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Posts from the "Seattle" Category

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Will Seattle’s Helmet Law Be a Drag on Its New Bike-Share System?

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray led an inaugural Pronto bike share ride. Everyone wore helmets, as is required by law. Photo: City of Seattle

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray led an inaugural Pronto bike share ride. Everyone wore helmets, as is required by law. Photo: City of Seattle

In what will likely be the largest bike-share expansion in the U.S. this year, Seattle’s Pronto launched last week with 500 bikes.

Local media is reporting the system hosted about 4,000 rides its first week. That’s generally seen as a positive sign, about in line with what DC’s successful Capital Bikeshare’s early totals.

But this bike-share launch is a little more complicated than most, because Seattle has a mandatory helmet law for riders of all ages. Riding a bike in Seattle without the proper head gear can land you an $81 ticket.

Pronto bike-share will eventually have helmet rental equipment, but that won’t be available for about six months, so instead the city is loaning helmets on the honor system. The helmets will be sanitized after each use, and wrapped in a plastic coating. How well that will work remains to be seen.

Seattle’s alt weekly the Stranger pointed out that the helmet law could be a major drawback for the system. The money that is being poured into the experimental helmet vending system could have been used for additional stations, the paper’s Ansel Herz pointed out.

Gordon Price, director of the City Program at Simon Frazier University in British Columbia, wrote on his blog Price Tags that the “only places” around the world where bike-share systems “weren’t wildly successful” were cities that have helmet laws, like Melbourne, Australia.

Mayor Ed Murray has made it pretty clear that he is not in favor of eliminating the city’s helmet law, saying it saves on health care costs. This is highly questionable for a few reasons. Helmet laws have been shown to discourage cycling, and the more cyclists there are, the safer cycling becomes. Furthermore, bike-share has proven to be extremely safe, without a single fatality in more than 23 million total U.S. bike-share trips. Though it was widely misreported, a recent study found a decline in total head injuries following the introduction of bike-sharing in American cities. And of course, exercise, including cycling, improves health overall.

Some cities, like Dallas and Mexico City, have eliminated or modified helmet laws to help ensure the success of their bike-share systems.

Hopefully, Pronto’s success won’t be hindered, but it will be interesting to watch what happens in the coming months.

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Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct: King of the Highway Boondoggles

The Alaskan Way Viaduct, damaged decades ago, will be rebuilt as a double-decker highway, even though a transit-heavy alternative would have been at least as effective at reducing congestion. Photo: Rootology/##http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alaskan_Way_Viaduct#mediaviewer/File:The_Alaskan_Way_Viaduct.jpg##Wikimedia##

The Alaskan Way Viaduct, damaged decades ago, will be rebuilt as a double-decker highway, even though a transit-heavy alternative would have been at least as effective at reducing congestion. Photo: Rootology/Wikimedia

A recent report by U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group, “Highway Boondoggles: Wasted Money and America’s Transportation Future,” examines 11 of the most wasteful, least justifiable road projects underway in America right now. Here’s the latest installment in our series profiling the various bad decisions that funnel so much money to infrastructure that does no good. 

Seattle’s aging Alaskan Way Viaduct is a crumbling and seismically vulnerable elevated highway along the city’s downtown waterfront. After an earthquake damaged the structure in 2001, state engineers decided that the highway needed to come down, but the question of how (and whether) to replace it sparked nearly a decade of heated debate. The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) rejected calls to replace the viaduct with a combination of surface street and transit improvements, choosing instead an option that would result in more capacity: boring a mammoth tunnel underneath the city’s urban core. At 57 feet in diameter, it would be the widest bored tunnel ever attempted, with the full project carrying an estimated cost of at least $3.1 billion and perhaps as much as $4.1 billion.

Digging a double-decker tunnel was always the riskiest option for replacing the viaduct. The tunnel carried a high risk of going over even its exorbitant budget. In 2010, WSDOT acknowledged a 40 percent chance of a cost overrun, with a 5 percent risk that overruns could top $415 million.

With Bertha trapped underground, cost overruns could go into Big Dig territory. Image: U.S. PIRG and Frontier Group

With Bertha trapped underground, cost overruns could go into Big Dig territory. Image: U.S. PIRG and Frontier Group

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Seattle DOT Hits the Street to Tell People About a New Bike Lane Proposal

Much nicer than the church basement, at least during a Seattle summer – and better attended, too. Photos courtesy SDOT.

pfb-logo-100x22Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

One part public outreach and one part PARK(ing) Day, Seattle DOT held a three-hour open house last Wednesday for a half-mile protected bike lane on Dexter Avenue. The outreach session took place on green plastic mats spread out to cover an empty parking space.

