Bike with Mike

For Mayor McGinn, the morning commute is an uphill climb.

By Johnathon Fitzpatrick April 21, 2010 Published in the May 2010 issue of Seattle Met

ON A CHILLY March morning at 8am sharp, the Greenwood bungalow’s garage door rises, and out steps Mike McGinn, pushing his Trek commuter bike. In baggy bleached-out denim jeans, oversize yellow rain jacket, and a helmet balanced improbably atop his round, hirsute noggin, the mayor looks like neither a spandex-clad gearhead nor the most powerful man in the city.

McGinn campaigned as the Pedaling Populist, which helped him secure much of the greenie vote in his narrow, less-than-8,000-vote victory over opponent Joe Mallahan. Now nearly every weekday the mayor bikes the eight miles from his home to City Hall—and thanks the municipal gods for the in-house showers, where he can hose off the sweat and change into one of the crisp dry-cleaned suits cached at his office.

He straddles his ride and pushes out onto Dayton Ave. There’s not a car in sight, yet at an intersection roundabout he throws out his arm, signaling a left turn to nobody but the birds. And he doesn’t cut corners the way a casual biker might; he goes all the way around the center island.

This is no publicity stunt, the mayor insists. The former local Sierra Club chair and environmental lawyer’s ideas for Seattle focus almost exclusively (to chagrin of opponents and supporters alike) on keeping the city sustainable—urban density, fewer cars, more bikes. And for McGinn that starts at home. He says he’s commuted to work for years—a stark contrast from his predecessor, Greg Nickels, once deemed “America’s Green Mayor.” Nickels didn’t even ride a bike to give a speech to cyclists on Bike to Work day last year, opting instead for his standard sheriff-chauffeured car and an entourage of SUVs packed with armed guards.

“Oh, hi!” McGinn says, waving at a man at Fremont Avenue and 41st. The pedestrian smiles and waves back. Does the mayor know him? “I see him frequently on my way to work.”

He takes a detour in Fremont, to the home of his riding buddy, city council member Mike O’Brien. Dressed in tight-fitting blue jeans, O’Brien trots down the steps with his beat-up yellow Cannondale, and takes the lead, only pausing at stop lights to wait for the unhurried mayor.

McGinn’s physique belies his standing as a daily bicycle commuter. But he seems unaffected by his public image, whether it’s that of a man on a cheap bike or as the inexperienced, gaffe-prone politician always at odds with the city council.

On Dexter hill, O’Brien pops off of his seat and walks his bike up the steep incline. But the mayor stays in the saddle, determined. His face strains as he muscles up the hill, and he talks, puffing through a jeremiad about the importance of improving Seattle’s bicycle and pedestrian routes. He inhales and exhales breaths as big and as earnest as his ideas. And he pedals. All the way to City Hall.

Read more about McGinn and his first few months as mayor HERE.

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