The holidays come early: Seattle's innovative Bicycle Master Plan goes to council next week
family biking

Whether you’re an 8-year-old kid or an 80-year-old grandparent, getting around Seattle on a bike should be safe, easy and comfortable. When fully implemented, Seattle’s ambitious new Bike Master Plan (BMP) will make that vision a reality.

The plan focuses on making bicycling a convenient, integral part of daily life and sets out to quadruple ridership between 2014 and 2030. The new plan was presented late last week to the City Council for final review and adoption. The plan includes 473.5 miles of new or upgraded bicycle infrastructure, including off-street paths, protected bike lanes (cycle tracks), and neighborhood greenways through a grid consisting of a “Citywide Network” and “Local Connectors.” The Citywide Network includes both neighborhood destinations and cross-town connections that are safe for all ages and abilities. The Local Connectors provide access to the larger network and make it easier to reach neighborhood destinations. When fully constructed, Seattle riders will have access to an impressive 608.3 mile network of bicycle facilities.

Included in the plan are 27 “catalyst” projects that will dramatically reduce barriers to bicycling and increase safety. Examples of catalyst projects include the “missing link” of the Burke-Gilman Trail, a pedestrian/bike overpass at 47th St connecting the University District to Wallingford and redesigning the intersection at Rainier Ave S and Martin Luther King Jr. Way S to function better for all users and improve access for those walking or riding a bike.

With an increased focus on safety, the BMP sets a goal to eliminate fatal bike collisions and cut bicycle collision rates in half by 2030. The BMP emphasizes protected bike lanes, where barriers separate bikes from fast moving vehicle traffic. Protective barriers can include planters, a change in elevation, parked cars or curbing. Protected bike lanes have resulted in the dramatic growth of people getting around by bike in other cities, including a 190 percent increase on Prospect Park in New York City after a protected lane was installed and also increased safety, with 89 percent fewer injuries among riders on streets with protected bike lanes according to a study in the American Journal of Public Health.

Protected bike lanes are planned for all areas of the City and include Rainier Ave S., Martin Luther King Jr. Way S, Airport Way and E Marginal Way in the south end. 2nd Ave, 4th Ave, 5th Ave, Eastlake, Westlake, Pike and Union in Downtown and Capitol Hill. In the north end, Fremont, Roosevelt, 11th, 35th Ave NE, parts of NE 65th and NE 125th. You can find a complete network map in the Seattle Bike Master Plan project library. The City plans to fully fund design work for the downtown protected bike lanes in 2014.

Safety is also emphasized through the creation of neighborhood greenways. Building off the work of Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, the plan proposes 239 miles of neighborhood greenways, which are streets with low traffic volumes and speed; the routes are designed to give pedestrians and bikes a safe, low stress connection by including traffic calming, intersection improvements and signage.

In addition to ridership and safety, the 2013 plan includes goals to improve equity, livability and connectivity. These goals will ensure that 100% of the households in the city are within a quarter mile of a safe, comfortable, all ages and abilities bike facility that connects all across the city. A three to five year implementation and work program that includes annual updates is forthcoming. The city’s next challenge will be fully funding the implementation of the plan and looking at all opportunities to speed the implementation of proposed facilities. In order to realize the plan’s potential, complete, connected networks need to exist that allow all types of riders to get where they need to go on low stress routes.

Seattle is one of America’s top cities where people ride bikes, having the fourth highest percentage of bike commuters, trailing only Portland, Minneapolis and Washington DC. Despite relatively high commuting rates, our bike facilities and safety investments have not been keeping up with demand or growing as fast as cities like Chicago (the Bears), San Francisco and Cleveland. The 2013 Bicycle Master Plan, when implemented, will elevate Seattle's status as one of the nation’s safest and best cities to ride a bike.