Project manager Kyle Rowe explained that a different, state-led project on Dexter had him on a tight deadline. What’s more, because Dexter is a necessary link between downtown and the heart of Seattle’s bike culture in Fremont and Ballard, the number of affected households was huge.

“That is kind of like a funnel for roughly two-thirds of north Seattle,” Rowe said. “To capture all the people that use Dexter in a traditional open-house style, which would be 7 to 8 or 9 p.m., would mean flyering or sending a mailer out to most of North Seattle, and that didn’t make sense. I also wanted to accelerate this to meet the deadline of the state’s restoration work.”

So Rowe used a trick he said he’d seen on “Streetblog or CityLab” and held his public meeting on the side of the street from 7 to 10 a.m. on a weekday. He brought eight easels, two tables, a few temporary bike racks, a comment box, sticky notes, a sign-in sheet and a bunch of hot coffee.

That last item was important.

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Is Your City a Great Place to Raise Kids? Could It Be?

Jennifer Langston of the Sightline Institute in Seattle has so far published eight articles in a series called Family-Friendly Cities. She shows that while Seattle has a lower share of the population under age 15 than the rest of the state of Washington, that gap is closing. The number of kids in Seattle is growing far faster than in the rest of the state.

Image: Sightline

Image: Sightline

“Whatever the underlying causes, the data certainly make intuitive sense, given the expectant parents I know searching for cribs that will fit in the closets of their Capitol Hill apartments and downtown daycares with open infant slots (harder to find than a magical unicorn!),” wrote Langston. “In my own Seattle neighborhood, the new elementary school that opened four years ago to handle our local baby boom filled up so fast that there’s now a lottery to get in.”

In fact, while all over the country, demographic factors — delayed fertility, lower birth rates, the silver tsunami — are raising the median age, Seattle is unusual in seeing the share of its population under 15 rise — and dramatically.

Image: Sightline

Image: Sightline

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6 Things to Like About Seattle’s New Broadway Bike Lanes (And One to Fix)

broadway streetscape from hill 600

pfb-logo-100x22Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

To see how dramatically Seattle has changed Broadway, just above its downtown, by adding streetcar tracks and one mile of two-way protected bike lane, compare the photo above (from Saturday) to the one below (from Google Street View’s capture of the same stretch of road in 2011).

broadway before

As of this spring, the lanes through Seattle’s First Hill neighborhood connect Seattle Central College, Seattle University, the Swedish Medical Center, a high-density mixed-income housing complex, and a significant commercial node that’ll soon be anchored by an underground light rail stop.

Steve Durrant of Alta Planning and Design, a lead consultant on the project, said the lanes allow biking on a major artery that had been “essentially a forbidden street.”

The lanes were created as part of the $134 million First Hill streetcar expansion, paid for by a 2008 transit ballot measure. With space at a premium on the new street, the 10-foot-wide space immediately east of the northbound streetcar tracks was seen as the only viable way to get bike facilities on Broadway.

The resulting lanes are rare in one important way: they create a two-directional protected lane on one side of a two-way street. That’s a little-used design due to the large number of possible turning conflicts. But Seattle is showing that with enough money and care, it can be done.

I stopped by last weekend to have a look at the project’s unique features.

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Seattle Opens Up Neighborhood Streets for Kids to Play

Seattle launched its "play streets" program on Friday. Photo: Seattle Department of Transportation

Seattle launched its Play Streets program on Friday. Photo: Seattle Department of Transportation

At St. Terese Academy in Seattle last week, students held relay races on 35th Avenue. It was field day at the Madrona neighborhood school, and thanks to a new initiative from the city of Seattle, the kids had some extra space to stretch their legs.

The elementary school was the first to take part in Seattle’s new “Play Streets” program, which launched last Friday. ”Play Streets” will allow community groups to apply for permits to keep traffic off their block specifically to establish safe, temporary spaces for children to play.

Jennifer Wieland, manager of Seattle DOT’s Public Space Management Program, which oversees Play Streets, said the city was acting on numerous requests from residents. The city has for years operated a program for block parties, which allows neighbors to request a permit for a temporary car-free street. But Seattleites started to ask about scheduling car-free events with greater regularity and incorporating play equipment like swings and sand boxes.

“It’s about having that little extra bit of community speace to do something creative,” said Wieland. “It’s really out of people’s desires to build community and create great neighborhoods.”

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Washington DOT Chief: Seattle’s Big Highway Tunnel Might Not Get Built

"Bertha," the digging machine that was to help build a buried highway in Seattle is broken down and might never get running. Photo: Washington State Department of Transportation

“Bertha,” the tunneling machine that’s supposed to clear the way for an underground highway in Seattle, might never get up and running again. Photo: Washington State DOT

Nearly five months after coming to a halt beneath the city of Seattle, Bertha — the largest tunnel boring machine in the world — is still immobilized. It had barely begun to clear space for the underground highway meant to replace the aging Alaskan Way Viaduct when it broke down late last year.

