Top 10 Cycling-Friendly Cities | GCN

Global Cycling Network presents the world’s top 10 cycling cities according to the 2013 Copenhagenize Index. It is no surprise the Netherlands ranks three times with Amsterdam holding the top spot. The survey only included 150 cities, so there are cities missed. Still, I wouldn’t mind cycling around any of these cities.

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Freewheel’s Carbon-Free Cargo: Good for Seattle Cycling

It is 8:45 and I am riding up Pine Street like any other morning, having safely navigated all the traffic on my route from Lower Queen Anne. As I approach the Central Co-Op my groggy eyes notice something unfamiliar coming towards me: a giant blue box on wheels. A second glance reveal this box is actually piloted by a guy pedaling away on what appears to be a very sophisticated cargo bike. He must be lost…this is not Europe. Heck, it is not even Portland. Silly guy, bikes are for Portlandia.

The cargo bike I saw belongs to Freewheel, a new start-up providing “carbon-free cargo” for “last-mile delivery.” A passion for cycling and sustainability inspired CEO Dan Kohler to start Freewheel as a way to address the counter-intuitive nature of many urban delivery systems. While delivery drivers sit in traffic Dan zooms by using a combination of bike lanes and side-streets too narrow for large delivery vehicles. While drivers search for parking or block traffic and risk parking tickets to find a nearby space, Dan pulls right up to the door and starts unloading. While those delivery trucks consume gallons of fuel everyday, Dan just needs some food and water. Freewheel is not just delivering time-sensitive packages or picking up lunch like other bicycle delivery companies; it is providing a high-quality delivery service that reduces pollution and contributes less to congestion and parking shortages. Simply put, Freewheel is redefining urban business delivery in Seattle.

So if sensibility is what makes Freewheel a successful business, what makes it good for Seattle cycling? Well, to answer that I think about the lessons I learned from a semester studying in Copenhagen, Denmark. In Denmark bikes outnumber people and cargo bikes are just as common as minivans in the U.S. Hundreds of miles of bike lanes, bike “superhighways,” and aggressive bike policy contribute to the nearly one-third of Copenhagen citizens commuting by bike, but the real factor of success is culture. Bikes outnumber cars in Copenhagen 5:1 and make up about a third of all commuter travel (CPH Bicycle Account). In Copenhagen cycling is not a niche activity but rather something everyone enjoys as a way to get to work, school, the store, and just about everywhere else. And by everyone, I really mean everyone:

– Photos courtesy of Cycle Chic. I LOVE this site, but you will see the same thing if you Google image search  “Copenhagen bicycle”

By comparison, 40% of Seattleites lack access to a working bicycle. Two-thirds of people who ride at least a few times a year do so primarily for recreation. And less than 10% of Seattleites ride daily (SDOT). The difference in culture is clear:

– Photos from Google Images. 

Seattle’s cycling scene is largely dominated by guys in $300 spandex suits and hipsters rocking interesting accessories. Where are the business people with their briefcases and shiny shoes? Where are the dads escorting their kids to school or moms hauling the twins to day care? Where are the grandparents riding to their local retiree group? Where are the people hauling groceries in their cargo bikes?

While I am still holding on to the hope that I will see the streets filled with these types of riders tomorrow, I know Seattle is not culturally prepared for this type of bicycling. However, Freewheel is a small but important piece in beginning a transition towards a more holistic cycling culture. Freewheel is extending biking into the business realm in a serious way. The bike itself brings significant visibility to cycling. Through advertising partnerships with local favorites like Molly’s Grown to Eat and Middle Fork Roasters, Freewheel is showcasing the importance of cycling in connecting businesses to build strong networks that support the local economy and pave the way for more sustainable futures.

Freewheel is already capitalizing on Seattle’s rich fascination with coffee and local/organic produce. As the company’s success grows and word spreads, I am confident we will see a wider range of businesses taking Freewheel seriously. Dan keeps the details of new partnerships under wraps, but he assures me he is working on new interesting and iconic delivery opportunities. More than anything, Freewheel’s focus on cargo bike deliveries is exactly what Seattle’s bicycle culture needs: a healthy dose of utilitarian functionality.

-Freewheel is bringing cycling functionality to Seattle.

