Seattle Breaks New Ground with Bicycle Master Plan

City Revs Up Its Pedal Power

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Seattle City Council member Tom Rasmussen is chair of the city's transportation committee.

Posted: Monday, June 10, 2013 10:26 pm | Updated: 11:34 am, Thu Jan 30, 2014.

SEATTLE, Wash. – Already considered among the leading U.S. cities for “bikeability” the city of Seattle has recently taken strides to accelerate its plan to triple bicycle usage and improve bike safety in the city.

Last week, the Seattle Department of Transportation made a draft of its 2013 Bicycle Master Plan available for public comment. It includes the city’s vision of making “riding a bicycle a comfortable and integral part of daily life in Seattle for people of all ages and abilities.”

The improvements and actions identified in the plan will not only make bicycling a viable form of transportation for Seattle residents, workers and visitors, but will also help the city achieve its goals relating to climate change, economic vitality and community livability.

“This plan will make riding a bike easier and safer for a broad group of people,” said Mayor Mike McGinn. “A combination of cycle tracks, trails and neighborhood greenways will encourage healthy active travel for everyone from our children to our grandparents.”

Using public input, the draft plan was developed over the past year and reviewed by the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board. Two phases of outreach have been conducted to date, including an online survey and mapping tool, and a series of public meetings in November 2012. The draft includes an updated policy framework; a network plan map, showing the location and type of new bicycle facilities throughout the city; a bicycle facilities visual glossary; recommendations for end-of-trip facilities and programs; and a prioritization framework for how new projects will be evaluated.

“Council intends for the new Bicycle Master Plan to make Seattle the leading city when it comes to providing a safe, connected bicycle network that works for all riders, ages 8-80,” said Councilmember Tom Rasmussen.

Rasmussen, who chairs the city’s transportation committee, has been a long-time proponent of bicycling in Seattle. Safety has been one of his biggest concerns. In a newsletter released in May, Rasmussen recounted the recent death of a bicyclist in a collision with a truck on a designated bicycle route leading from West Seattle to downtown.

“While we are not certain what led to the collision, I am determined to improve conditions on this route that will benefit bicyclists and motorists,” he said. Rasmussen said he bikes the route himself on occasion and knows first-hand how badly improvements are needed.

“It is very challenging because of the heavy traffic and the many and sometimes confusing crossings. There are long stretches where the streets have been pulverized by the mammoth trucks going to and from the Port. The conditions require extra caution on everyone’s part whether they bicycle or drive this route,” he said.

Last fall the Seattle City Council increased the 2013 SDOT budget for bicycle improvements city-wide, and specifically funded improvements to the West Seattle - East Marginal Way bike corridor. The accident in May has given new urgency to completing those improvements.

Seattle has been working on its bicycle system since the early 1970s, when the emphasis was on building off-street trails and installing signage for designated on-street bike routes. On-street bike lanes began appearing in the 1980s.

“As the bicycling movement grew, an emphasis was placed on the shared use of arterials,” Rasmussen said. “Seattle recognized a need for a comprehensive approach to our bicycle investments. This was the context for development of the 2007 Bicycle Master Plan.”

It was this plan that set up a 10-year framework for tripling the use of bicycles in the city and reducing the rate of bicycle crashes by one third, through education, enforcement and investments in 450 miles of safe, connected bicycling facilities, according to Rasmussen’s newsletter. These facilities included in-street bike lanes, shared lane pavement markings (called “sharrows”), climbing lanes, bicycle boulevards (neighborhood greenways), multi-use trails, as well as safer intersections and crossings.

Rasmussen said the city is on track to fulfill the 2007 plan’s goals for most of the in-street network of bike lines, sharrows and signed routes, but is behind on some of the more “complicated or expensive projects,” which he said have been held up by funding shortfalls, permitting or legal hurdles.

Despite those obstacles, Seattle’s bicycle system improvements helped the city achieve gold level “Bicycle Friendly Community” status by the League of American Bicyclists, and Seattle’s bicycle commute rate (3.5%) is second only to Portland, Ore. (6.3%), among the 70 largest U.S. cities, according to the league.

Seattle, along with cities like New York and Portland, has helped write the book on engineering standards for bicycle facilities. These and other cities formed the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), which in 2011 published its first Urban Bikeway Design Guide. This guide helped form the basis of Seattle’s 2013 draft plan.

According to the plan’s introduction, “the BMP update provides an opportunity to include fast-evolving best practices and new thinking towards bicycle facilities, resulting in planned investments that will serve a broader range of people who ride bicycles as well as those interested in riding a bike.”

“The case for improving the bicycling environment for people of all ages and abilities is growing,” the plan authors wrote. “Academic and popular literature is expanding America’s under¬standing of the relationships between bicycling and health, economic, and environmental benefits, time competitiveness, space efficiency, and equity. There is evidence that bicycling is good for individuals, cities, and society as a whole.”

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