Inside Seattle's Biggest Bike-Commuting Day

Why awareness and ebikes played a huge role.

Seattle experienced a huge spike in bike commuting this week. One trail had its highest level of ridership known to date. 3,200+ more people rode their bike to work compared to the same day last year. How is this possible in January and when bike commuting is down 3% across the country? The reason is likely not as permanent as we wish it was, but it is encouraging.

 

Seattle is undergoing a major road construction project affectionately dubbed by locals as #Viadoom, Seattle Squeeze, and The Period of Maximum Constraint. An elevated roadway, the Alaskan Way Viaduct, is being replaced by an underground tunnel. The highway will be closed for three weeks, impacting more than 90,000 drivers that use the viaduct each day and all surrounding roads. Warnings of nightmare traffic delays and detours were broadcast across the region. Residents were strongly encouraged to find new ways to get to work (or to work from home).

 

We’re now a full week into the closure and traffic isn’t so bad (at least not yet) and in some areas even better than normal. A portion of the credit goes to bikers - die hards taking the same route they do every day, fair-weather riders braving the cold, and even first-time bike-commuters. And a lot of the riders are on ebikes.

 

Data from Seattle Traffic Engineer Dongho Chang via Twitter.

 

Electric bikes are helping people ride instead of drive, and not just in Seattle. A 2018 survey found that more ebikes means fewer cars on the road. Most people use ebikes specifically to avoid the many hassles associated with driving. With electric bikes, riders can travel longer distances, feel more comfortable going with the flow of traffic, and arrive at their destination without being totally spent.

 

Our Seattle retail store was busier than ever on the days before #Viadoom as people considered their commuting options. Test rides were up 70% this December compared to the previous year. We are thrilled to be giving people a better commuting option. 

 

What #Viadoom actually did was create more awareness about the many ways people can get around their city. The entire community, including government agencies, transit departments, local companies, news organizations, and residents, discussed commuting options at length - for months. The conversations inspired people to find a better way. The road closure was obviously a big incentive for people to bike, but we believe it will lead to lifelong habits. In a way, we wish everyone had something like #Viadoom to motivate them.

 

What is happening in Seattle is a shining example of how a tough situation can be a catalyst to help make biking, traditional and electric, the new norm. If conversations about commuting options were this inclusive throughout the country, we could potentially see bike ridership increase and even reduce commuter caused carbon emissions in urban centers. And this is what gives us motivation. The more we can educate people about electric bikes, the more people will be able to ride instead of drive. While #Viadoom isn't the end of an era in our car culture like we wish, it is a promising sign for the sustainable transportation movement.

 

A photo from my bike commute on the first day of Viadoom.

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