Next Thursday, July 16, will mark my first attempt to bike to work from our home in Delridge to my office at the south end of the University of Washington campus. The trip is a little more than 10 miles, so very doable in terms of time and distance, but the challenges of city cycling multiply when you have to move between urban neighborhoods with varying levels of infrastructure to support active transportation.
We don't have a single crosstown bicycle throughway in Seattle, or a separated trail that would let me breeze all the way to campus (or, while we’re dreaming, the endless bikeways of Copenhagen and Berlin). The result is a highly fragmented journey, made all the more tricky by our convoluted waterways and bruising hills. So even with the benefit of Seattle’s comprehensive city bike map, the only sure way to know how the streets behave is to get out and test them for yourself.
My biggest motivation for getting back to cycling is my exasperation with traffic at all hours of the day. I've been a car commuter for many months now, either driving by myself or carpooling with a colleague, and the collective frustration of drivers is truly poisoning our roadways—as well as the Seattle experience more broadly. While I do enjoy controlling my own music and air temperature, driving doesn’t afford me the reading time my old bus commute used to provide. Yet without an express or direct bus route connecting West Seattle to the U-District, even the best days require a downtown transfer and take at least an hour and 15 minutes each way (and often much longer).
What I miss the most, though, is the simple joy of cycling to kick off the morning. Bike commuting, I know, is not for everyone—and won't ever be a realistic option for many Seattleites, especially given how sprawling and hilly our city is. But when the opening is there, getting around by bike is one of the most invigorating ways to start a day. When I lived in Washington, D.C., I got to pedal the five miles into downtown on the Mt. Vernon Trail along the Potomac River, and I absolutely loved passing the monuments on my way into the city, or zoning out--mindfully, of course--into a string of daydreams. I was working for Rails-to-Trails Conservancy at the time, and our office had plenty of bike storage and a nice shower (amenities that are equally essential to make bike commuting inviting to more people, but I'll tackle those issues another day). So no matter how miserably hot I got on a D.C. summer day, I could always cool off and clean up before reaching my desk. Best of all, I had rarely felt so alert and motivated by 8 a.m.
I'd kill for a similar experience here in Seattle, and I know the first step is simply breaking out of my inertia and giving it a try. I've watched (with envy) as dozens of cyclists cross that bike counter under the West Seattle Bridge every morning, and those riders have been carving paths through downtown for years. I'd love to draw on their experiences--and, if possible, even convince one or two folks to accompany me on my first ride in next Thursday. I know my route the first couple miles, and I’ll eventually hook up with the Burke-Gilman Trail, which runs right next to my office, but the middle is the big question mark.
So, any takers to help a lapsed bike commuter find his way?!