Thursday, August 06, 2009

Oh Give Me A Home, Where the Bicyclists Roam...

We just got back from our Washington trip yesterday (more on that later), but one thing I did while we were visiting my sis and BIL in Bellevue was to take a little bike ride down memory lane. At least it would've been down memory lane if anything there looked even vaguely like I remembered it.

Of course, I didn't expect Redmond to look like my first memories of the place. In 1988 when I arrived at the Microsoft campus on my first day of work (OMG, could that really have been 21 years ago this month?????), there were four buildings. Yep, four. Surrounded by a whole lot of trees (that's number four with the red arrow on the map above, now buried in the middle of the campus). Across the street was this place with a shingle hanging outside that said "Little Bit O' Heaven", you could go there and fish in a creek that they stocked with trout. No kidding! Bill Gates had a party for all of the new hires that month at his house, in his living room. It was a small place, back then. Fast forward to now, as I'm bicycling through the campus I see signs for Building 127. Holy Cow.

But the good news is that City of Redmond has been adding some bike commuting options lately (or should I say finally). Part of my ride was along the new commuter bike path that parallels Hwy 520, connecting Redmond to the Microsoft campus. When I used to commute by bike, I had to take a circuitous route through town, risking my life daily on streets with no bike lanes, hostile drivers, and big tire-eating grates, so it was no wonder that even on Bike to Work Day, I never saw another bike commuter on my journey. Now though with the addition of the bike path, bike commuters were fairly numerous on my evening ride, which is great news for this traffic-overloaded area in general, and I think in general illustrates the principle of "build it and they will come" when it comes to creating safe commuting options for cyclists.

On the minus side of the equation, the city is still extremely lacking in actual bike lanes on any surface streets, so once you leave the relative safety of the bike path, you're stuck fighting for sidewalk space with the pedestrians, or lane space with the aggressive rush-hour drivers. So clearly what's needed for real encouragement of the average bike commuter is not only to build paths but to connect them with work/shopping/home via bike lanes on major through streets. It's good to see Redmond taking a first step toward bike connectivity, but when the freeway is topped by large signs promising four new freeway lanes to the tune of $86.1 million dollars, it would be nice if even a fraction of that went toward greater bike connectivity. After all, building more freeway lanes won't reduce traffic, but building bike paths does.

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