Connecting Seattle's neighborhoods with safe routes for families to ride

cs-connect-neighborhoodsWe all want a better world for our children, and that's why Cascade is working to create a Seattle where families can safely ride their bicycles.

Unfortunately, that's not true today.

Long-ago special interests pushed a roads-only approach --- through funding mechanisms, road design, and traffic laws --- that has made our streets dangerous for kids to walk and bike. In the early 1910s through 1930s, bike paths and streetcars were ripped out across the city. Then major highways gutted, cut-up, and divided our Seattle neighborhoods. And now our downtown is filled with parking garages instead of active streetscapes, and more bikes are stored in our basements than used for commuting, errands, and recreation.

But right now, we have the opportunity to change all that.

The City of Seattle is updating it's Bicycle Master Plan --- likely to be adopted this November or December. The Bicycle Master Plan will be an unprecedented blueprint to building a network of neighborhood greenways and bike lanes physically protected from car traffic that will connect neighborhoods across the city.

That's why we're creating a three-year campaign to get the Bicycle Master Plan funded. And it starts now.

Cascade has estimated that we can build much of the plan in the next decade if the City of Seattle commits $30 million a year to the endeavor. Let's put $30 million in perspective. The state's current transportation budget is $8.7 billion, of which only 0.5% goes to bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and another 1.7% to transit. By comparison, the City of Seattle's total transportation budget for 2014 will be about $409 million. And from 2009 to 2012, Seattle spent just $6.7 to $6.9 million on bicycle infrastructure each year, roughly equivalent to 2.5% of the total spent on transportation for those years.

But currently 4.1% of Seattle commuters report their longest commute each week is by bicycle --- and the City of Seattle has a goal of tripling ridership within the next decade. Hitting the city bicycle ridership goal is important not just because we love bicycling, but because it's a key strategy to address climate change, reduce congestion, and improve public health. If we're going to reach the city goal, we'll need to step up our funding of bicycle infrastructure.

Around the world, the percentage of a city's transportation budget dedicated to bicycling is almost always nearly equal to the percentage of people bicycling in the city. So here's our plan. First, we need the Seattle City Council to make an early down-payment on the Bicycle Master Plan. Right now the Seattle City Council is reviewing the 2014 city budget with final adoption in November. In his budget proposal to City Council, Mayor Mike McGinn identified $10.5 million bicycle projects. That's a good start.  It'll help fund:

  • Construction of the Westlake Cycletrack.
  • Improvements to the Burke-Gilman Trail Missing Link.
  • Construction of the 23rd Avenue Neighborhood Greenway.
  • And several other projects.

In addition, the Seattle Department of Transportation has asked for an additional $6 million for implementation of the Bicycle Master Plan. This funding could really get Seattle going in the right direction for making our street safe for pedestrians and bicyclists. Here's some of what could be funded:

  • Design of a multi-use trail along Gilman Avenue W.
  • Design and initial construction of protected bike lanes on Martin Luther King Jr Way S.
  • Design and construction of protected bike lanes on S Dearborn Street.
  • Design and construction of additional greenways in Ballard as a complement to the recently completed NW 58th Street Neighborhood Greenway.

The final public hearing on the city's 2014 budget is on October 24. Attend the hearing on Thursday, October 24, and show your support for bicycling.  RSVP >>

Obviously, $10.5 million or even $16.5 million will be insufficient to reach our funding need. We'll need new revenue. Two potential sources are a 2014 Parks Legacy Levy and a 2015 Bridging The Gap Levy. City advisory committees are currently putting together their proposals for these upcoming Seattle levies. We think there's a real opportunity to fund "parkways" in the upcoming Parks Legacy Levy

Much like the city's new neighborhood greenways, "parkways" are low-speed, low-traffic streets that are park-like environments for families to safely walk and bike to city parks. Parkways will help further the mission of the cities parks by achieving two goals: creating new park-like places and increasing access to parks.

The current "Bridging The Gap" Levy was passed in 2006 and provides $365 million for maintenance and improvement of the Seattle's transportation system. The levy is up for renewal in 2015, and we hope that the levy will help connect Seattle's neighborhoods with safe routes for families to get around by bike. It won't be easy to get bike infrastructure into the Parks Legacy Levy and Bridging the Gap Levy, or to even get the levies passed as the ballot box.

But we see time and time again, when caring neighbors work together, we can get the government to work for "We the People." That's why Cascade is empowering local neighbors with the leadership, coalition, and communication tools necessary to make sure that the bike projects in their neighborhoods get built and get built right, with the safety of people of all ages and abilities in mind. And then we'll be connecting these project-focused neighborhood teams to create a citywide voice improving city budgets and passing the levies.

Cascade is also building a strong council of advisors -- leaders from the bike, business, labor, political, and environmental communities -- who can help shepherd our efforts through the writing of the budgets and levies and push against the levers of power. And, without a doubt, Cascade will continue to use it's own expertise to work with the mayor's office, city council, and city departments.

We can create a better Seattle where families can safely ride from neighborhood to neighborhood, protected from the dangers of car traffic. If we work together, we can make it happen.

To get involved, contact Emily Kathrein, Cascade's Field Programs Manager, at emily.kathrein@cascadebicycleclub.org.