Construction crews are furiously digging a second hole in the ground to access Bertha and fix it. What happens when they reach the machine is still uncertain. Even the state’s top transportation official admits theres a “small possibility” that the highway tunnel might never be completed, reports Erica C. Barnett at SeattleMet :

On conservative host Dori Monson’s show on KIRO radio earlier today, state transportation secretary Lynn Peterson sounded this wakeup call: She acknowledged, surprisingly candidly, that there is a “small possibility” that the deep-bore tunnel will never get built. The only scenario in which that might happen, she added, is if the contractor, Seattle Tunnel Partners, and WSDOT discover that “the machine is not going to actually be fixable.”

“I would say it’s a small possibility, but we want to make sure that everyone understands that it’s a possibility.”

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Anthony Foxx Kicks Off Nationwide Project for Better Bike Lanes

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx praised bike infrastructure as a way to get more value out of existing U.S. streets. Photo: Green Lane Project

Staring down a highway trust fund that he described as “teetering toward insolvency” by August or September, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Monday that better bike infrastructure projects are part of the solution.

“When you have a swelling population like the USA has and will have for the next 35 years, one of the most cost-effective ways to better fit that population is to better use the existing grid,” Foxx said.

Foxx made his comments to a gathering in Indianapolis of urban transportation experts from around the country, welcoming six new cities into the PeopleForBikes Green Lane Project, a two-year program kicking off Tuesday that will help the cities — Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Seattle — add modern protected bike lanes to their streets.

“I know you are the vanguard in many was of these issues, and we at U.S. DOT want to do everything we can to be supportive,” Foxx told the crowd.

PeopleForBikes Vice President for Local Innovation Martha Roskowski singled out Indianapolis, the host city, as a particularly bright light in the constellation of towns using using curbs, planters, parked cars or posts to create low-stress streets by separating bike and auto traffic.

“This city is on fire,” Roskowski said. “You look at the Cultural Trail, you look at the other projects in the works. … You don’t really know that you’re at a tipping point until later.”

Roskowski praised Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, a Republican, for six years at the front of an Indianapolis transformation that has seen the city use better bike infrastructure “to be resilient, to be sustainable, to be competitive and to beautiful.”

“Five years from now we’re going to look back and say, we really changed how we thought about transportation in America,” Roskowski said. “Yes, we’re all going to drive cars still. But there are other elements to transportation.”

Six focus cities

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Green Lane Project Picks Six New Cities to Make Big Progress on Bikeways

Austin, Texas, built this beauty of a bike lane by the University of Texas campus while it was participating in round one of the Green Lane Project. Photo: The Green Lane Project

More than 100 cities applied for the second round of the Green Lane Project, the program that helps cities build better bike infrastructure, including protected lanes.

People for Bikes, which runs the program, announced its selections for round two today: Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, and Seattle.

“The selected cities have ambitious goals and a vision for bicycling supported by their elected officials and communities,” said Martha Roskowski of People for Bikes. “They are poised to get projects on the ground quickly and will serve as excellent examples for other interested cities.”

Several of this year’s choices already have good wins under their belts. Indianapolis, Atlanta, and Seattle had protected bike lanes on People for Bikes’ list of the country’s ten best new protected bike lanes last year. And Pittsburgh, with its star urbanist mayor, seems poised to make big strides.

Beginning in April, the selected cities will receive expert assistance, training, and support over a two year period to build safe, comfortable protected bike infrastructure.

During the first two years of the Green Lane Project, the number of protected bike lanes in the country nearly doubled from 80 to 142, People for Bikes reports. More than half of those new lanes were in its six first-round focus cities: San Francisco, Chicago, Portland, Memphis, Austin, and Washington.

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Talking Headways Podcast: One More Freeway Without a Future

So, Bertha is stuck digging an enormous highway tunnel underneath Seattle. Jeff Wood and I ask the essential question: Does Seattle really need to spend $2.8 billion on a new traffic sewer, when traffic on the Alaskan Way Viaduct has been plummeting?

We also highlight this week’s public conversation about CNU’s big report calling out highways just begging to be demolished. After all, 2013 was the ninth year in a row that Americans drove fewer miles per capita, and some states are beginning to adjust their old assumptions that driving will grow steadily, forever.

We talk about all this and more on the 12th episode of Talking Headways.

And remember, you can subscribe to this podcast’s RSS feed or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes — and please give us a listener review while you’re at it. Join the conversation in the comments section.