Our most effective technology to mitigate global warming is the humble bike. And the best way to put more people on a bike is to create car-free bicycle corridors through the heart of Seattle.
LET’S cut to the chase: The global warming we’ve been kicking down the road for our grandchildren to deal with has arrived early. Rising oceans threaten not only distant nations like China and Bangladesh, but also our own shores. Just ask residents of Miami or New York City. And the melting of glaciers and ice sheets worldwide has no doubt accelerated from record-breaking planetary heat of 2009, 2010 and 2013-15.
“We need an energy miracle,” Bill Gates told The Atlantic last year, so he has staked $2 billion to support critical research and development into emissions-reducing technologies. Godspeed to the researchers toiling over this intractable puzzle, but our most effective technology to mitigate global warming languishes in our basements and garages: our humble bike.
There’s no con in a bike. Put in X amount of effort and get Y distance, all at a fraction of the emissions our motorized vehicles produce. And nobody needs to hype the joys of biking; we’re sold.
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Pedigree? Einstein rode a bike, and he was really smart. Modern Seattle was built upon an airplane the Wright brothers invented from the profits of the bike shops they owned in their hometown of Dayton, Ohio. “Get a bicycle,” wrote Mark Twain. “You will not regret it, if you live.”
Ah, there’s the problem.
Seattle officialdom thinks a space 5-feet wide — from curb to white line — protects us bicyclists from the 2-ton vehicles roaring by us, say, up Fourth Avenue during rush hour. Can’t imagine riding there? Then don’t imagine a daughter, brother, parent, grandson or favorite teacher riding it either. It’ll only upset you.
Even streets that city planners believe they’ve made safer are, well, not. Take downtown Second Avenue’s “protected bike lanes.” They didn’t save me from the truck that blew through his red light, and my green, as he turned left in front of me onto Cherry Street. My 60 years of biking saved me.
Seattle’s most humane street-biking experience is Bicycle Sunday — an all-ages, bikes-only stretch of Lake Washington Boulevard that runs May to September from Mount Baker to Seward Park. It’s a city street so safe that reluctant riders, even our children, can ride at their own skill level, free from injury from any motorized vehicle.
So Mayor Ed Murray, City Council, Seattle Department of Transportation, the police and parks departments, Seattle Public Schools, Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board, Cascade Bicycle Club, Seattle Greenways and anyone else who has worked to make our streets safe for bicyclists: Please work together to move our timetable quickly but prudently forward.
Let’s graft the humane, car-free protection of Bicycle Sunday over the hardened heart of downtown — Fourth Avenue — all the way from South Jackson Street up to Seattle Center and back. ...”
Power down the jackhammers and concrete mixers, and let’s turn to an agricultural practice dating from time immemorial: grafting.
Let’s graft the humane, car-free protection of Bicycle Sunday over the hardened heart of downtown — Fourth Avenue — all the way from South Jackson Street up to Seattle Center and back, past the institutions any civil society would honor: a public park, King County Superior Court and Administration, City Hall, the YMCA, our Central Library, the sidewalk cafes of our hotels and restaurants, our bricks-and-mortar shops, our cool retro Cinerama. And then let’s come up with an east-west, bikes-only street to cross it; a Madison Street/Fourth Avenue intersection would create an extraordinary quiet zone, and a shout-out of intellectual freedom, as it passes the southwest corner of our Central Library.
Then, applying a system of barricades the white of Jimi’s Stratocaster, and applying green coats of paint in memory of our beloved Sonics, let’s better connect the dead ends of our marvelous but fragmented network of city trails, from the Burke-Gilman to the Elliott Bay to the Mountains-to-Sound. It’s all doable.
With that safe framework in place, let’s stop constructing and start converting selected streets into an expansive and clearly delineated network of bike-only passageways and ride them as far and as wide and as safely as our bikes, our sense of joy and our imaginations can carry us.