A few days ago I took the long way home from work, biking through Seattle’s Magnolia neighborhood. One of the many nice things about riding in Magnolia is the dedicated bike lane painted along the major routes. Not that cyclists need the lane: the streets have ample shoulders and the traffic is usually calm.

But there are a few places in Magnolia where a bike lane would be helpful. Near intersections, for example. Unfortunately, whenever a cyclist might actually need them, the bike lanes disappear. I mean that literally: a few dozen feet before each intersection, the striped bike lane vanishes. Then, 30 feet or so beyond the intersection, it re-appears. 

Those disappearing lanes, I realized on my ride, illustrate perfectly what’s wrong with the way we treat cycling: we only provide for bikes where it’s easy and doesn’t really make any difference. As soon as the going gets tough, planners revert to treating bikes like pariahs, or simply ignoring them.

That sort of historical neglect was why I was thrilled to see Seattle’s new master bike plan come to light. Here was a chance to make major upgrades and big, lasting improvements in the way we treat bikes. But just a few months later, I’m losing faith that things will change.

  • Find this article interesting? Support more research like this with a gift!

  • Just like those vanishing bike lanes in Magnolia, the plan’s elements are getting mothballed at the first whimper of inconvenience. (The details, on a segment of street in Fremont, are unimportant to my general point. But I know the area well, and for the life of me I can’t understand why the city is caving.)

    Update 3/13/07: The city got some spine after all on the Fremont issue I mentioned above in parentheses, thanks in part to hard work from the Cascade Bicycle Club.

    The city’s spinelessness on behalf of bikes is bad policy in this instance. But it’s worse than that too. By backing down in one of the first disputes over the plan, city leaders are plainly signaling that they’re not interested in being champions for bikes. It’s easier to do business as usual: we’ll build bike paths where it’s easy, and already safe to ride. But whenever someone complains, or where many users must share space, we’ll just keep treating cyclists like second-class citizens.  

    Given how under-developed and mistreated the city’s bike infrastructure is, it’s astonishing to me that fully 2.3 percent of Seattle commuters get to work on two wheels. But it’s even more difficult to imagine that number increasing—and Seattle catching up to Portland, Vancouver, or Minneapolis — without leaders showing some courage on behalf of bikes.