Most-Read of 2013: #10 Seattle's bike-lane bigotry

No. 10: Seattle's Biking Master Plan has focused most of its efforts on North Seattle, leaving the just-as-needy-but-less-wealthy neighborhoods down south to fend for themselves.
A bike wayfinding marking on a Seattle street.

A bike wayfinding marking on a Seattle street. Photo: SDOT

One way to claim space in the roadway (and make motorist enemies).

One way to claim space in the roadway (and make motorist enemies).

Editor's note: As we look ahead to the New Year, we thought you would like to see the 10 Most-Read Stories from Crosscut in 2013. Like this one, the 10th most read, many will point the way to continuing discussions in 2014. This was originally published on Aug. 15. In late November, the city presented a bike master plan recommended by Mayor Mike McGinn went to the City Council, which is reviewing it. Details and links to the plan are here. The recommended plan has been met with considerable praise, including at a public hearing.

In 2007, with a fanfare, the Nickels administration proposed “within 10 years, to make Seattle the best community for bicycling in the United States.” The roadmap to this goal was supposed to be a Bicycle Master Plan, self-described as “visionary.” Six years on, how’s that vision working out?

The results can at best be described as mixed. If you take the crudest measure, the number of miles of “bicycle facilities” — dedicated or designated bicycle routes — laid down, the city's doing fairly well. It proposed to expand its “bicycle network” from just 68 miles in 2007 to 450 in 2017. As of 2012, it had built or — more often — painted 158 new miles, for a total of 226.

But it’s done that via a heavy reliance on the most confusing and unsafe but — whaddaya know — cheapest facility of all, the dreaded sharrow. You may know the sharrow as bicycle icons painted on otherwise ordinary traffic lanes to remind motorists to share the lane with bicyclists, as they're supposed to do anyway. Depending on whom you talk to or how the traffic is, sharrows are (a) instructive and mildly effective, (b) irrelevant, (c) confusing, and/or (d) a diabolical hoax, giving cyclists false confidence while suggesting to motorists that they have exclusive rights to streets that aren’t painted with them. (They don't.)

Ninety-two of those new miles were sharrows; the city fulfilled a whopping 83 percent of its intended sharrow miles. But it lags much further behind at implementing most other types of bicycle facilities; the kinds that require actually building new infrastructure or taking space from motorized traffic, such as bike lanes and neighborhood greenways (streets reconfigured to slow traffic and favor pedestrians and cyclists).

The sharrow strategy "may have helped to grow bicycling in the city,” the Cascade Bicycle Club concluded in its midterm “Seattle Bicycle Report Card” last year, but it “has likely excluded a significant percentage of potential new riders.” And it hasn’t fooled anyone into thinking that Seattle has built enough real bikeways ­­­— not even the folks who assemble national lists of bike-friendly cities.

Twenty-plus years ago, when today’s so-called Mayor McSchwinn was fresh out of law school, Seattle could make a fair claim to being the bike-friendliest city in the country. The Burke-Gilman Trail was a visionary model of rail-line repurposing, on a scale advocates in other regions could only dream of. By 2007, Seattle could only aspire to becoming best, but Bicycling magazine still rated it among America’s five top bicycling cities. (These ratings, based in large part on data assembled by the League of American Bicyclists, are supposed to reflect the “5 Es”: engineering, encouragement, evaluation and planning, education and enforcement.)

Last year, Seattle dropped to tenth on Bicycling’s list, behind not only Portland, Minneapolis, Boulder and Eugene, but San Francisco, Chicago and (horrors!) New York. It’s fallen most conspicuously behind Portland, which doesn’t bother with sharrows but instead, as of last year, had installed 318 miles of greenways and dedicated bike lanes and trails. Portland offers cyclists enough safety and service amenities — from bike sharing to dedicated traffic signals and wayfinding signs — to make Seattle’s efforts seem positively 20th century. More than 6 percent of Portland’s commuters go by bike; just 3.6 percent of Seattle’s do. Memo to Seattle’s anti-bike backlashers: Stop grousing. You could be in Portland.

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Posted Mon, Dec 23, 10:23 a.m. Inappropriate

Please give attention to south Seattle and leave north Seattle alone, for goodness sake! We have been road-dieted and bike painted to the nth degree. For those of us who must drive, daily life and errands have become exercises in frustration and rage. There are nowhere near the number of cyclists v. the number of cars that can justify torturing drivers. I do both, but can see why some are vehemently anti-cyclist. It's just too much and, as pointed out, some, maybe many, things are done without thinking them through for whether they make sense or actually serve the cyclists they're meant to benefit. Please take this show to south Seattle and leave us in the north in peace.


Posted Mon, Dec 23, 12:33 p.m. Inappropriate

Please don't come to south Seattle. Taking 1/3rd or more of roads for sporadic bike traffic is foolish unless those bikes are going to be licensed and charged for the privilege. The Dexter project demonstrates a dangerous maze for vehicles and slows vehicles just to save a few buses 2 or 3 minutes travel time.


