If Washington State were an NBA team, its bike-friendly championship streak would have just tied the 1959–1966 Boston Celtics at eight championships in a row, the longest ever by far.
But, of course, a major difference between the League of American Bicyclists’ bike-friendly state rankings and the NBA is that the other NBA teams are actually trying to win.
Cities across the nation are doing awesome, innovative work to make cycling safer and more welcoming. But every state is still living deep in the car age, pouring billions into expanding highway systems that only get more clogged with each new lane and interchange. State legislatures barely seem to be aware of bicycling. And many that are aware of bikes are trying to move backwards, proposing all-ages helmet laws, doomed bicycle license schemes and even mandatory dayglo vest laws.
So when Washington State passes laws like the Vulnerable User Law and invests a miniscule percentage of the transportation budget into trails, Safe Routes to School and bicycle education, that’s all it takes to jump over the low bar required to reach the top bike-friendly state spot. Washington only received 66 out a possible 100 points, but that solid D grade was enough to secure an eight-peat.
Come on, rest of the country, get it together.
The good news is that the past year has seen some significant changes within WSDOT, with Paula Reeves heading up the biking and walking efforts inside the department. For example, WSDOT has held trainings for local transportation planners to show them how to use modern safe urban street designs and urging them to break out of old design habits that have proven dangerous and intimidating to people biking and walking. Protected bike lanes and safe crosswalks in every city and town center in the state? How awesome would that be? From the state’s press release:
“This report card shows we’ve made incredible strides in bicycle safety, education and investment,” said Secretary of Transportation Lynn Peterson. “We’ll continue working with our bicycling partners and Washington’s communities on improving conditions to meet our goal of increased safety and opportunities for bicycle transportation.”
WSDOT is elevating biking and walking statewide by providing new design flexibility and guidance, increasing multimodal connections and developing a statewide performance measurement program.
Washington Bikes is excited about the news, of course, but they point out that other states keep getting closer to matching or surpassing our state’s venerable D grade (our five-point lead has shrunk to a three-point lead). They put together this list of some things the state can do this year to make sure they stay on top for a ninth year in a row:
Here are some initial steps that Washington Bikes will be advocating for in the remainder of 2015 and beyond:
- Grow staff capacity for bicycling and update the bike/ped plan at WSDOT. The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) should build upon its past successes by increasing staff capacity for planning, engineering, and implementation of solutions that make bicycling and walking safer and more convenient. Additionally, so much has changed in bike/ped planning since the last bicycle and pedestrian plan was released in 2008. Then, sharrows were still seen as relatively cutting edge. We’re past that and without so much as an update to the plan by WSDOT since then, much needs to change before the multimodal planning at WSDOT begins to address bicycling in earnest.
- Grow bicycle and pedestrian safety focus at the state level. Outside of the hugely successful Safe Routes to School programs, safety education initiatives for bicycling at the state level are conspicuously absent. Deeper engagement of the Cooper Jones Safety Committee at the Washington Traffic Safety Commission and increased focus on data collection could help.
- Grow investments at the state level. This factor is one that everyone can work on, starting today: write your legislators. Funding and infrastructure is our lowest score and it’s the place we can make immediate improvements in the transportation funding package currently being negotiated by the Washington state legislature.
“This top ranking reflects the hard work of many, many people and organizations and we’re proud of what our state has accomplished so far,” added Chamberlain. “Now we as Washingtonians need to get work to make Washington even BETTER for bicycling, which makes it better for everyone on the road. We encourage our leaders in Olympia to make this happen so that next year we can again call Washington the most bicycle friendly state in the nation.”
It’s still unclear if the state legislature will pass a transportation package this year. If it passes, there is some good biking and walking stuff buried under all the typical highway expansion money. The Republican-controlled Senate has already passed their version of a funding bill. The Democrat-controlled House is working on passing their version, and then the two bodies will need to combine the versions into something they can agree on before sending it to Governor Inslee.
But just imagine if Washington focused its transportation funding on safe streets, system maintenance and true congestion reduction efforts like high-capacity trails and transit rather than expanded and new highways. We would not only easily secure the #1 spot for the next eight years or more, but we’d save lives and increase the transportation choices and quality of life for all Washington residents.
Read the full WA report card in this PDF.
12 responses to “For 8th straight year, WA named #1 bike-friendly state”
I’m frustrated by Washington Bikes’ suggestion that our state needs planning, planning and money in that order. I’m not against planing, but Washington needs more doing.
For instance, the Model Traffic Ordinance (http://app.leg.wa.gov/WAC/default.aspx?cite=308-330) has very little relation to bicycling today and most cities in Washington rely on it (Seattle has its own code for bicycling which, while also in need of updating, is less out of date).
The Model Traffic Ordinance doesn’t even mention the 8-track tape of bike planning, sharrows… and what’s worse it doesn’t include bike lanes either.
What we really need are: 1) updated laws (including a presumption of liability against drivers who collide with pedestrians or bicyclists); 2) Improved Infrastructure that helps everyone use our roads safely; and 3) Money to make it happen.
Other long-overdue legislative items:
By default, parking in bike lanes is not prohibited. Simply striping and marking a bike lane isn’t enough, you need repetitive, redundant “no parking bike lane” signs on every block, or drivers ticketed for parking in a bike lane can often successfully challenge the ticket.
