But all this celebration does not cover up an important truth: Seattle does not have a consistent and effective policy for making bicycle commuting an enjoyable and safe mode of transportation in the city.
The evidence of Seattle's halting, inconsistent, and sometimes wasteful policies are easy to demonstrate. There are also been a few success stories that show what the city can do when it tries.
Fact Number 1: Seattle is incapable of keeping its main bicycle superhighway, the Burke Gilman Trail, in decent condition.
Thousands of bicycle commuters use the trail every day. I blogged in depth about the sad state of the trail earlier, with heaving roots, cracks, holes, and broken edges. After my and other complaints, Councilwoman Jean Godden (the only councilperson who seemed to care about the problem) and representatives of the Park's Dept. met with me on the trail. They promised action. Some work was done, but many of the worst sections have not been fixed (see pictures) and dangerous, slapdash plywood "repairs" on the 35th Ave bridge have not been taken care of. When they do some repairs they are cursory and not permanent. Repair work has now stopped completely. What will it take to get the Parks Department to take Burke-Gilman trail maintenance seriously?
Fact Number 2: There are no protected bicycle routes into the city from the North End. Or the south end.
Many folks living north of the Ship Canal would like to commute into the city by bicycle. Amazingly, the city has not established a single route whereby a cyclist can commute without serious and dangerous contention with cars. I have tried it several times....I am still shaking from the experiences. If Seattle is serious about fostering bicycle commuting there MUST be protected bike routes. It is as simple as that.
Fact Number 3: The city has wasted large amount of money on feel-good, PR-rich schemes that have not helped the situation.
The first was the lame scheme to paint bicycle symbols (sharrows) on busy streets. Somehow that supposed made the streets safe for cyclists. Tens, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars were wasted on this dangerous and ill-conceived scheme. And many cyclists are hit by cars and opening car doors on sharrow-painted streets.
Really safe! LOL
Perhaps the biggest waste of money on feel-good schemes is the Pronto bicycle rental stations placed around the city. Millions of dollars were spent to acquire the bikes and the docking stations. And Pronto reports the cost of the enterprise is about $110,000 a month. I have seen only ONE Pronto bicycle being ridden around the UW or on the Burke Gilman trail. The usage statistics show dismal popularity. For example, in 2014, each bicycle was used for 1/2 a trip per day. You read that right. ONE HALF a trip per day. Want to use a Pronto bicycle for a day. That will be $77.00! Their whole pricing structure pushes short rides and discourages extended use by tourists or folks wanting a longer ride. At some docking areas (e.g., Children's Hospital), there is almost no usage. The Seattle media has not touched this disaster yet... perhaps Danny Westneat of the Times will take it on after he deals with the pesticide-spraying shellfish industry.
Lonely, but expensive bikes with no where to go
When will the political class take bicycle commuting seriously?
Imagine if the city created FOUR absolutely protected bike routes into and out of the city (form NW, NE, SW, and SE Seattle).
Imagine if the Burke-Gilman and other bike paths were properly maintained?
Perhaps it is time for city officials and councilmembers to stop taking PR opportunities for things they can't change (like kayaking around Shell Oil drilling platforms) and do something that will really help reduce carbon usage and greatly enhance the livability of the city (like dealing with the bicycle commuting problem). There is so much talk in the city for living green and having a low-carbon footprint. Yet, the city seems powerless to plan and execute a bold plan for making safe, effective bike commuting a reality. Really sad.
There are some reasons for hope. Some safe bicycling areas have been created downtown, like the second ave protected bike lane (see pic)
And near U. Village, some of the crossings of the Burke-Gilman Trail have been made much safer:
And some innovative new companies, like Rider Oasis, want to revolutionize bike maintenance and make bicycle-oriented products available 24-h a day.
We have waited long enough to see Seattle becoming a truly bicycle-friendly city. The increasing traffic and density of the city calls for making bicycle commuting a viable alternative. Does anyone have the vision and leadership to make this happen? Kayaking around Shell Oil platforms and riding around Pronto bicycles might get a lot of press, but someone has to do the real work that will make a real difference.
Announcement: On June 3, I will be on the Seattle Channel's Civic Cocktail with Governor Inslee. If you would like to be in the audience, you can get tickets at : http://www.seattlechannel.org/CivicCocktail. They charge, but you get appetizers with their no-host bar.