A new book documents the history of bicycling and bike advocacy in Seattle, telling the story of the personalities, controversies, heroes, victims, and villains who have shaped transportation in our city.
Biking Uphill in the Rain is essential reading for anyone who cares about bicycling in Seattle, and wants to learn about Cascade Bicycle Club's history of bike advocacy.
Seattle’s modern bike advocacy movement began with a huge coming out party on April 28, 1968.
On that day, an estimated 5,000 people showed up to ride bicycles on Seattle’s Lake Washington Boulevard. It was the first Bicycle Sunday, a tradition where the city closes a street to cars for a day so that people can bike freely and safely.
The huge turnout (organizers expected a few hundred people not thousands) amazed city leaders, who created more Bicycle Sundays to feed public demand for opportunities to safely ride bikes on streets without cars.
It’s no coincidence that Cascade Bicycle Club was born two years after that first Bicycle Sunday. The event allowed people who owned bikes but never rode them on city streets to gather, make connections, and imagine a better, more bike-friendly Seattle.
“The simple act of kicking cars off a street for a few hours demonstrated to people the benefits of public spaces,” writes Tom Fucoloro in the new book, Biking Uphill in the Rain: the Story of Seattle from Behind the Handlebars. “Riding down the centerline without any fear of death was liberating and empowering.”
On Oct. 18, Cascade hosted a reading, Q&A, and book signing with Fucoloro, whose new book is the most informative and definitive history of bicycles and the bike movement in Seattle.
Seattle’s Bicycling Journalist
Fucoloro’s book details the long history of bicycles and transportation policy in Seattle, from the bike boom of the late 1800s, to the rise of automobiles and freeways, to the creation of the Burke-Gilman Trail and the 2nd Avenue bike lane, to the ongoing struggle to carve out more street space for bicycles.
Fucoloro should be no stranger to Cascade members and people who care about bicycling in Seattle. As the founder of the Seattle Bike Blog, Fucoloro has been on the bike advocacy beat for more than a decade, writing stories about good and bad infrastructure, fights over bike lane funding, and more.
Through his informative reporting, Fucoloro has been a crucial ally in the effort to create a more bikeable city. That’s why, earlier this year, Cascade honored Fucoloro as the 2023 Doug Walker Award winner for his service to the Seattle bike community.
Fucoloro arriving at the Bike Everywhere Breakfast by bike, of course.
For Cascade members who want to learn about the organization’s early activism, the book highlights the role that Cascade played in making Seattle one of the most bike-friendly cities in the nation.
Fighting for the Right to Bike
Today, we take it for granted that people have a legal right to ride bikes in Seattle and in Washington state. But that right to bike was only codified by the state legislature in 1983, thanks in part to Cascade’s advocacy.
Until 1983, you could be ticketed for riding a bike on the streets. That’s what happened to Barbara Hershey in 1976, when a police officer stopped her on Greenwood Avenue. Her crime? Impeding cars by failing to travel at the 35 MPH speed limit.
Cascade’s legal defense fund came to Hershey’s aid and fought to have the ticket thrown out. Unfortunately, the judge was unsympathetic to the idea that bicycles have a right to be on streets. He fined Hershey $20. Cascade and Hershey appealed but lost.
While Bicycle Sundays and recreational bike rides had become hugely popular, the prevailing belief at the time was that streets were for cars only. Seattle’s police chief even tried to convince the City Council in 1976 to ban bikes on all thoroughfares except sidewalks and bike paths.
Hershey’s case shows the importance of the 1983 law and the need to advocate for the rights of people who bike. “This vital law prevented cities from banning bikes from streets and clarified to all road users that people biking on roadways have a right to be there,” Fucoloro writes.
The Rise of Cascade
Fucoloro includes sections on the creation of Cascade Bicycle Club in 1970, and how the young nonprofit was an important advocate in two early bike infrastructure initiatives: the creation of the Burke-Gilman Trail, and the construction of the protected bike path on the Interstate 90 bridge.
“For many early club members, the (I-90) bridge was a major organizing goal that inspired many more volunteers to get involved,” writes Fucoloro.
Fucoloro also notes the importance of the creation in 2012 of Cascade’s Advocacy Leadership Institute–now known as Your Streets, Your Say. The program trained individuals how to do grassroots local organizing on behalf of bike infrastructure and safe biking.
“My favorite aspect of ALI (Advocacy Leadership Institute) is that Cascade empowered all these people to become advocates and organizers in their own ways, even though much of what they went on to do didn’t have Cascade’s name attached to it,” Fucoloro writes.
The War on Cars Myth
The book details the rise of pro-bike mayors including Mike McGinn, and the work of former Seattle Traffic Engineer Dongho Chang (now the head traffic engineer for the state) to improve our streets for all users with better and safer infrastructure. Fucoloro also details acts of guerilla bike infrastructure–such as the plastic posts placed on Cherry Street in the middle of the night in 2013 by a citizen who wanted to show the city how it could easily make the street safer for people bicycling.
The book also documents the political shenanigans and pro-car policies that have held back efforts to make Seattle more bikeable. He also mocks the use of the term War on Cars that was seized upon by local media and opponents of bike lanes.
“Those accusing the city of waging a war on cars typically didn’t have any real solutions they were trying to encourage–they were trying to stop changes they didn’t like,” Fucoloro writes.
Fucoloro dedicates his book to the more than 5,100 people who have died in traffic since the arrival of automobiles in Seattle, and he devotes a chapter titled “Too Many” to victims of traffic violence. These individuals include Mike Wang, who was hit and then run over and killed by a man driving an SUV in 2011.
Another is Sher Kung, a young mother and lawyer killed while biking on Second Avenue in 2014. Another is Brandon Blake, who was struck by a speeding car while riding in a bike lane in 2013. Blake survived after being placed in a medically induced coma, though his life has been forever altered due to a traumatic brain injury.
Biking Uphill in the Rain calls out the rising death toll of people walking and bicycling, and the book includes passages about victims and their families that will bring some readers to tears.
Bike Advocacy is Compassion
Bicycles, Fucoloro believes, are simply tools to advance and create a better society.
“The lesson for modern bike advocates may be that biking itself is not the end goal of bike advocacy. Biking is a means to build community, make communities safer, and directly challenge a destructive and unjust car culture,” he writes. “The end goal of bike advocacy is to care for the people we love and keep them safe.”
Biking Uphill in the Rain: The Story of Seattle from Behind the Handlebars is a must-read for anyone who cares about bicycling in Seattle. Fucoloro introduces readers to the people whose work in past decades benefits everyone who rides a bike today.
History’s greatest value is in the lessons it provides for the future. Biking Uphill in the Rain provides the context for how we got here, and through its documentation of the successes and failures of the bike movement it gives us the knowledge–and courage–to push for a safer, more equitable, sustainable, and bikeable future.
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