Seattle Transit Failure and Bicycle Discrimination

Today I attempted to ride my bike to Convention place where I planned to catch the 41 northbound to Northgate. Normally I might ride directly from work, but I broke a spoke yesterday and I wanted to avoid riding too much. As it turns out, I barely needed to ride at all. Despite the very nice three-bike racks on the front of all Metro buses, bikes do not mesh well with the bus system in Seattle. It takes time to load your bike and too often during high traffic times the bus is full by the time you get your bike loaded. Then what? Do you take it back off? How many times does one put a bike on and off before calling it quits?

Today I tried a different approach. There was a Metro employee facilitating boarding at Convention Place in order to maximize the number of people on each bus. I explained the difficulty of boarding with a bike and he said “Yeah but we’ll get you on.” About 35 minutes and 3-4 buses later I was still standing there and the line was getting no shorter. There simply is not enough room for everyone and holding up the line so someone like myself (a young male who clearly has access to different transportation) was not an easy task to do. So frustration gave way to impatience so I turned around and left. Modal interconnection is terrible in Seattle and must receive serious attention if the city is to encourage more cycling from a larger variety of riders. Add that to the laundry list of things to be done to improve the city’s failing transportation – bike infrastructure, transit service, light rail, congestion pricing!

As luck would have it a security guard was on the platform and had no shortage of words for me as I took my bike up the escalator. Safety. Danger. Disrespect. No officer, none of those are the right words. Try inefficient, failed, frustration. Explaining myself was pointless: he did not care that I was frustrated with poor service or that I find rules against bicycle on escalators to be outlandish. All he heard was I am a cyclist and I can do whatever I want. That is Seattle – people seem to assume cyclists are all terrible people. I admit, we are often guilty of bending and even breaking traffic laws. But so are drivers and pedestrians. Yet we are unfairly targeted – just this morning I treated a deserted red light as a stop sign seconds after a pedestrian did the same. We both came to a “rolling” stop and carefully looked both ways before crossing. The police officer a few feet away nodded politely at the pedestrian but briefly chased me and yelled. We both broke a traffic law. Why was I singled out for enforcement?

People should fit easily onto buses. Pedestrians and cyclists should be free to move about, not be limited by traffic laws designed for and heavily favoring vehicles. Cars are a privilege not a right. As a country, the United States needs to change the way it looks at transportation. Seattle could and should be at the forefront of that change with it culture of innovation and plethora of pedestrians, cyclists, drivers, and transit users. Unfortunately Seattle is not.

Seattle Bike Share Unveiled: Pronto!

 

2014.05.06 Bikeshare bike

This afternoon Puget Sound Bike Share officially announced the new bike share program coming to the Seattle area this summer. Named Pronto!, this new service is set to hit the streets starting late summer and service Downtown Seattle, Belltown, Capitol Hill, South Lake Union, Eastlake, and the University District. Pronto! will be in large part funded by local aviation company Alaska Airlines, which has agree to a $2.5 million sponsorship to support the project in addition to $1 million from the federal government, $750,000 from WSDOT,

I am excited for the project and I sincerely hope the bike share helps spur the development of the “all ages and abilities” cycling that SDOT highlights in its new Bicycle Master Plan (passed in April). However, I have concerns:

  • How will safety and ridership be affected by the incomplete bicycle infrastructure?
  • Will the system and network help Seattleites with the common complaint: I am not comfortable riding in traffic?
  • Hills and rain. Either you deal with them or you don’t – will new cyclists be willing to brave the elements?
  • How will helmets be utilized by annual members? $2 is a lot for a member who also has her own bike and helmet. Will this lead to users neglecting to wear a helmet for these rides despite wearing helmets when riding their personal bike?
  • How deep does the funding go? Bikeshare systems are notorious for needing additional funding and the recent Metro transit funding failure may signal serious financial problems in Pronto!’s future if it should need continued public support.

I’ll be honest: as a cyclist with a passion for sustainable transportation I will be among the first subscribers to the annual membership – more out of support than necessity. I want to see this system succeed and I hope for positive effects to seep into the larger transportation systems and culture of the city. Plus, the added convenience of a bikeshare will be welcome for times I find myself without my bike or when I need a one-way trip. Still, I have my doubts. Is Seattle really ready for this?