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Originally published November 6, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 6, 2007 at 7:59 AM

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Seattle's big bike plan gets a green light

The City Council's 10-year plan calls for lots of bike lanes and puts Seattle on the leading edge of raising cycling awareness.

Seattle Times transportation reporter

Building a bike-friendly city

Seattle's Bicycle Master Plan offers projects over 10 years.

Under way or planned in the next three years:

Ship Canal Trail: Build a link from Interbay to Seattle Pacific University, going under south end of Ballard Bridge.

Golden Gardens Park: Finish the last mile of Burke-Gilman Trail from Ballard to the beach park.

Street markings: A total of 64 miles of bike lanes by 2009, and 54 miles of "sharrows," icons that remind drivers to share the streets with cyclists.

Education campaign: Safety messages and stepped-up enforcement, in collaboration with Cascade Bicycle Club.

Queen Anne bridge: To be built in 2009-10 from Myrtle Edwards Park to West Thomas Street, reaching Lower Queen Anne and Seattle Center.

"Bike boulevards": Eight miles of side streets marked for bike travel as an alternative to riding on heavily used arterials.

Long-term or unfunded projects:

Northgate overpass: Potential bike overpass crossing Interstate 5 to North Seattle Community College, in conjunction with proposed Sound Transit light-rail station.

Beacon Hill bike bridge: Chief Sealth Trail extension over I-5 from Beacon Hill to Sodo.

More trails: 16 miles of new trails by 2016.

Highway 520 bridge: State's proposed new span would have bike lanes, connecting to new city trails or bike lanes near Washington Park Arboretum.

Source: Seattle Bicycle Master Plan; Seattle Times archives; Cascade Bicycle Club

The city of Seattle has approved one of the nation's most aggressive attempts to raise the popularity of bicycles.

The 10-year Bicycle Master Plan calls for 118 miles of new bike lanes and 19 miles of trails, as well as lane markings and signs to create awareness of cycling across the city.

After three years of discussions, City Council members passed the plan unanimously Monday, adding momentum to the cycling movement.

Mayor Greg Nickels has said he hopes commuter cycling will triple. Census figures showed that about 2 percent of workers traveled on bikes in 2000, and advocates think that's increased to 2 ½ percent now. A new city report said 2,273 cyclists entered downtown on Sept. 19 -- nearly one-third more than a daily total in 2000.

While the master plan was being written, the city went ahead with some of the most obvious improvements. The new Chief Sealth Trail was recently finished on Beacon Hill, and construction is under way on a new mile of the Burke-Gilman Trail in Ballard, near Golden Gardens Park. Also, pavement is being marked with so-called "sharrows" -- icons of a bicycle, reminding motorists to share the streets.

David Hiller, advocacy director for the Cascade Bicycle Club, which worked with the city to develop the plan, said it isn't perfect but deserves an "A."

"It's aggressive," City Councilmember Jan Drago said. "The best thing about it is we've got money to implement it. It's not just sitting on a shelf."

The city has budgeted $27 million for cycling projects out of a $365 million transportation levy voters approved last fall. The money, and a timeline, set Seattle apart from other cities such as San Francisco, San Jose, Berkeley and Baltimore that also have cycling plans, Hiller said.

But some big projects in the master plan are unfunded, and therefore uncertain, on a city wish list worth $240 million.

More trails

This month, the City Council will consider spending $7 million to build the "missing link" of the Burke-Gilman Trail in Ballard from 11th Avenue Northwest to the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks. The money would come from real-estate excise taxes, if those run a surplus this year, Drago said. Seattle's hot housing market has generated recent tax windfalls.

The other Ballard link, near Golden Gardens, should open in early 2008.

Another early project is the Ship Canal Trail, to open up the dead end under the south end of the Ballard Bridge. That would link Interbay to Seattle Pacific University and Lake Union. Construction could start next year.

A bike overpass from Myrtle Edwards Park to Lower Queen Anne would be built in 2009 or 2010, said Casey Hanewall, a city transportation spokesman.

Some side streets will become "bike boulevards," where cars will still be allowed but riders will be able to trip their own signals to cross busy streets. One example is Linden Avenue North going north-south near Green Lake, where cyclists can avoid traffic on nearby Aurora Avenue North.

Meanwhile, a $300,000 safety-education program will begin, combined with tighter enforcement on motorists and cyclists, said Hiller. The outreach may include posters, classroom materials and neighborhood meetings. Direction signs will be installed along bike routes, pointing the way to neighborhood shopping districts, trails and parks.

City officials haven't figured out how to improve safety at hazardous intersections such as Eastlake Avenue East and Fuhrman Avenue East, near the University Bridge. Cyclist Bryce Lewis -- using the bike lane -- was killed there by a right-turning truck in September.

Another hard question is how to add bike lanes to Fauntleroy Way Southwest, where on-street parking and ferry traffic pose conflicts.

And then there are the unfunded projects.

Maps include a bike bridge parallel to the Ballard Bridge; and bike bridges over Interstate 5 at the University District and Northgate.

Critical mass

Besides the commuters, thousands around the city ride for fitness, fun or errands. Between 1,800 and 2,200 cyclists a day, including commuters, use the Burke-Gilman Trail.

Activists and politicians tout cycling's benefits in the struggle against global warming, though Seattle's effect -- as one city -- is negligible.

One goal is to catch Portland, which reports higher bike use. That city's bike culture has spawned a niche cycle-related industry, and transportation officials there may consider a $24 million, 110-mile increase in bike boulevards, The New York Times reported Monday.

New York is emerging as another role model. This year, the city has created experimental bike lanes that are separated from traffic by stripes, barriers or rows of parked cars.

Several mayors asked Nickels about Seattle's bike plan last week, during a climate-change summit here, spokesman Marty McOmber said. The mayor is like other citizens who don't ride frequently -- "biking is intimidating, because they worry it's an unsafe activity," McOmber said. "The whole goal of it is to make it safer and more convenient."

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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