Thursday, October 26, 2023

Biking Uphill in the Rain: The Story of Seattle from behind the Handlebars

The early history of bicycling in Seattle can be quite depressing. There were a variety of early bike paths in the city. These took people out to the lakes and other areas. There were even plans for paths connecting Seattle and Tacoma. Then cars came and everything went to pot. The small bike paths were replaced by large boulevards. This was not necessarily bad. But then the boulevards became owned by cars. The freeway even took over some. Wouldn't it be nice if these small paths still existed?

Laws came to give preference to cars. Pedestrian was adopted as a derogatory term for people. Jaywalking was a spoof of jaydriving as a way to refer to incompetent walkers. (Even though the walkers were doing what they always did.) Rather than the joy of bicycling, people were stuck with the grind of driving and the ugliness of killing innocent people, all so they could move a little bit faster to travel longer distances.

Freeways came to produce a huge scar on Seattle. The initial freeway went right to downtown, cutting off nearby neighborhoods. There were plenty of angry people with means that mobilized against the freeway, but it was too late. However, the mobilization did eventually lead to the cancellation of other freeway projects. Seattle was lucky in that it was not so destroyed be freeways. Yet it was still heavily damaged.

Bicycling finally started to come back again in the post-freeway era. "Bicycle Sundays" on a closed Lake Washington Boulevard really kicked kicked things off. The freeway express lanes were also opened to cyclists on weekends. (Why don't we have that anymore?) The Burke-Gillman trail came to be. Some greenways and bike lanes appeared. Then there were law improvements. Planners actually respected the use of streets by people rather than two ton metal boxes.

However, even the positive had the depressing aspects. There were horrible misuses of infrastructure. (The Train tracks on westlake were initially turned into a giant parking lot. It took a lot of time and battling phony environmental complaints to finally get a bike path in place.) There were still too many people getting killed or injured by cars. "Complete street" work is often shortchanged. (Where are the bike lanes on Holman?) There has been progress, but there is still a long way to go. 

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