Saturday, January 26, 2013

Politics of Cycling in Seattle

Over the past decade the city of Seattle has done a lot to encourage cycling throughout the city. Even within the last few months the city has painted a new bike lane on my normal route home. With this shift has come some debate about how the roads should be used in the city. I have recently been reading a couple of articles about the state of bike infrastructure in the city. Or, more specifically, the politics surrounding it.

The first is an article from the Seattle Times about the Cascade Bicycle Club and their efforts to promote safer places for cyclists to ride. I have never been a member, but I do find myself more politically aligned with them than I do these guys. I thought the most intersting part was a quote from mayor Mike McGinn.
"Whether or not you like bicyclists, they're out there biking and they deserve to be safe."
For me that really comes to the core of the issue. This is not an issues of cars vs. bikes. Cars are not being overlooked in favor of bikes. It is just a understanding of the new reality. People are going to be riding their bikes on city streets, period. Adding bike friendly routes not only improves safety for cyclists, it adds a place for people to ride without slowing down cars.

I think the second piece from the stranger covers that pretty well. It sources a new study to say that bicycle improvements are generally supported by the people of Seattle. It is good to see that a majority of the citizens have a favorable opinion of cyclists. It is just a guess, but I think that most people who live in the city come to realize that having safe ways for bikes and cars to use the same roads isn't just part of being a modern, thriving metropolis, but actually improves traffic congestion.

I think the one problem with the study is that it only covered people in Seattle. I would like to see what the opinion of people from outside the city would be. I know that most drivers will understand and be supportive of cyclists.  I would also have no doubt that a large number of CBC members come from outlying communities. However I do think that people who commute mostly by freeway never get to see the advantages that cycling provides. The benefits just aren't that obvious to people who only come to the city for work. You never see the cars that aren't on the road, just the part of the road that has been converted to bike use. If you only drive in the city during rush hour, you never see the people riding out for lunch, or getting groceries in the evening. For the freeway crowd, I imagine it can also be easy to see bike improvements as money that could be better spent on problems of highway traffic congestion. Never mind that they come from completely different budgets (city vs. state/federal). This also forgets the fact that adding lanes to freeways costs billions, while restriping a road will cost thousands.

In the end, I am excited to see Seattle doing what it can to make biking easier in the city. I am also encouraged that my fellow city dwellers are with me, even if they don't bike. I would still like to see the opinion of people who commute into the city for work. Then again, unless you live here I am not sure you have anything to complain about.


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