presented the UW with an award for achieving the League’s gold level for bicycle-friendly universities.The university’s over the last two years helped them reach this point and the university continues to work to improve cycling on the campus while shooting for the tough to reach platinum award. The appropriately rainy evening consisted of the award ceremony, an insightful and comical speech by Andy, as well as a panel discussion featuring key actors in Seattle’s movement towards a more cycling friendly city. I attended the event and would do a write-up, but Jack Truitt, a UW News Lab student, has already done a fantastic job. Read his article here. […]

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