By 2040 Cycling Will Be Easy ... Sort of

By Josh Cohen March 10, 2010

If all goes according to plan, in a mere 30 years you might be able to ride a contiguous loop of bike paths around Lake Union, ride across the 520 bridge on your bike, and even ride all the way through Ballard on the Burke-Gilman trail Without dodging cars and hopping train tracks.

These are just a few of the bicycling infrastructure proposals laid out in the Puget Sound Regional Council's 2040 Transportation plan. The draft plan was released in late January, and public comment closed yesterday.

It might seem silly to report on the draft plan after the fact (my excuse: the BikeNerd column just launched last week), but with the exception of a Seattle Times op/ed a few weeks ago, this important topic has gotten little to no coverage. The quality and growth of cycling infrastructure in the region will have a direct impact on the number of cyclists out there commuting, riding for fitness, and using cycling as an alternate means of transportation, so allow me to keep the conversation moving.

The PSRC's 2040 plan outlines the proposed changes to highways, roads, mass transit, ferry and cycling infrastructure for King, Kitsap, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties. The plan proposes spending $21 billion on local streets, roads, and pathways. Part of that fund will be used to build 348 new miles of trails, improve existing trails and bike lanes, create new bike maps, add bike parking, and create a non-motorized transportation trip planner (like the one that already exists for bus and train travel) for the region.

Thirty years isn't going to revolutionize the bike as transportation, but the PSRC plan includes some smart improvements and additions that will make it easier for cyclists to navigate the city and could encourage more people to give cycling a try.

Most of the proposals for Seattle are small additions that fill in gaps on  existing bike trails.  In South Seattle, the big projects are expansions of the Duwamish Trail, to connect it to the West Seattle bridge; the Alaskan Way Trail, to fill in the gap on the east side of the West Seattle bridge; and the Mountains to Sound trail, to fill in the gap between Jose Rizal Park and East Marginal Way. Most exciting for South Seattle, the plan calls for building a trail along Martin Luther King Junior Way from the end of the I-90 Trail down to S. McClellan St.

An MLK trail would finally create a safe link between I-90 and the Mount Baker light rail station. Currently, cyclists have to share a busy, shoulderless MLK with speeding traffic—potentially opening the door for people who might otherwise not consider using a bike as part of their commute. The short MLK Trail proposal is a glimpse at how alternative-transportation planning should work.

Photo via Seattle Likes Bikes.

The focus in north Seattle is, unsurprisingly, mostly on the completion of the "missing link" of the Burke-Gilman Trail—a 1.5-mile segment that currently runs along Shilshole Ave, a shoulderless road that takes cyclists over train tracks several times. The replacement is currently caught up in a legal battle between the city and the industrial businesses along Shilshole, which oppose the expansion of the trail. If the PSRC has its way, the Burke-Gilman will run continuously from Blyth Park in Bothell to Golden Gardens in Ballard.

The other big proposals in North Seattle would connect the broken spots along Eastlake, Fairview, Westlake, and the Burke-Gilman to create a contiguous trail around Lake Union; expand the Ship Canal Trail, which runs along the south side of the canal more or less parallel to the Burke-Gilman; and, as part of the renovation of the 520 bridge, add a bicycle and pedestrian lane to the bridge, similar to the one on the north side of I-90.

There's actually one final opportunity to provide input to the PSRC. They're holding a public Transportation Policy Board meeting tomorrow, March 11, at 9:30 a.m. to create the final draft of the plan.

Even if the PSRC plan is eventually completed, it's still the tip of iceberg for cycling infrastructure in Seattle. There are lots of sections of disjointed bike paths and bike lanes that are separated by busy streets. I've heard a rule of thumb for planning public cycling routes is asking, "Would your grandmother or your child feel safe riding here?" The answer for much of the bike routes in Seattle will still be no. But an additional 300-plus miles of trails and lanes, increased bike parking, trip-planning, and better bike maps, would represent a huge step forward for safer, more viable cycling in the region.
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