Cycling symposium: Seattle’s primer for more urban biking

Jun 20, 2013

Experts on urban cycling are convening at the University of Washington this week to talking about how to get more people out of cars and onto bikes. And the experts say Seattle is poised to get to the next level.

Seattle is about half way through its ten-year Bicycle Master Plan. An update is under way and expected to be approved by the Seattle City Council this fall.

Evan Manvel, policy and planning director for the Cascade Bicycle Club, says the emphasis is on making cycling more accessible and enjoyable as an integral part of daily life in Seattle.

“I should be able to bike places with my daughter or with my elderly parent. And I should be able to get there on bike, safely and comfortably,” he said.

Manvel says a poll the club commissioned in December showed that 60 percent of people in Seattle want to bike more.

There are many challenges. To improve safety—the top obstacle for many riders—this planned update of the Bike Master Plan relies less on “sharrow”-style lanes on the busiest roads and instead maps out more routes that are separate from traffic.

Another problem specific to Seattle are all the hills, but Manvel says mapping a variety of routes can help tackle this obstacle.

“Like they did in san Francisco. They have something called The Wiggle," Manvel said, adding the Wiggle is a zig-zag route, a bit like switchback on a hiking trail. "Where it’s like, there are a bunch of different streets, but if you do this complicated pattern, you can get through the hills without much difficulty.”

Another trick is coordinating with public transit so riders can put their bikes on a bus for steep uphill portions of their trip.

Finally, Seattle’s rainy weather is often cited as a deterrent. But the cycling experts say that’s no excuse. Many of the world’s top biking cities have climates just as dreary, or more so.

There is no estimate yet on how much money will be needed to fund improvements for Seattle's bikeways. But Portland recently estimated it would cost $60 million to update its bike network.