Cathy Tuttle is the executive director of Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, a group that has pushed the city to spend $25 million on bike infrastructure since 2011. But SNG isn’t behind headline-grabbing bike projects such as the protected lane on Second Avenue downtown. The group led the way on behind-the-scenes upgrades known as greenways, which mix bike and pedestrian routes in neighborhood streetscapes. Tuttle is leading a new form of activism that’s front and center in mayor Ed Murray’s new transportation plan, in which biking is one part of a larger family-friendly agenda. (She was also recently named to the Seattle School Traffic Safety Committee.) This isn’t your father’s bike movement; it’s your grandma’s. —Josh Feit
How would you judge Seattle’s biking infrastructure right now?
I don’t feel safe on it. Yes, we have a Second Avenue protected bike lane. But it’s this one-mile bike lane in the middle of nothing. We need a completed system. Right now, we have little segments here and there. Unfortunately I drive my car a lot more than I really want to. I drove here from Pioneer Square, for heaven’s sake! [Editor’s note: This interview took place at Seattle Met’s office downtown.] I hate it. I would love to have the freedom of choice and decide to come downtown by biking. I always have people explaining, “If you go through this and go through the waterfront, and you do this and avoid that, and you turn here….” But I don’t want that kind of trouble. I just want to be able to choose a path that’s easy. It’s not the distance. It’s not the rain. It’s not the hills. It’s these gaps in the system.
Will the bike portion of Mayor Murray’s proposed $900 million transportation levy solve the problem?
We’re going to put in 50 miles of protected bike lanes and 60 miles of greenways doesn’t get to the intersections where the majority of the crashes happen. The big spending needs to happen on intersections. That’s how people get into this network. Understanding what those fine-grain, small, neighborhood changes are would suddenly open up all of the streets. Greenways are just as, if not more, important [than protected bike lanes] for everyday family-friendly connections.
How do you get planners to think about bike infrastructure more holistically?
Looking at schools is actually a wonderful kind of planning mechanism because schools are scattered all over the city. This year, I’m working on plans for getting kids safely walking and biking to their schools. A large number of kids in the city are driven to school. One of the things the mayor’s proposal is planning to do is address every single school. If it actually finds a safe way for every child to get to school, I would consider that a major success.
It sounds like there’s a new bike activism.
Absolutely. The next evolution of all this is actually supporting families. Families who bike, women who bike, elders who bike. Really pushing the margins.
In other words, the new bike activist is not a spandex-clad biker dive-bombing down a major arterial. It’s a mom or a dad.
Right. Or a fat old lady like me.