A call for Seattle to regain our lead in biking

Dr. John Pucher, one of America’s foremost bicycling experts and author of the recently published City Cycling, visited Seattle in June. Cascade co-sponsored various talks, including “Cycling to the Future:  Lessons from across the Globe” at the Bicycle Urbanism Symposium (PDF of his slideshow).

As he explored Vancouver, BC and Seattle, Dr. Pucher came away deeply disappointed in Seattle’s lack of safe places to bike. He described his experience on Second Ave. in The Seattle Times: "as bad as a major avenue on Manhattan... maybe even worse."

Dr. Pucher then took the time to call Seattle’s leaders to action, writing an op-ed piece for The Seattle Times, which was published yesterday. He wrote, in part:

“In 1990 Seattle was at the vanguard of bicycling in North America, with one of the highest commuting rates of any major city. Seattle led even Portland, with 50 percent more bike commuting (1.5 percent vs. 1 percent of workers). Over the past two decades, however, Seattle has fallen behind... By 2011, Portland had boosted bike commuting nearly sevenfold to 6.9 percent, far surpassing Seattle’s modest rise to 3.7 percent.

“… With hundreds of miles of protected bicycle lanes being installed in New York City, Chicago and dozens of other cities around the country, Seattle should also focus its bicycling investment where it is the most needed.

“... How can investment in these safety projects be financed? Some government funds should be shifted from expensive highway expansions, which generate more car use, pollution and wasteful sprawl.

“…  Seattle finds itself at a crucial juncture. Now is the time for Seattle to regain its status as North America’s premier bicycling city by creating a complete, truly integrated network of protected bike lanes and neighborhood greenways.

The message is in line with Cascade Bicycle Club’s 2012 Seattle Bicycle Report Card, which found Seattle falling behind other cities, who are investing significant resources in forward-looking bikeways.

While Pucher's op-ed calls for more greenways and protected bike lanes, it’s good to acknowledge the progress Seattle has been making. Both the Linden Ave. separated bike lane and a small connector on 65th opened this year, with more protected bike lanes in the works. And the city is building out neighborhood greenways in five neighborhoods over the next two years. The Seattle Bike Master Plan Update is bringing our code up-to-date, adding many of the street treatments Pucher calls for to our tool box – green bike boxes, wider bike lanes, bike-priority signals, etc.

Pucher rightly holds Seattle's feet the fire; we have a huge amount of work to do. If we want Seattle to be America's leading bicycling city and gain all the benefits that would bring to our neighborhoods, health, and economy, we need to push harder and move faster. If we don't, we'll be left in the dust.

Two critical steps you can take now: engage in the the Bike Master Plan Update, and vote in the primary elections. Look for in-depth posts on those subjects later this week.