Last Thursday, July 16, I set off on my first bike commute from West Seattle to my office at the University of Washington, and it was fantastic! Thanks to help with the route from city-wide candidate Alon Bassock and the Seattle Bike Blog network, I cruised the 11.87 miles across downtown with barely a hitch.
It took me just past an hour on the way, and then a few minutes longer on the way home—with some sore buns and lower back to show for it—and I look forward to shaving time off the trip as I get into better cycling shape.
Most of my route kept me on neighborhood greenways, bike lanes or cycle tracks, or fully separated trails, with only a few blocks of shared street cycling here and there. Some of the highlights for me were crossing the Duwamish River and then cruising up E. Marginal Way through the port and container cranes; the cycle track with bike signals on 2nd Avenue (especially when I flew past traffic during evening rush hour); the long, glorious bike lane on Dexter; and then the final breeze along the Burke-Gilman Trail to my office (via the gym for a shower). I also loved the feeling of joining the stream of cyclists throughout Seattle, whether we were pooled at lights or strung out along long, unbroken stretches.
I know this commute isn’t something I’ll do every day, and it’s probably not for everyone. From a few big hills to pedaling in traffic to the overall time invested, biking across the city requires a certain level of fitness and confidence on two wheels. But it was totally fun and invigorating, took less time than the best available bus route by at least 15 minutes, gave me two-plus hours of exercise, and I never felt in danger or uncomfortable. I also spent the whole morning flush with energy, and now that I have the route and timing worked out, I’m excited to fit in a few rides every month—and to become a more regular member and even bigger supporter of Seattle’s tremendous cycling community!
A couple other thoughts from the ride:
1. Infrastructure is the key. The best way to get more people into city cycling is to make sure we have the right network in place to make it a safe and easy choice. So I especially appreciated the separated and well-marked bike lanes and cycle tracks (like on E. Marginal Way and Dexter, and then 2nd Avenue, respectively), and also the clear striping and signage alerting drivers how and where to share the road (bike turn lanes, green-painted lanes, etc.). These design signals are crucial for giving newcomers the confidence to navigate the road, and also for acculturating drivers to a street experience where different users are moving at different speeds, and have different behavioral needs. Good signage and infrastructure takes the guesswork out of the multi-modal experience and makes it abundantly clear where everyone is and might be heading.
2. Even if commuter cycling isn't for everyone, we already have the infrastructure in place to get hundreds more cyclists out on the road. Particularly if your destination is downtown, the city has developed some great throughways to direct you into the heart of Seattle, with plenty of other bike lanes and sharrows to then lead you to specific destinations. Also, while it's true that much of downtown is incredibly steep, I was impressed that the approach from north and south is not dramatic, and you'd be able to get within easily walkable distance of just about anywhere.
3. One way to get more folks from West Seattle cycling, in particular, might be to improve signage for routes that carve through downtown, which is always the trickiest spot. Leaving West Seattle is fairly easy; you have a clear trail exit under the West Seattle bridge, and then signs that direct you either to continue east, head south on the Duwamish Trail, or follow a marked bike route north along E. Marginal Way. As you get into downtown, though, it's not as obvious, via signs or other signals, where you can find the most direct route. I'd love to see more notices about what's coming up ahead to let you know you're on the right track (like "Burke-Gilman Trail - 3 miles," or "Dexter Ave - 1.5 miles"). I think those steps could go a long way to keep cyclists streamlined through downtown, and confidently heading in the right direction.