The crisp morning air, the wind on your face, the burn in your thighs: Cycling commuters know there’s a lot to be said for the bliss of the bike—and anyone who has been on the Burke-Gilman or crossed the I-90 trail knows that Seattle is a particularly good city for it.
Yet, according to the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), only 14 percent of city residents considers themselves regular riders, even though half of Seattleites have access to a working two-wheeler. But the usual suspects that might come to mind—the intimidating hills, relentless rain, a simple lack of interest—aren’t the biggest factors that keep the rest of us away. Instead, the most commonly cited reason as to why someone doesn't bike more often is because riding in the city's hectic, traffic-jammed streets makes him or her feel unsafe. With the Seattle Bicycle Master Plan, that is something SDOT has been working to change.
The benefits to biking are many. As Seattle’s population is expected to swell by 120,000 people over the next 20 years, more bikes on the road could be a crucial piece of the puzzle to contain the city’s infamous traffic problems—not to mention a way to improve the health of its citizens and cut back on our greenhouse gas emissions (in Seattle, 40 percent of which come from transportation). In other words, it makes sense that SDOT wants to quadruple the city’s ridership by 2030. And on top of all that biking is, well, fun (provided you aren’t in fear for your life after hitting a pothole or butting up against a car on a busy street downtown, that is).
"We believe [cycling] can be a great way to get around your city, take your kids to school, get out to see friends, or even take care of daily errands,” Kelli Refer, the advocacy and field programs director at the Cascade Bicycle Club , told RootsRated. SDOT first adopted the Bicycle Master Plan in 2007, but that version focused on infrastructure like “sharrows,” which are bicycle lanes shared with cars—i.e., not the most confidence inspiring means of transit if you’re one to worry about swerving motorists.
“That really isn’t an all ages and abilities facilities,” Refer says, referring to the sharrows. So in 2013 the Cascade Bicycle Club partnered with members of city council and other local bike enthusiasts to draft an updated five-year plan, which was officially adopted in the spring of 2014. The new plan puts more emphasis on adding protected bike lanes and neighborhood greenways, which are calm residential streets with low car traffic.
So, how is this all going so far? “After years and years of planning, 2015 was the year Seattle’s Department of Transportation finally tried to hit a stride delivering bike network additions and upgrades regularly and consistently,” local bike wonk Tom Fucoloro wrote in the Seattle Bike Blog. According to the December progress report, WSDOT so far this year has added 242 bike racks and corrals, maintained 50 miles of existing bike infrastructure, and added 6.9 miles of bike lanes (including 3.3 miles of neighborhood greenways and 3.2 miles of protected bike lanes).
In addition, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, SDOT, and the Seattle Police Department launched Vision Zero last February , a campaign to end traffic deaths and injuries by 2030, whose goals also included adding seven miles of protected bike lanes. And when Seattle voters approved the Let’s Move Seattle levy, they ensured the funding to continue making upgrades like these for the next nine years.
Of course, there’s still a lot of work to be done, especially when it comes to connecting the bike lanes already in place. “We know there are some major holes, like the missing link along the Burke-Gilman [in Ballard],” Refer says. Other places she thinks need to see more work are downtown, where infrastructure is lacking for those of us not looking to play chicken with traffic during their daily commutes, and in many neighborhoods in south Seattle.
With the additional improvements in the works for 2016, we’re happy city officials and nonprofits are taking the necessary steps to defend our rank as one of the best cities for biking in the U.S. Now let’s go ride!