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King 5: Seattle should follow Vancouver’s lead on downtown bike network

King 5’s Chris Daniels recently reported from our neighbor to the north on something Vancouver, BC, has to help people get around their downtown: A comfortable and protected network of bike lanes.

As Seattle finally kicks off work on a network of protected bike lanes downtown, it’s wise to look to Vancouver to get a glimpse a few years into the future. I wish all transportation reporters who will be covering Seattle’s bike network had the chance to go bike around Vancouver. It’s invaluable context for what Seattle is trying to do here.

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So are the bike lanes increasing safety? Are more people biking? Did they make car traffic worse?

Yes! Yes! No!

In fact, as Daniels reports that collisions are down 17 percent. The CBC reports that bike traffic in June broke records in the city, with some Fremont-Bridge-style bike counters recording 200,000 trips monthly.

And since the bike lanes have gone in, traffic congestion downtown has dropped 20 percent. Though other factors are certainly at play in this reduction in congestion (like the city’s transit improvements), it should help allay fears that bike lanes will cause a traffic crunch here.

If you have never been to Vancouver, well, drop what you’re doing, grab your passport and go! It’s a wonderful city. But it’s also a great case study in how Seattle can improve safety and bikeability downtown. Vancouver’s downtown is much busier than Seattle’s, yet they have been able to build a quality network of bike lanes there. If they can, we definitely can.

Vancouver doesn't pinch pennies with their bike lanes, which is why they can cost $1M for ten blocks.
Vancouver doesn’t pinch pennies with their bike lanes, which is why they can cost $1M for ten blocks.

And bike lanes aren’t the only lesson from Vancouver. On their style of neighborhood greenways, some streets have park-like traffic diverters. These parks are built what was once a street, creating precious green space in a very dense neighborhood and reducing cut-through traffic on heavily residential streets. Below is how these car-free street parks look in one downtown residential neighborhood. Imagine this on, say, University Street on First Hill or S Myrtle Street near Othello Station or 17th Ave NW in the heart of the Ballard (or so many other places).

IMG_1774Seattle’s has some historic examples of this on Capitol Hill (mostly east of Volunteer Park), but they are a bit smaller and the cut-throughs aren’t as bicycle friendly (especially for families with big bikes). More recently, the city is trying a bigger street park at University and Boylston on First Hill. They are using temporary materials to get it built quick and cheap, which is a smart way to test it out and help develop a more permanent park later.


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22 responses to “King 5: Seattle should follow Vancouver’s lead on downtown bike network”

  1. Harry blanco

    From what I have heard here in Seattle (and seen at public meetings), to move forward bicycle advocates should maybe focus on being advocates of managed parking. Hyperbole can be powerful.

  2. Vancouver BC and Portland have a wealth of attractive, green, affordable, and effective land use / bike infrastructure on the ground that we can learn from. Seattle Neighborhood Greenways has hosted well over 50 City staff and leaders on annual Summer Study Trips (thanks for starting this program Eli!) since 2012. Let’s continue to learn from some of the best in our own backyard.

  3. Harrison Davignon

    As long as drivers respect bike lanes. Some will park in them. I think a big way to improve bicycle safety is a awareness. You can have all the safety infrastructure you want, but if no one is a aware of bicycle riders, then riding is still dangerous. several things need work in our city, drivers put down cell phones and pay attention and put down cell phones, not everyone drives, in Seattle a lot of people don’t have a licence, this is the 21st century, not the 20th century, were drivers ruled the road, slow down and relax, our rush everywhere society is making bicycle riders more vulnerable, politicians and oil companies are mostly selfish and jay inslee needs to get his screwed on straight and not blow the most money ever available to alternative transportation. If we can fix all those problems, cycling would be a hole lot safer.

