The city of Kirkland recently launched a Safe and Active Transportation survey. The survey is the first chance for public engagement as the city works to rewrite its Active Transportation Plan, which lays out Kirkland’s strategy for moving cyclists and pedestrians through the city.
The last time the city updated its Active Transportation Plan (ATP) was in 2009. The 2009 ATP was a big step forward for the time, but best practices for bicycle infrastructure have changed dramatically over the past 10 years and the city’s policies are badly in need of a rewrite. In particular, the 2009 plan focused on the needs of “strong and fearless” cyclists, often missing the perspectives of people who are not comfortable riding in traffic or taking the lane.
Take, for example, this quote from Defining a Network section of the 2009 ATP, which explicitly states that bicycle lanes are only needed on high-traffic streets.
Bicycle lanes are generally suggested when auto volume exceeds 5,000 vehicles per day. Therefore, some segments of the bicycle network do not need bicycle lanes to adequately support bicycle travel.
This might sound about right for the spandex-clad street warrior who can consistently maintain 12-15 mph. But if you are a child trying to get to school or a casual cyclist on a comfort bike, a two-lane street with no shoulder may be an insurmountable barrier, especially if it goes uphill as many of Kirkland’s neighborhood streets do. In 2015, Kirkland recognized the need for traffic calming on even low-traffic streets by funding its first two neighborhood greenways. It’s time for the rest of the city’s bike plan to catch up.
One of the reasons that the 2009 plan failed to be more inclusive was that the outreach for the plan overrepresented recreational cyclists while underrepresenting those who ride for transportation. Out of nearly 700 people who responded, nearly every one indicated that they “never” ride to school, and the most common purpose for bicycle trips was “exercise.”
This is an important group, but by no means is it representative of the wider community.
Outreach for the 2009 ATP also underrepresented women, with men comprising roughly ⅔ of the respondents.
The old report acknowledged this gap, but also accepted it as the status quo.
According to one statistically valid national survey, males make about 68% of all bicycle trips and females make about 32% of all trips. Figure 43 shows a similar difference between male and female respondents to the bicycle survey.
By dismissing this inequity, Kirkland’s 2009 ATP ignored the fact that the way we design our roads drives gender disparities. Since 2009 we’ve learned more about how women are treated differently on the road, and how closing the biking gender gap requires tackling the gender bias in urban planning. Now, in 2019, it’s time for Kirkland to treat the biking gender gap as an opportunity for improvement rather than an inevitability.
Research has shown that most people, about 60%, identify as “interested but concerned” when it comes to getting around without a car. If we want Kirkland to build a bicycle network that addresses the needs of the widest range of people, then we need to make sure the city listens to the widest range of voices. Kirkland needs to hear from people who are not comfortable biking under its current conditions.
Take a moment and think about the people you know who live in, work in, or visit Kirkland, particularly those who don’t fit the street cyclist mold. Sharing this survey with them is a small action you can take to make a difference.