Posted Mon, Dec 23, 4:24 p.m. Inappropriate

2wheeler, did you know that cyclists already pay the same for use of the road as motorized vehicle operators? Roadwork isn't paid for by vehicle registration and gasoline taxes. Increasing cyclists and mass transit users on our roads reduces the number of motor vehicles you get stuck behind and frees up parking. It also improves the physical health of our community and reduces healthcare costs by some margin. Not to mention, to force licensing and registration on cyclists serves to further disadvantage those who use these systems because of financial constraints. While use may seem sporadic on Dexter, cyclists use Dexter to cross the Fremont Bridge, and the bike counter on that bridge counted 900,985 riders in its first year alone. That's right, nearly a million riders. Imagine the traffic and parking reductions alone if we actively encouraged safe passage for more ridership.

Posted Fri, Dec 27, 10:01 a.m. Inappropriate

You should explain why bicyclists "pay the same" as drivers who pay gas and registrations taxes. Not to mention much higher sales taxes.


Posted Wed, Jan 1, 11:53 a.m. Inappropriate

Actually, Silverback, that's a lie, but as a "progressive" it's not any problem for you to tell lies. In fact, it's a virtue in your crowd.


Posted Tue, Dec 24, 2:09 p.m. Inappropriate

License all bikes where the owners choose to ride in Seattle, and use all that money for bike lanes, and only that money. Allow individuals to also make tax deductible donations towards funding bike lanes.

All bike lanes should be in addition to current roads, not instead of.

Build overpasses across busy roads and highways through donations and naming rights.

CROSSCUT: Why is your ReCaptcha not working well today??

Posted Wed, Dec 25, 6:56 a.m. Inappropriate

hear,hear..but, I think afar more effective means of leveling the field would be to place the same percentage of state tax mark up on all bike parts as is placed on gasoline..let them pay for their share that way also..but, I agree completely with some form of ID must be established..there are way too many bad in point have they got the guy in Bellingham?

Posted Fri, Dec 27, 9:48 a.m. Inappropriate

Sure. Sounds like a great idea. Soon after we have car and truck drivers fully pay for their road without tapping the general fund. But of course, neither will happen.


Posted Fri, Dec 27, 10:43 a.m. Inappropriate

I would never buy a license for my bike or pay any special bicycle tax.

It is a silly idea that would be difficult to enforce w/o spending all the money collected and likely more.

My personal protest would be to not get one and ride around for free.

Similarly I have never licensed a 'pet'. Seems pretty pointless to me.


Posted Fri, Dec 27, 3:38 p.m. Inappropriate

Bike tax is the unattainable holy grail for the wackos, just like their desire to criminalize abortion or go back to the gold standard.

Nostalgia for the '50s. They will be dead so enough. Now merely lack cerebral function.


Posted Tue, Dec 31, 8:22 a.m. Inappropriate


I think I detect an unchallenged pre-supposition in your comment.

"Go back to the gold standard." (I am not arguing we should) "Nostalgia for the '50's. They will be dead soon enough." (I am not suggesting that decade would be better than the one we are in)

Do you pre-suppose that human nature changes? Do you pre-suppose that having left the popular, political, and moral culture of the 1950's that America will never return to it? What if those pre-suppositons are not empirically supported by the empirical observations of how we behave as individuals and as a society?

What if human nature is as immutable as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west?

We had the Guilded Age followed by Progressive Reformers. We had FDR's New Deal and then Reagan's not so small government, but a role back of the safety net. We had almost Russian levels of per capita alcohol consumption (and very real problems of domestic violence - see Ken Burns masterful series, "Prohibition"), followed by Prohibition, followed by repeal. We have war, peace, war, political scandal, followed by political reform, followed by more corruption. We have freedom and demoncracy followed by authoritarianism, followed by reform again. One part of the world gets more stable, another more destable and corrupt. We find new ways to stop cheating and crime via technology and then the watchers become the cheaters. All the while the crooks find new ways to stay ahead of the regulations and regulators.

Would not a fair reading of history be that the nature of humankind does not change? We get more knowledgeable, but not more wise. We don't evolve morally. The best we can do within our own humanity, is divide up power, so that certain parts of society and certain institutions act as checks on other parts of society and other institutions.

Is not the progresive system of thought and belief, very faithlike? To the extent that it has Universities and other government institutions implement its tenants, is not an organized religion? Progressivism has has a view about God - humans are their own God, a view about the nature of man - we progress, a view about morality - whatever the majority agrees to is moral, true, right, etc., etc., etc.) It seems to reject the behavioral evidence around us and the behavioral evidence recorded in history. Is it not hubris for individual humans, and humankind collectively, to think we are the authors of our own moral salvation?

We are all betting on something. Why would you bet on progressivism when the pre-supposition is not supported by the empirical evidence around us, and by the longer recorded observations in history?

Posted Tue, Dec 31, 10:21 a.m. Inappropriate


Charging a fee to bicycle is silly, will never happen, and if it did would be ignored. Next!


Posted Tue, Dec 31, 5:11 p.m. Inappropriate

Can't be bothered to address the substantive observations and critique of progressivism?

Posted Wed, Jan 1, 8:42 a.m. Inappropriate

realpolitik, at least her response established her credentials for calling people wackos in her earlier post. That is if you accept the takes one to know one school of thought.

Posted Wed, Jan 1, 11:51 a.m. Inappropriate

I would love it if the bicyclists ignored the fee, because then we could seize their bicycles and melt them down to make anti-gun violence plaques.


Posted Wed, Jan 1, 7:46 p.m. Inappropriate

This is like a teenage wet dream over Cylie Myrus for you, and just as unattainable.

Amusing though.


Posted Thu, Jan 2, 8:01 p.m. Inappropriate

It's good.


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