Saturday, August 30, 2008

This week in Seattle

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.


Gladwyne Montessori said...

John -
I haven't heard the word "sharrow" before. What is it? A shovel with an arrow? A short projectile?
- Ben G Compson

Anonymous said...

I biked around West Philly during the era of Police Chief and Mayor Frank Rizzo, and the city has progressed in bicycle-friendliness. An example of a bicycle-unfriendly city is Newport Beach, CA despite California Law AB-1581 for signal detection of bicycles. Motorcycle police chase bicyclists, particularly on quiet weekends and winter holidays with no traffic. Newport Beach Principal Civil Engineer Tony Brine sets back strategic left-turn signals to not detect bicycles. Mr. Brine sent me an e-mail that the left-turn signal to a nature preserve no longer detects bicyclists. Hundreds of bicyclists ride the one-way scenic roadway on weekends. Being down the street from police headquarters, the Back Bay signal becomes an efficient revenue generating unit from bicycle citations. Traffic Lieutenant Steve Shulman sends a two-page letter stating that bicyclists should dismount to use crosswalks. The letter further explains why motorcycle officers demand car license plate numbers to write pseudo-vehicle citations. The large city of Philadelphia is challenging for bicycling as regular transportation, but the small city of Newport Beach resists and exploits bicyclists.

Dr. Phila said...

OK...interesting comments on here today. First off, a sharrow, which can be easily understood by simply typing the word sharrow into a online search engine, is intended to distinguish a regular vehicular lane with a bicycle and double arrow painted on it, the sharrow, to let drivers know that bikes are allowed and encouraged to use the lane. (I can see applications for CC's Chesnut and Walnut)

For John, I'm interested to continue hearing what your thoughts are as a result of sessions you may attend at PWPB. I wanted to attend but alas, money talks. I used to live in Olympia and Portland and now live in Philly but I love to hear from people who've biked in both places. I think your portrayal of Seattle is fairly accurate but you forgot the most significant deterrent to cycling in Seattle - the weather, or more specifically the rain.

You're likely enjoying the most beautiful summer season anywhere in the nation. I highly recommend checking out Alki beach by taking the West Seattle bike path/bridge. It's an amazing view of the skyline and a lovely ride.

Andrew J. Besold said...

Now I've read that much has changed since I visited Seattle just two years ago but I did not find it AT ALL bike friendly once you left the shelter of the bike paths like the famous Burke Gilman (Even that was crazy with way too many users). You see, drivers in the Northwest think that the double yellow line creates an impenetrable force-field so they would rather buzz past your shoulder with only two feet of clearance then move over into the other lane when it is otherwise clear of traffic. This happen immediately and repeatedly once I rode on a major road without a bike-lane or shoulder.

I hated it and would gladly take Philly's streets and those in New Jersey over riding in the Seattle Metro area any day.