“We want to make Seattle the best city in the nation to bicycle,” said Mayor Greg Nickels on the release of the City’s Bicycle Master Plan, estimated to cost $240 million over the next 10 years.
David Hiller, of Cascade Bicycle Club, one of the Bicycle Master Plan’s co-writers, calls it “the best plan in the country — our benchmark was higher.”
“One word really sums up my appreciation: Yippee!” noted Barbara Culp of the Bicycle Alliance, which also helped craft the plan.
The city states the lan could reduce traffic in the downtown area up to 13 percent, add social life to the streets, and provide “an opportunity for routine physical activity — which is increasingly important given the sedentary lifestyles of many Seattle residents.” Mayor Nickels sees the plan as one more leap in the quest to reduce Seattle’s greenhouse emissions 80 percent by 2050.
“Transportation accounts for 56 percent of our region’s greenhouse gas emissions,” added Mike McGuinn, who will supervise the BMP’s budget.
Over 10 years, the BMP is to triple the number of daily cyclo-commuters by building 385 miles of new bike-centric lanes and paths.
The precedent is Portland, recounts Hiller, where the biking population, spurred by 200 miles of pathway and door-to-door education, has increased 600 percent in the last 20 years. Meanwhile, the number of bike-related accidents has stayed nearly the same.
Providing safe passage for a burgeoning number of cyclists means telling riders where it’s safe to travel.
“There will be signed routes — so everyone can, at all levels, bike everywhere comfortably,” says Peter Lagerwey, for the city’s Department of Transportation.
Lagerwey further notes that currently men make up 75 percent of the cyclo-commute. His wife is an avid cyclist, but won’t commute because of “helmet hair.” The plan will also seek to stipulate more showers and clothing-locker facilities in downtown business buildings.
Not only will designated routes connect Seattle’s urban villages; the city’s road crews will become more bike-savvy. Bike-wheel-sized grooves between concrete slabs will be filled in. Cars will be “calmed” (read: slowed) as they navigate traffic circles and mid-block chicanes, or cement s-curves, on bike-dominant boulevards.
Those sorts of changes mean urban planners are finally recognizing that not everybody’s trip is motorized, says Hiller.
“Car-centrism has been taking options away from the 37 percent of the people who don’t drive. We’re taking back the streets for the rest.”
Getting drivers to realize bikers’ right to the road takes time and safety in numbers, but will be helped by the plan’s designated routes, says Davey Oil, who helps run the DIY bike repair clinic The Bikery. “When there’s a critical mass of cyclists, there’s increased visibility.”
Bicyclist educator David Smith comments that there’s another way to take back the streets: know how to ride your bike with cars. When drivers tailgate your bike, just stay to the right and let them pass.
Segregated bike lanes and trails keep riders and motorists from learning to deal with each other, ignoring the issue rather than confronting it, he says. When everyone uses the streets, “the rules of the road sort out all traffic conflicts.”
The two locations with the most bicycle-car accidents in Seattle involve segregated bike trails crossing traffic. Engineers continue to study the issue. “But nobody has studied the accident rates of bikers who follow road rules in traffic,” maintains Smith, who is planning to do so himself.
The plan’s education section says it is critical to teach cyclists they have a right to the road.
By CHRIS MILLER, Contributing Writer
[At a Glance]
By 2009, the Bicycle Master Plan will roll out 136 new miles of improved bike routes. By 2017, it promises:
• 116 miles worth of widened bike lanes
• 18 miles of multi-use trails, including completion of the Burke-Gilman trail’s missing link from Fremont to Golden Gardens
• 18 miles of designated residential routes
• 107 miles of shared-use markings, called “sharrows,” on regular streets
• bike and pedestrian overpasses over I-5, and an underpass going from Beacon Hill to SoDo
• bicycle sensors at traffic lights
• 8,000 new bicycle parking spaces and three-bike carriers for Metro buses
• an online route-finding program tailored to the user’s skill level
• new “Share the Road” and “Drive with Care” road signs designed to raise drivers’ awareness
View the Bicycle Master Plan at www.seattle.gov/Transportation/bikemaster.htm
For more about Bikery events: www.thebikery.org