We’re calling on city leaders to embrace a vision of 1-in-10 trips by bike by 2021. We can get there by aggressively filling gaps in the existing bike network.
More people biked in Seattle in January than in any other January on record. During the three weeks after the viaduct closure, dubbed the “Seattle Squeeze,” folks hopped on bikes en masse to avoid car and bus delays. And, lo, the anticipated nightmare congestion never materialized. Imagine what’s possible when we finally invest in Seattle’s long-promised connected network of bikeways.
During the squeeze, the Spokane Street Bridge carried more cyclists downtown than the King County Water Taxi. Second Avenue, and Spokane Street and Fremont bridges, saw a 65 percent increase in bicycling over a typical January, according to Seattle Department of Transportation.
We achieved this record-breaking ridership without a big campaign and without a connected network of safe bike routes. The moment gave us a glimpse of what’s possible when even more people can feel safe biking — currently the No. 1 barrier to people opting to bike. In a city quickly gaining more residents and workers, we must use all possible tools to help people get around. It’s simple: More people will bike in Seattle when we connect the disparate bikeways we’ve already built.
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Seattle is poised to realize the potential of bicycling, with 20,000 shared bikes approved by the city, a few safe, comfortable high-quality bikeways — think Burke-Gilman Trail and downtown bike lanes on Second and Seventh avenues — and plans to connect the network.
That’s why we’re calling on city leaders to embrace a vision of 1-in-10 trips by bike by 2021. We can get there by aggressively filling gaps in the existing bike network. The result? Grabbing a bike is an intuitive option for every Seattleite. A student in the Rainier Valley safely bikes to school with friends, while a grandmother in Delridge wheels to the local store on an ebike, and a Central District resident rides to her early shift.
Connecting the network will have big results. Just look at our neighbor to the north, Vancouver, B.C., where more than 10 percent of commutes are by bicycle — up 60 percent since 2013, according to a 2017 city report. Vancouver built a connected downtown bicycle network, reached by protected routes to and through neighborhoods. With complete, connected networks, dangerous streets become safer, more women bike, illegal bicycle behavior decreases, and there are little to no vehicle traffic delays. Vancouver’s success was the result of communities and officials working together, and the streets are safer for everyone. We can replicate that path forward here.
Seattle has similar terrain and weather to Vancouver, so blaming those things for our current level of 3 percent bike-mode share is more convenient than credible. The real reason we haven’t yet pushed beyond a single digit is that we don’t yet have a connected network for people to safely cycle from points A to B.
And here’s the kicker: Even if you never use bike lanes, you benefit. As the Seattle Squeeze showed, it’s easier to get around when we use the most space-efficient means of travel that works for us; for some, it’s biking, walking or using transit, and for others, it’s carpooling or driving alone. Two-thirds of Seattle residents polled want to make it easier to travel without a car, and 85 percent of people walk or bike at the beginning or end of their transit journey, Elway Research found. Making biking safer and more accessible is a critical component of Seattle’s mobility future.
As more riders got into the rhythm of bicycling through the Squeeze, participation peaked when one in seven Seattleites biked, walked or rolled during the tunnel opening celebrations. For a few hours, residents experienced the joy and freedom of people-powered city streets. But afterward, for those trying to make their way back home by bike, the juxtaposition was clear. Streets long-slated for safety improvements were still as treacherous as ever.
It’s time to make biking safer and more accessible for everyone. By connecting Seattle’s network of bikeways, 1-in-10 trips by bike is within reach.