Sunday, September 7, 2008

Seattle wrap-up

On Friday morning, I had another unique bicycling experience. I had arrived in Seattle with my Bike Friday folding bike in its travel case and the rest of my traveling possessions in a large backpack. (I don't have the accessories to convert the travel case into a trailer.) If I rode my bicycle back downtown from Nancy's house, I could probably manage to carry the backpack but not the travel case. Repacking the Bike Friday into the travel case would require taking the bus downtown with two large pieces of luggage, during the peak of morning rush hour.

Nancy offered me another option: she could haul my luggage behind her commuting bike in her Burley trailer with me riding behind her. I packed my backpack into the Bike Friday travel case and loaded it into her trailer, and we rode together the five miles downtown. It was the first time I have ever bicycled with a baggage porter! Our route included one climb, perhaps 4% grade for about a half mile. We geared down and rode up at about 8 mph. Nancy was pulling probably 65 pounds of luggage and trailer up that grade!

Downtown Seattle has numerous hills much steeper than that. The steepest that I rode during my stay must have been 12% for a block. Anyone riding much around Seattle needs to learn to handle hills, unless they stay on the Burke-Gilman trail. As a result of building strength by riding the hills, many of the commuters I encountered kept a fast pace.

On the way to the conference on Friday, I counted 33 bicyclists - the highest of any of my 5-mile commuting rides. We had glorious weather all week, with low temperatures in the 50s and high temperatures in the 70s, with sunshine and no rain. I rode in business clothes all week without getting sweaty on the way to work.

What do bicycle advocates in Seattle think of the state of affairs there? After all, they have Cascade Bicycle Club with 10,000 members and 16 full-time paid employees, the famous and fantastically well-used Burke-Gilman Trail, and between 20 and 100 times Louisville's bicycle commuting "mode share" (the fraction of commuters who commute by bicycle). They have a downtown BikeStation and get priority treatment on ferries and other transit vehicles. Short answer: They are not resting on their laurels. With strong participation from Cascade Bicycle Club, the city in 2007 adopted an ambitious new bicycling master plan calling for major expansion and improvement of on- and off-street bicycling facilities. They have started a program based on the SmartTrips program used successfully in Portland, OR to encourage people to switch from single-occupancy motor vehicle trips to transit, bicycling, and walking. They have active bicycle safety education and traffic enforcement programs. Cascade has increased its membership by over 10% in the past year.

Bicycle advocates in Seattle have long since reached the goal of making bicycling a respected mode of transportation that handles a small but significant proportion of trips. Now, they work to make bicycling a mainstream mode, equal in importance and public consideration to driving and public transit. It looks as though they will get there within the next 10 years.

The ProWalk/ProBike Conference aims to make insight and experience from successful programs and policies available for widespread application. The people from Seattle gleefully acknowledged the ideas that they had "stolen" from Portland and other cities. The leaders in our field repeatedly invited the rest of us to use their materials and methods. We in Louisville will not need 30 years to catch up with Seattle and Portland if we accept this invitation.

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