Every year for a decade, Washington was ranked the most bike-friendly state in the country by the League of American Bicyclists — a title won through a combination of the state’s traffic laws, planning, education and infrastructure, and a feather in the helmet of the state’s dedicated bike community.
But this year, Washington was knocked from its saddle for the first time, falling behind Oregon and Massachusetts, which took the top spot this year.
The reshuffling — while perhaps not a five-alarm fire among the general public — constitutes an annoyance among bike advocates, especially on the heels of what they view as a monumental year for new funding for bike projects from the state Legislature.
“I think being ranked number one has been a useful verbal shorthand for, we live in a state where biking is seen as a legitimate form of transportation and recreation, and we’ve elected to support it,” said Vicky Clarke, policy director for Cascade Bicycle Club and Washington Bikes.
The bike world is determined to reclaim Washington’s title. It’s an achievable goal, they say, as millions of dollars in new spending on bike projects begin to flow from the state into communities in the coming years.
The Legislature this year passed nearly $17 billion in new spending on transportation over the next 16 years. It was the fourth major transportation package in the last 20 years and passed mostly along party lines — in part due to Republican opposition to so much spending on bike infrastructure. While much of the package is dedicated to highways, it includes more than $1.2 billion for “active transportation,” including both bike and pedestrian projects.
Over the next 16 years, $290 million is earmarked to improve routes to school for walkers and bikers; $216 million for school-based bike education programs; another $278 million is dedicated to bike and pedestrian grant programs; and about $300 million is set aside for a list of specific projects.
The spending is largely made possible by the state’s new plan to address climate change — a carbon trading system that’s expected to bring in more than $5 billion over 16 years.
It’s “a massive increase in dollars for active transportation and for the first time there’s a dedicated funding source for multimodal transportation,” said Clarke.
But Washington’s ranking did not take the new funding into consideration. Ken McLeod, policy director for the League of American Bicyclists, said they wanted to affirm other states’ progress this year rather than making Washington the default top spot.
“I think we wondered out loud, ‘Will there ever be a good time for Washington to not be number one?’” he said. “We wanted competition and then decided that now is as good a time as any and then Washington passed this incredible legislation right before we published.”
The newly available dollars will go a long way toward buoying both large-scale and community-level projects in the state.
The Eastrail bike corridor will receive $29 million from the package. For a project this ambitious — 42 miles of trail between Redmond and Renton when finished — that’s only a slice of the many millions of dollars it will take to complete.
But it opens new avenues to completing some of the more technically complicated portions of the work, said Katherine Hollis, executive director of Eastrail Partners, including nearly $10 million for converting the steel railroad bridge over Interstate 90 into a bike lane, $5 million for retrofitting a trestle over Highway 202 and $6 million toward extending the trail into Renton’s Gene Coulon Park.
“$29 million is still a small piece of the overall investment that will be the Eastrail when it’s fully connected and it reflects really important projects that needed to get going,” said Hollis.
Thirteen miles of the trail — which has backing from local governments up and down the Eastside as well as private companies like Amazon, Meta and REI — have already opened, with more sections scheduled to open into 2026.
In Kent, the Meet Me on Meeker project, a roughly 2-mile biking and walking corridor from Kent to the Green River trail, will see a $10 million boost. H.B. Harper, Kent’s long-range planning director, said that could accelerate the completion of the project by 10 years or more.
“We can actually finish this before I retire,” said Harper.
It’s a complicated project that will take time, said Harper, in part because it will cross the driveways of many private businesses and because the designers want it to be extremely high quality. But the section that the state money will fund is a “linchpin” to the entire project.
“It’s a really critical link that we had no other way or no other idea how we were going to fund,” she said.
The state’s spending on bike lanes was part of the reason the overall package passed on partisan lines. Republican leadership on both the House and Senate transportation committees excoriated the spending as a misalignment of priorities, arguing more should have been spent on road maintenance.
But Democrats forged ahead.
The sight of spandex on two wheels is a common one in Washington. Before the pandemic, more than 2,000 people a day were commuting to work over the Fremont Bridge. Cascade Bicycle Club hosts nearly 20 major rides a year, including the famed Seattle to Portland ride, which is known to draw around 8,000 riders.
McLeod of the League of American Bicyclists said he often hears from states frustrated by their place in the ranking. He acknowledged the system of rankings can be counterintuitive, placing emphasis on the trajectory of the policies passed at a state level rather than a point-in-time snapshot of what it’s like to ride there.
Washington’s demotion, he said, was less about anything the state has done, but more about steps other states have taken. For example, where Washington used to be alone in hosting an “active transportation” division within its state transportation department, others have begun to follow.
“It really is a rising tide and more competitive field,” he said. “We’re seeing more and more states take improving bicycling seriously.”