Promoting Walk – Bike – Ride, in the Seattle Style

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn unveiled a multi-year Walk, Bike, Ride campaign yesterday at the Beacon Hill light rail station. Initial reaction locally was mostly lukewarm, with many observers pointing to the plan’s lack of funding as a major obstacle to success.

Paul Andrews of Bike Intelligencer summed up the announcement and the campaign eloquently with his post Walk, Bike, Ride, yes. Spend? Um, err….”

Where’s the money, Lebowski?

The opening line from “The Big Lebowski” kept rolling through my mind as Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, King County Council member Larry Phillips and a supporting cast of street activists rolled out a new “Walk Bike Ride” campaign at the Beacon Hill light rail station this afternoon.

Andrews is a seasoned newspaperman and professional writer. And it shows. In contrast to many bloggers (yes, bike bloggers, too. This one included), Andrews can really write. In a, concise post, he covers both the good of the plan (The mayor, who biked to the press conference, wants to encourage a city-wide shift away from driving), as well as the bad (uh, how are we going to fund said shift)?

It’s worth popping over to Bike Intelligencer and getting the full poop.  But while you are here, you might as well know that The Car Free Days’ take on  the plan is a qualified  “Bravo.”

Sure, presenting the plan in tandem with a big-ass bucket of money would have been nice, but we’re reasonably happy with the overall message.  If we can instill the city’s collective mind with the idea that “bicycling is a normal option for normal people,” we’re on our way to change.

And as multi-generational Seattlites, we’re not not  exactly surprised with how the mayor is running this one.  Yeah, like many of you, we’d love to see a bold mayor throw down a bold plan, all the while throwing big eff-you to naysayers (Come on, you fantasize about it a little, right?).

But that approach takes a) political capital, b) economic resources, c) the right personality for such tactics,  d) citizenry supportive of such tactics (for examples of c and d see Mark Sidran’s  mayoral candidacy). At this point, the mayor doesn’t have any of that going on, especially d. It’s just not the way we do things here.

We all say we want to end gridlock, but if McGinn so much as decided what to have for lunch without first running a series of community meetings, thousands of Seattlites from all over the political spectrum would probably drop dead from shock.

The county morgue ain’t that big.

Seattle's Walk Bike Ride CampaignSo we’re OK with the consensus building and will trust the money will come later. We elected a community organizer for a mayor, so let’s let him do his thing.

Right, that election. I knew you’d bring that up. Yes, candidate Joe Mallahan’s bike plan wouldn’t have been announced until he had funding. But, wait … Mallahan’s wouldn’t have had a bike plan. More roads or better looking cell towers, yes. Bikes? Probably not.

So let’s cut the mayor some slack and maybe even get excited about what he is saying. Besides. history shows having the money in hand hasn’t always helped us get adequate facilities (see Missing Link,  and the Stone Way sharrow debacle).

The the last mayor also launched a bike plan, but did he really believe in it? Did he do everything he could to instill a pro transit, pro bike, pro walk  culture at city hall? No, I don’t think so. In my mind, that’s almost worse than not having a plan.

In Pedaling Revolution, Jeff Mapes examines ways in which Portland, Davis and other “real” bike communities built their infrastructure over time. A common theme I caught was that real change often followed good (from a bike perspective) hires in various departments.

Think about it for a minute. If a city department head knows that the mayor has an agenda, it follows that if the department head wants to keep their job they will want to make sure any of their new hires will come with the skills to support those initiatives (and by extension, make the department head look good).

It doesn’t take bike-specific dollars to fill an existing position. But such hires can bring immediate and long-term impact; unlike political appointees or elected officials, city employees have a long shelf life. These are the people who make day-to-day decisions (such as “do I direct my sweeper crew to remove sand from the bike lanes?” “Do I fasttrack the permitting of bike commuter locker room in a downtown highrise?” “Do I install the new sidewalks on the way to the bus stop or on the dead end street?” and so on…)  that affect our lives as non-motorized citizen advocates.

It looks like McGinn wants to use “Walk. Bike. Ride.” to build support for Seattle-style change. And we’re on board with anything designed to inspire citizens and city employees to get out of their cars.  Ideally that big-ass bucket of money will follow in time.


2 responses to “Promoting Walk – Bike – Ride, in the Seattle Style

  1. “It doesn’t take bike-specific dollars to fill an existing position.”

    Great suggestion. Especially to cities and counties that want to improve bicycling but don’t have a plan, or money to fulfill an existing plan.

  2. Dear Car Free Days:

    My name is Tim Nagae from Community Television Network, Ann Arbor, Michigan. We produce a local TV show called, “Eco Sense,” which is about energy and environment. The next Eco Sense show will feature the issues of walking and biking with panelists, Eli Cooper of the City of Ann Arbor’s Transportation Specialist and Nancy Shore of the Ann Arbor GetDowntown Program. We have just made a short video, “Why Bike & Walk,” promoting biking and walking activities in town, which will be used during this studio show. The following link is that video that the Ann Arbor Energy Office has just posted.

    I am sending you this video in case you are interested in watching it. I hope you enjoy this video. Thank you.


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