    1. Clark in Vancouver

      Well, here’s my experience using them the past few years and using the protected infrastructure, for the most part you can ignore the existence of motor vehicles and just get on with your life.
      At intersections, like any intersection, it’s good to be cautious and make sure that nobody is going across but once you have confirmed that the cross street traffic has stopped and the turning lane (which has it’s own signal) has stopped you can relax and continue on your way.
      Protected cycle infrastructure could be perceived as being a sell-out to motordom since it means that they don’t have to change their ways but you know, I personally don’t want to waste too much of my life trying to change others. I’d rather just have a space in which I don’t have to be near them anymore.

      1. Adam

        Amen to that.

        While enforcement does play a role, people parking in bike lanes is more an issue of infrastructure design. Unfortunately very little of our bike infrastructure is designed well enough to encourage proper behavior. You can rail about enforcement and awareness and all that jazz, but the end goal should be to decouple bicycle and car routes, reducing conflict points and interactions as much as feasible.

      2. Andrew Squirrel

        I find it funny that you contradicted yourself. This seems to be the real fundamental issue for those pushing for cycletracks, they don’t consider the intersections.

        “you can ignore the existence of motor vehicles”
        “it’s good to be cautious and make sure that nobody is going across”

      3. Andres Salomon

        This is definitely a failing of cycletrack/PBL implementors. Intersections NEED to be protected. Vancouver does that with signals, but it’s not great.

        I was recently in (downtown) Vancouver trying out their PBLs. Some things I really liked, some things I didn’t. You can see my comments/critiques here:


      4. Clark in Vancouver

        Andrew Squirrel:
        I don’t think I’m contradicting myself. I guess you can relax between intersections on the streets with cycle tracks. We also have a very nice long Seawall which you can use to get places and these are nowhere near motor traffic.
        But I agree that they should be installing protected intersections. Maybe they will in the future if we push them to. Currently they’re mostly using signal light phases for separation at the intersections.
        They recently did some modifications of some curbs so forcing drivers to slow and turn at a sharper angle and not angle across the bike lane.

  4. sb

    lol, I like how the Seattle rider at the 3:00 mark is riding in the wrong lane. That’s how we roll here. (To be fair, possibly he temporarily moved over to avoid being close to the camera/tripod.)

  5. JRD

    From my (admittedly limited) experience in downtown Vancouver, the street designs encourage slower/calmer traffic than our current design in downtown Seattle.

    The calmer traffic (together with what seemed to be wider sidewalks) made the downtown area seem much more non-car friendly. I’d love to see Seattle do some traffic calming redesign, but I’m not overly optimistic.

    Our current downtown Seattle network provides poor service for every user group – drivers, walkers/transit users, and cyclists. There’s no space left to make it better for drivers, so it would be great if we would start making it good for other groups.

    As it is, I avoid downtown except when absolutely necessary. In contrast, I’d happily go back to downtown Vancouver.

    1. Andres Salomon

      In theory, that’s exactly what we’re doing downtown with SDOT’s Vision Zero plan. Speed limits should be reduced to 25mph throughout downtown. I’m waiting to see if this actually happens..

      1. Andres Salomon

        Whoops, meant to link to the page w/ the (PDF) plan: http://www.seattle.gov/visionzero

    2. daihard

      I agree with JRD on the streets in Vancouver vs those in Seattle. The one-way streets in DT Vancouver tend to have fewer lanes than those in DT Seattle, and they have more protected bike lanes. Now this is just my personal impression from my limited experience, but Vancouver has a lot more things that attract people, too, such as shopping streets and restaurants. I wouldn’t go to downtown Seattle if I didn’t work there, but I’d enjoy living (and biking) in Vancouver.

  6. daihard

    My wife and I spent the last weekend in Vancouver. Unfortunately, I didn’t take my bike with me this time, but I walked around DT observing the bike traffic and infrastructure. One thing that makes the city centre a lot more attractive to anyone, not just someone on bike, is how it has a lot of shopping, dining and entertainment options built-in close to one another. You can also visit Richmond easily – just hop on the train. We stayed at a hotel near the waterfront train station so we can take the train to go to different places. I saw a lot of people carrying bikes on the train. That was an amazing sight. I also saw a lot of people riding downtown despite the fact that it was a weekend. Do you see anyone riding in DT Seattle on the weekend?

