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Mark Villegas, Jordan Williams and Kim CozzettoMark Villegas, Jordan Williams and Kim Cozzetto ride through Seattle's sculpture park.
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Wright Bros Cycle WorksWright Bros Cycle Works at 219 N 36 Street in Seattle.
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Charles HadrannCharles Hadrann, owner of Wright Bros Cycle Works.
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Davey OilDavey Oil, from Community Bike Shop Bike Works in Seattle.
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Map of Seattle
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Mark VillegasMark Villegas follows Jordan Williams through Seattle's Sculpture Park.
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Nein FrankensteinNein Frankenstein working on a wheel at the bikery.
Mark Villegas, Jordan Williams and Kim Cozzetto
Wright Bros Cycle Works
Map of Seattle
By Erik Neumann
In 2007, the city of Seattle published the Bicycle Master Plan which set out to make Seattle "the most bicycle-friendly city in the nation." It's a lofty goal for a place with more than a few cycling challenges - perpetually rainy climate, sizable hills, and waterways that complicate travelling in a straight line, as well as highways and interstates that cut the city into different pieces. However Seattle is also a place that's great for biking, for roughly those same reasons - streets washed clean by the rain, terrifying rides down rollercoaster hills and along twisting waterfronts, countless neighbourhoods and parks that grew around major roads.
The bike community is not unified, but broken into pockets of culture here and there: racers, activists, freak-trikers, and commuters. It's a city that's confusing, but also constantly refreshing.
This morning, I'm sitting at a coffee shop called Monorail Espresso. It's a coffee shop in the smallest sense of the word. Opened in 1980 as Seattle's first coffee cart, owner Chuck Beek built a reputation for Monorail on strong coffee, even by Seattle standards. Today, Monorail is mostly known as a bike messenger hangout. At any given time a half-dozen sweaty, moustachioed and tattooed cowboys of the steel horse can be seen sitting out front, where they can watch their bikes, waiting for a delivery. I ask the barista why so many messengers get coffee here and she answers: "Some of us date them, and they get a better discount here than at other places." As I sit drinking, I'm suddenly interrupted by the clink of a quarter placed on my table. "Bicycle discount," Beek says before walking back to his shop. "I didn't see it when you first got here."
Inspired by the encouraging start to the day I hop on my bike and ride up 5th Avenue into Seattle's downtown. In the Seattle Municipal Tower, I meet Peter Lagerwey, senior transportation planner with the Department of Transportation. Lagerwey was project manager for the Bicycle Master Plan. His chipper, no-nonsense tone is that of a city official who can quickly cut through public criticism, without sounding patronizing.
"We've been in a remarkable period," he says, discussing the bike plan thus far. "Because of the Bridging the Gap levy that was passed, we have a fair amount of funding available, and we also have a mayor and city council who've been very supportive. We have a unique combination of funds and political will." I ask him why it will take ten years to implement the plan, especially when so many cyclists are looking for signs of change. "Some of the stuff will show up quickly, if they're signs and paint. Other large capital projects can easily take five years or more to put together and we're not going to do all of those at the same time. We have a certain capacity in terms of what we can do and also a capacity in terms of the amount of funding."
Included in the list of projects to hit Seattle's streets are trails through greenbelts, and new bridges and underpasses across 15th Avenue West, one of Seattle's most dangerous roads to navigate. Recently a few large on-street bike racks have appeared, taking up one street parking space apiece. One, with a metal car-shaped profile, is a snarky reminder that one parked car can be replaced with enough parking for eight to ten bikes.
Despite what some consider slow progress on the Bike Master Plan and the recent threat of even greater economic drag, Seattle
has a rich array of existing cycle facilities. I head out of the Department of Transportation to my bike, and ride five minutes south to Pioneer Square where I stop in front of Bikestation Seattle. Bikestation is a downtown bicycle parking garage where commuters can store their bikes. Inside its long, skinny storefront are two rows of bike racks. The shop houses up to 75 bicycles, and can be accessed 24 hours a day with an electronic key at the front door. Seattle is the fifth Bikestation site, the other four other facilities being in California.
Next door, in a much quieter and cleaner office, is the Bicycle Alliance of Washington (BAW). Along with managing Bikestation Seattle, this advocacy group lobbies for cycling infrastructure, monitors transportation legislation, and serves as a policy voice for Washington cyclists. Currently BAW is lobbying for a variety of state transportation bills, including the Three-Foot Passing bill (HB 1491) which would legally define cars' safe passing distance for cyclists as three feet. Another, the Traffic Actuated Signals bill (MB 1403) would require all new street construction in Washington to include traffic signals capable of recognizing bicycles as well as cars. Bike Alliance represents the kind of behind-the-scenes policy work that's vital to good\ transportation planning.