Several Bicycle Coalition board and staff members are heading for Seattle over the next few days Thunderhead Alliance Leadership Retreat and Pro Walk Pro Bike.
The Thunderhead Alliance Retreat starts today at the Island Wood Resort on Bainbridge Island, a 40 minutre ferry ride and a 3 mile bike ride from Downtown Seattle. The retreat is for bicycle and pedestrian advocacy groups to share information and learn about best practices in organizational development. It sounds wonkish but this interaction solidifies our efforts to improve bicycling and walking locally and nationally. Pro Walk is more geared toward bicycle and pedestrian planning, engineering and education. It runs from Tuesday to Friday at the Westin Hotel.
I have been in Seattle for several days and of course I began looking for the comparison with bicycling Philadelphia.
My first observation was helmets, they are required here for adults and a majority of the cyclists wear them (probably 60 to 70%). Even casual cyclists wear them.
During the rush hour downtown you see a lot of what I would call uber commuters. You see them riding on mid or high end road or mountain bikes, taking the lane, riding fast downhill or pedaling hard uphill. Some are wearing lycra or mountain bike apparel. Messenger bags or Panniers were common sights.
What you don't see are food delivery bikes, even immigrant sidewalk cyclists appear to be a small minority. I have seen a few of messengers/hipster fixed gear cyclists types but not as many as I would expect. There seems to be some factors at least downtown that deters some people from bicycling more.
As I have seen on previous trips bike on bus usage is extremely high it seems that every other bus is carrying a bike. Some buses have bike racks that hold three bicycles.
Perhaps the biggest surprise to me was how bicycle unfriendly downtown Seattle's streets are. While there is nothing you can do about the cities hills there are plenty of options available to to tame the traffic and makes cyclists feel comfortable. Nearly all the downtown streets are three lane arterials a la JFK boulevard. Motorists are polite but the fast auto and bus traffic can be overbearing on the hills when you struggle to pedal.
Say what you want about our rude drivers in Philly but I'll take the steel plates on Spruce St over the sharrows on Seattle's 4th Street any day. Some physically separated bike lanes downtown would put bicycle use into the stratosphere here.
But as a whole Seattle outperforms Philadelphia with citywide bike parking, multi use trails, green bike lanes and sharrows and a culture that supports bicycling. There is a bikestation that offers repairs and rentals and the Burke Gilman Trail is part of a network that goes all the way to the foothills of the Cascades.