    I guess I ended up writing bits and pieces of my astonishment with Vancouver instead of making logical arguments for the city, but I can easily see how Vancouver is a LOT more bike-friendly than Seattle, and not just in terms of safety designs and bike infrastructure.

    1. Harrison Davignon

      Maybe you and other people who have been too Vancouver BC can knock some come sence into Seattle politicians. As well as the cascade bike club, washington bikes how it is done as well. I think the hills, rush everywhere society and cell phone distractions are the big problems in our city, oh yah and pollutants who still seem to favor drivers. Maybe with an increased bicycle budget, will change things. Are the drivers there better because that helps.

      1. Anthony

        No, the drivers here aren’t any better. About two months ago I was hit for the THIRD time by a 74 year old lady who basically has lost her peripheal vision.

        She hit me twice (lightly) last summer and then one day this June she literally snuck up behind me and all I know is a car is now plowing me off the road. I had to hang onto the mirror to stay upright. I hold no malice towards here because she didn’t mean to, but doesn’t jave a clue otherwise.

        Worse, the so-called insurance agency here named ICBC is a freaking joke and couldn’t care any less about cyclists, they suck so bad it’s appalling. Try geting the joke of a outfit called the RCMP to do something and one quickly figures out that their agenda is to avoid you at all costs. Canada isn’t any better than the US at this, despite what people think. In fact, it may be worse.

  7. Anthony

    Vancouver has a few more bike paths than Seattle and somehow people take that as a sign of “progressive” action.


    Try riding your bike out of the city easily, try getting across the south arm of the Fraser and you’ll find very limited options. Surrey, Delta, and Whie Rock are all anti-bike and for the most part Vancouver is too.

    This is a car town, but some people put on rose coloured glasses and take a look at the septic tank and try to paint a different picture.

    Pretty soon all the agricultural land here is going to be gone, and all the nice peaceful country roads I commute on will be overrun with so-called environmentalists who take their bikes for rides in their cars and pretend to be cyclists for about twenty minutes to a half-hour each weekend. I’m watching it firsthand. Just did another 25 miles this morning and the smell of cigarettes and exhaust is becoming worse, but that’s OK because they vote for the Liberal party.

    What a joke, and this blog isn’t helping.

    1. Harrison Davignon

      Our voices will help. The only way to make bicycle infrastructure safe is to get people to respect it. Not throw glass bottles in the bike path ( I have seen broken glass in bike lanes several times) not stop and talk on the cell phone in the bike paths and not park in bike paths. If drivers, cyclists and pedestrians would understand why people choose the transportation they do, and just let people be, eryone would be safer. Seattle is becoming less of a car city, A lot young people don’t drive in Seattle

      1. anthony

        Seattle is becoming more of car city, not less. The mayor’s job is to ensure votes and he certainly caters to that crowd despite what anyone says otherwise.

        As cyclists we need less cars, that’s all. The politicians don’t care about us, nothing but lip service, period.

  8. Harrison Davignon

    I’m going to maybe show people they don’t have to drive everywhere, If we can get people too drive less often, that will help. I’m working with a out programs director at Seattle R.E.I to try to get bike racks at hiking trial heads and campsites. Cemented in the ground, reclaimed materials and volunteers anyone form kids to elderly people are welcome to help, so are you. We will start at popular hikes close to town, Mount si, Little si and Cougar and Tiger mountain plus some random campsies and go from there . If still not many people use them, will stop there. If the bike racks are popular will go from there. Keep updated on when we are going to start. If people are aware not everyone drives, they would respect bicycle riders and pedestrians more.

    1. daihard

      Good idea. I’ve been asking local businesses to add a bike rack in order to attract more cycling customers. The urban development Seattle has been pushing should provide an environment that allows people to get to more destinations without driving. Living near Northgate, I only need to drive 10 or so miles a month.

  9. […] the border: King 5 says that Seattle can really learn a thing or twenty from Vancouver, BC when it comes to bicycle […]

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