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Originally published November 18, 2012 at 10:48 AM | Page modified November 18, 2012 at 10:55 AM

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Op-ed: Build a network of bikeways to reduce congestion

By building a network of bikeways, we can make low-cost improvements to the roads we already have and connect Seattle with a way of getting around that’s easy, efficient, affordable and fun, writes guest columnist Chuck Ayers.

Special to The Times

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Chuck Ayers is a lunatic. You would think the man never, ever visited Seattle, much... MORE
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WOULD you like to spend less time stuck in traffic? Me, too.

In Seattle, we value the freedom to get around safely, conveniently and comfortably, and we’ve invested billions of dollars trying to reach that ideal. We’ve built more than 4,000 lane-miles of roads, an extensive highway network, a light-rail system, several bus systems and a monorail.

Yet despite the investments we’ve made, it’s hard to get around Seattle. Whether we’re stuck on Interstate 5 trying to get to work, crawling across Northwest 45th Street on the bus, trying to find a place to park in our neighborhood business district or idling with scores of parents dropping off our kids at school, we waste too many precious hours sitting in traffic.

Instead of spending quality time with our families or getting important work accomplished, we grow angry about how everything our elected leaders do to fix this mess seems to cost too much without solving the problem.

We can solve it, by building a network of bikeways.

Many try to sell us the same old snake oil — if we just build more roads, our problems will be solved. Yet evidence from cities around the world and our own personal experience show this is pure fantasy. As soon as we build new roads, they fill up with traffic.

Even worse, we can’t afford to maintain the roads we have. Our backlog of road and bridge repairs exceeds $1.5 billion, and 60 percent of our 115 bridge structures are rated in poor or obsolete condition. If we can’t afford the roads we have, how can we afford to build more?

Others propose expanding and improving our transit system. While these investments align with our values and help connect our neighborhoods, they would cost billions and take decades to complete.

What if we didn’t have to spend billions of dollars, wait decades or drink snake oil to provide Seattleites with the freedom to get around our city safely, conveniently and comfortably? What if we could make low-cost improvements to the roads we already have and connect Seattle with a way of getting around that’s easy, efficient, affordable and fun?

For half the cost of our public investment in a new NBA arena, we could connect Seattle with a network of world-class bikeways and provide everyone, from an 8-year-old child to her 80-year-old grandmother, with the freedom to safely bike to where they need to go. These bikeways would protect people on bikes from car traffic and protect people driving cars from the fear of hitting people on bikes.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration finds 71 percent of Americans want to bicycle more often, but most have concerns over safety. In Seattle, that’s more than 400,000 of your friends and neighbors who would ride more often if we gave them the opportunity and made the necessary investments.

Cities across America have built world-class bikeways and seen dramatic growth in ridership. Portland ridership has grown sixfold over 20 years with a network costing a mere $60 million.

If we build it, we will ride.

Imagine a Seattle where instead of being stuck in traffic, you always know how long it would take to get where you were going. Where you check the weather report and ignore the traffic report. Imagine a Seattle where you can run errands at your neighborhood businesses because it’s easy and fast to do it by bike. A Seattle where your kids can safely ride to school, and you don’t have to drive them. A Seattle where instead of spending thousands of stressful hours stuck in traffic, getting where you need to go is the best part of your day.

Consider the thousands of cars all of these people bicycling would take off our roads, freeing them up for freight and people who choose to drive. Think about how for less than 3 percent of the cost of the deep-bore tunnel, you wouldn’t have to imagine any of this.

It’s time to stop wasting billions on the hamster wheel of failed ideas from the past. It’s time to live within our means, use what we have, and invest in freedom and opportunity. It’s time to connect Seattle.

Chuck Ayers is executive director of the Cascade Bicycle Club.

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