There’s no recognition (RCW, Model Traffic Ordinance, Seattle Municipal Code) of cycletracks — are they part of the street? A separate path? Legal to walk along? Open to motorized bikes?
While sharrows are supposed to be installed to guide cyclists to ride further left in a lane too narrow to share side-by-side with cars, there’s no legal recognition that the presence of a sharrow actually means cyclists are allowed to ride further left. When police choose to hassle cyclists for avoiding the door zone, the cyclists have the burden of demonstrating that the exceptions to “as far right as is safe” apply in each case. If the traffic engineers have officially marked a lane to indicate that cyclists should ride centered in the lane, that should be recognized as an exception to “far right” laws. But it’s not.
Bicycle regulations are not uniform state-wide — cities and counties can adopt their own, conflicting rules. Prime example is Seattle/King County’s helmet law, but they could as easily require additional lights not required in other cities/counties, or mandate day-glo vests. Imagine a world where drivers crossing city lines had to get out of their cars and adjust headlight aim for different rules… Why do we tolerate that for bikes?
Have you actually been harassed by an officer for riding out of the door zone? While overall I’m not overly impressed by the police’s response to cyclists and their concerns, I’ve never experienced this or heard of anyone who has. Just curious.
Better enforcement of parking regarding bicycle lanes would be great – both people actually parking in the lanes, and people stopping in the lane and blocking it for unloading, etc. I’m not familiar with the possibility of challenging the tickets, but it seems like it could be an issue.
Yes, I’ve had a Seattle officer in a cruiser order me to move right, into the door zone, while I was riding directly over sharrows on King Street. And I’m not alone.
Seattle has more sharrows than most Puget Sound cities, but as far as I know they’ve refused to install a single sign explaining what they mean — the MUTCD R4-11 makes it incredibly clear, “bicycle may use full lane,” but SDOT won’t use them.
SDOT’s website continues to suggest cyclists should ride in the door zone of a lane with sharrows so that drivers can squeeze by with just a foot of clearance — see the illustration of exactly what’s wrong with Seattle’s use of sharrows at:
I thought I’d just point out that while the illustration is WTF! the text (which no one will read) is quite a bit better (even without my embellishments it wasn’t too bad):
• Expect to see bicyclists on the street
• Remember to give bicyclists three feet of space when passing [ not the law in WA. but still a good idea]
• [“]Follow[“] the rules of the road as if there were no sharrows [e.g. keep your speed down to not much more than 10 over the limit, slow down a little before running stop signs and turning on red, if a pedestrian has the audacity of actually stepping off the curb, try not to get much closer than a couple of feet as you pass them, but if you can intimidate them into staying on the curb that would be best, they need to know their place]
• Use the sharrow to [“]guide[“] where you ride within the lane
•[However, regardless of the sharrow, ] Remember not to ride too close to parked cars
• Follow the rules of the road as if there were no sharrows [e.g. ride as far right as is SAFE ]
Also, I’m not so sure a state mandatory helmet law would be much of an improvement.
On the other hand, the day-glow vests idea sounds ok, but only if carried to its logical conclusion i.e. black cars will be outlawed , driving a motor vehicle at night with ones lights off will result in the vehicle being impounded and driver charged with reckless driving (charges may be later dropped, but they still have to pay the impound fees) and hitting someone wearing a hi-vis clothing will be prima facie reckless driving.
BTW, the King county trail rules do require a rear light on bicycles, while State law only requires an approved reflector, the state says a rear light is optional (and may optionally be flashing, pretty much the only flashing light allowed on any vehicle, except for turn signals and emergency lights)
The problem with sharrows that aren’t in the center of the lane (perhaps this should be called a “takethelaneow”) is that if there were actually enough space for a person biking to be outside the door zone and a person driving to pass without changing lanes, then the lane is so wide the city should just install a bike lane. Conversely, if there’s not enough room for a bike lane, then there isn’t room to “share the lane.” It’s essentially an impossible scenario.
One more update, neither the Seattle Municipal Code nor the RCW recognize bicycle-shaped signal faces. Signals are defined in law both by color (red, yellow, green) and by shape — balls, arrows, X for a closed lane, etc. Bicycles? No legal meaning.
A red bicycle doesn’t actually say you have to stop, a green bicycle doesn’t actually say you have the right to go — they don’t mean anything under law.
Glad we agree about the need for more state-level investments for biking! That’s been our top priority during the 2015 legislative session. But we need your voice. An important first step is to write your legislators today: http://wabikes.org/advocacy/
If they don’t hear from you, they won’t prioritize funding for biking.
Also, sorry if it was confusing to you about some of the initial steps we recommend to make Washington a better place for bicycling. That wasn’t a prioritized list – no where do we imply it is. Also, those steps aren’t really about more planning as you suggest – I think we both like doing.
So there must be at least one or two state legislators who actually care about biking, right? I would like to know who the good guys are, so we can start making a positive example of them.
I liked the comment about the NBA comparison. Glad that Seattle and WA are increasing their attention to this matter, but in comparison to most of Europe, bicycling infrastructure in WA or Seattle would be considered a joke. Hopefully we can change it!
Since no one seems to have a clue who the players are in Olympia, I have to say it’s no wonder we’re not making more headway on these issues. You can be right all you want about the need for better bicycle funding and regulation and it still guarantees nothing. I want to know the names of at least one or two people in the legislature who are actually speaking on behalf of biking. What about it Tom?
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