Rantz: Despite investing millions, Seattle bike commuting declines again
The City of Seattle has spent and committed tens of millions of dollars to bicyclists in what continues to amount to a horrible investment. According to the 2016 Commute Seattle survey, Seattle bike commuting has again declined as a percentage of the total commuters.
In 2016, only 2.9 percent of morning commuters surveyed rode a bicycle; this is only .1 percent higher than 2008 numbers, before our investments. In fact, this number is concerning, given how much time the City spends on placating the small but vocal bicyclist community. What’s worse is that despite the investments, the numbers keep dwindling. In 2012, the number was 3.3 percent and in 2014 it was 3.1 percent.
I spoke with Jonathan Hopkins, executive director of Commute Seattle. He points out that there was a small increase in total bicyclists (about 1,500), which is a fair point. But that’s not acceptable or meaningful growth. The trend is downward. Shockingly so.
As is usually the case, when numbers don’t fall their way, bicycle activist make excuses. Tom Fucoloro, from Seattle Bike Blog, offers the following excuses:
Sadly, it’s no surprise that the city is not benefiting from biking the way it could be. None of the areas within the study area have complete bike route connections. If you want to bike to work to any of these jobs, you’re going to need to mix with heavy car traffic for some or all of your trip. And there are only so many people who are interested in doing that.
In fact, biking to these center city jobs may be more stressful today than it was in 2010 or 2012 due to rampant bike lane closures due to development and road construction.
In other words, as he later points out, “if you build a bike lane, people will use it.” The City has spent considerable funds building and extending bike infrastructure, but few percentages of commuters use them. Seattle City Council spent millions on the failing Pronto! bike share, but no one used it. Some blamed, in part, helmet laws on the failure. Right.
Is it possible that people aren’t biking to work because of our wet weather and hills? That even if you had a city filled with connected and safe lanes, that the numbers will still be low? Hopkins concedes that weather plays a role in the number of commuters (he pointed to the very wet October). But we can reasonably conclude the wet weather isn’t going to suddenly disappear in the Pacific Northwest. Consequently, we shouldn’t spend tens of millions on a hypothesis that has shown, so far, to be a failure: If you build it, they won’t necessarily use it.
This is not to say we shouldn’t invest in any bike infrastructure. I don’t believe that. But you need to pick and choose the areas most likely to be used for the purpose of commuting. We shouldn’t be spending countless dollars to placate someone’s hobby.
Cue the calls that I’m an enemy of the biking community, or hate urbanists. That’s simply not true, but the militant bicyclist activists will pretend so. Let them. I look at this study and it confirms what we’ve suspected: bike riding, as a percentage of commuters, has hit a peak. What continues to grow? Transit and walking. We should be spending smartly on transit that doesn’t overtly impact already congested lanes trying to accommodate drivers. We should consider bigger buses (perhaps double decker buses), we should continue to expand light rail, allow for ride-share companies (like show sponsor Uber) to flourish, and we should better consider pedestrian bridges for areas where foot traffic impacts transit and car traffic.
We could be investing so much more efficiently but, instead, we let a handful of loud hobbyists dictate and intimidate council members and the mayor into wasting our tax dollars on a mode that is certainly not the future of transportation.