Why I never lived on Queen Anne Hill

In 2007, when I returned to Seattle after 6 months of guest doctoral studies, my tastes in apartments had changed, influenced by the higher density and smaller living areas in Stockholm, as well as hardwood floors and other features of “older” construction. This basically narrowed the neighborhoods down to Capitol Hill, Ballard, the U District, and Lower Queen Anne.

In the end, I didn’t live in any of these. The reasons are many, of course, but one of the main ones was that bicycling to the University was complicated by the hills, bridges, and other obstacles, and I was dead set on bicycling.

Now Sightline Institute has just followed up their popular WalkScore online tool with a BikeScore tool, which displays both a sort of “generalized bikeability” map of a city, or a destination-specific range of bikeability, indeed taking into account network connectivity and hills. The figure at right shows the 20-minute bicycling range from the University. Indeed, Ballard is well out to the west and Capitol Hill is mostly out to the south. Most interestingly, Lower Queen Anne, which has some quite interesting old apartment buildings, sits right there in the dark corner to the southwest. This matches my mental map of the area, in that Queen Anne — although not so far as the crow flies — is rather inaccessible by bicycle, due to a combination of lake, hill, and Highway 99. Well done, Sightline, you’ve validated my eventual decision to live in Wallingford.

Stockholm’s New (Draft) Bicycle Master Plan

Stockholm has released a draft Cykelplan, describing a set of strategies for further developing the city’s infrastructure to support cycling, with the ultimate goals of improving safety and of increasing the bicycling mode share. I had a chance to hear a bit more about it in detail at a workshop in Kulturhuset, Monday morning.

I’m impressed at the center-right government’s turnabout with regard to certain transport-related policies, both at the municipal and national levels. At the municipal level, this has led to an express commitment to expanding the local bikeway network. Indeed, the draft plan shows an impressive map of the future network, reflecting some serious ambition among city staff.

But reading the document, I became concerned. Perhaps most importantly, there’s surprisingly little in the way of an existing conditions analysis — no maps of land uses, estimated cycle traffic volumes, accidents, key locations for connecting modes of travel, etc. This means that the proposed future network stands out as beingĀ either arbitrary or based on implicit knowledge of the city and its cycling problems. Furthermore, there was no inventory of the existing bicycle facilities in neighboring municipalities (the suburban cities). This is quite dangerous for the success of the plan: without providing an adequate motivation for the proposed network in terms of such factors as activities, land use, and the broader transport system, it will be all too easy for future staff and policy-makers to deviate from the plan, potentially sacrificing an important link because they did not understand what made that link important in the first place.

The draft plan seems to be a typical example of planning for a mode of travel in isolation, despite the staff’s valiant efforts to think holistically. I’m still formulating these thoughts into some comments in Swedish, but I’m worried that my real advice for this proposal is that they should take a step back and reflect on how this document is meant to be used, and then ensure that they have included everything that it will need in order to be an effective planning tool.