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Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Why Don't We Do It in the Road?

Why can’t Seattle be more like Amsterdam? I’m not suggesting that Seattle liberalize its laws on marijuana and prostitution (Although I would go along with these ideas). What I am suggesting is that Seattle become more of a bike-friendly town. What I am suggesting is that even though Seattle is considered one of the most bike-friendly cities in the country, by Amsterdam standards it is a pretty dangerous place to be on two wheels.

The advantages of encouraging bike travel are so numerous that I hardly know where to begin so let me begin at the end, so to speak. Something I notice in Amsterdam is that the women have great butts from spending so much time pedaling around town. What I am suggesting is that Amsterdam has more great asses per capita than any city I’ve ever visited. That should be reason enough for everybody. But wait, there’s more.

I am not some sort of neo-Luddite hippie trying to hang on to the past. I do think that anyone who blindly accepts technology over proven methods of transport is naïve. Bicycles are the single most efficient method of personal transport. They are inexpensive, safe, energy efficient, fast, and highly maneuverable. Bicycles shouldn’t be the only method of transport but they certainly should figure in the planning of any urban transit model. To exclude bikes is short-sighted and inefficient.

Seattle has very few bike paths in the city. I use the 2nd Avenue path that goes from Denny to Pioneer Square as well as the downtown to Freemont path via Dexter. These models could be duplicated on other streets with two things in mind: To encourage bike travel and to slow down car travel. We currently subsidize car travel to such a degree that most people can’t see any other options.

This is a policy that is not only dangerous to public health but makes for pretty ugly city planning. The worst streets for bike riding are also the worst streets for pedestrians and thus not healthy business centers. Denny Way comes to mind. Its four lanes crowd out cyclists and most bikers choose to avoid injury by riding on the sidewalk. There are practically no street level businesses on this thoroughfare and it is basically a big ugly mess that is fit only for expeditious car travel. It is not a destination but a place to escape from as quickly as possible.

First Avenue is not much better for cyclists although it is more pedestrian-friendly. If parking were not allowed one side of the street First Avenue would instantly become a better looking street and a better place for cyclists and busses. This would be at the expense of perhaps 100 parking spaces. This seems a small price to pay for making Seattle a more livable city. Business owners would complain at first, but as was the case in Amsterdam when they began to drastically reduce parking in the city center, they will see that increased pedestrian traffic is better for business than catering to a few people in cars.

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