Here’s Why Seattle is One of the Best Cycling Cities in the US

In 2018, Seattle was named the best cycling city in the US by Bicycling Magazine, and despite getting rain for an average of 165.4 days per year (that’s just under half the year) Seattle remains a strong top contender for annual lists of bike-friendly cities in the country.

But with all the rain and brutally cold winters, how did Seattle become one of the best cycling cities in the US? Read on to find out!

Seattle has Great Cycling Infrastructure

2020 was a year for adjusting to a new reality, and while many cities postponed their plans for building cycling infrastructure, Seattle continued full steam ahead. Between 2020 and 2021, Seattle built close to 7 miles of protected cycling lanes, bringing their total to just over 20 miles of protected bike lanes.

According to the Seattle Time, “Seattle Department of Transportation spent almost $2 million from its bike budget on three projects in 2020 and has spent another $3.3 million on the 12th Avenue, East Union and Bell Street projects alone so far this year. Amazon paid for the construction of the lanes on Seventh Avenue between Bell Street and Blanchard Street.”

In May 2021, the BMP (Bicycle Master Plan) was delivered to the council, outlining plans for infrastructure development between 2021 and 2024. Among other things, the plan commits to turning 20 miles of streets into permanent Stay Healthy Streets (meaning they’re closed to vehicle traffic and prioritize pedestrians, cyclists, and roller skaters) and building new bicycle projects in and around West Seattle.

Seattle Bike Share is Business-Friendly

In 2017, Pronto (Seattle’s bike share system) shut down, leaving the cycling community to feel like they had just suffered a major loss - but there was a silver lining.

Most large cities in the US have an official bike share system, making it difficult for startups to enter the market. But, without an official system, entrepreneurs flocked to Seattle to open their own bike-share programs. One of them, Lime Bike, reported over 1 million rides in their first six months of operation alone. 

Since then, Lime Bike has gotten investment from Uber and merged with JUMP (another bike-sharing program) and the two re-launched in 2020 with an initial offering of 500 ebikes for the program.

Cycling in Seattle is Safe

A city can have the best weather and most picturesque scenery, but if the infrastructure isn’t safe for cyclists, people simply won’t ride their bikes. 

According to a 2019 study, perceived crash risk and lack of safety were two of the most discouraging factors people had against cycling. Adverse weather was also at the top of the list, but Seattle proves that if everything else is in place, cyclists are willing to withstand a little rain.

The most notable safety infrastructure in Seattle is protected bike lanes, but that’s not where it ends. Seattle’s Vision Zero mission also utilizes other safety methods, including timing traffic signals, adding traffic islands, and adding speed bumps.

The Seattle Times conducted an audience survey and found that most cyclists believed that drivers were “courteous, if a bit clueless” and generally drove at safe speeds and safely around bikes. As the number of cyclists in the city continues to increase, bikes and cars are learning how to safely co-exist.

Seattle Makes Cycling Fun

Okay, maybe Seattle isn’t quite as out-there as Portland’s World Naked Bike Ride, but there are still loads of niche cycling events that aren’t based on time or miles - they’re based on having fun!

For example, The Dead Baby Bikes Downhill event is part-race-part-street-party and often doesn’t have a defined route, just a start and end point. Some of the events featured at their 2021 edition included bike polo, bike jousting, a mini velodrome, and live music. The event is so famous it even earned its own storyline in Grey’s Anatomy!

There’s also the Seattle Night Ride, scheduled for 29 July 2022, which is an easygoing 13 mile ride where participants are encouraged to wear costumes and deck their bicycles out in lights.

Of course, you can’t talk about Seattle cycling events without mentioning the Fremont Solstice Parade which has been going since 1992. If you’re feeling daring, you can join the Painted Cyclists for the parade, where you’ll be wearing nothing but your helmet and body paint.

Seattle has a Rock-Solid Cycling Community

If the previous point on this list didn’t tip you off, Seattle has an incredibly tight-knit cyclist community. On almost any day, any time of year, you can find a group of like-minded people to ride with.

One of the most popular cycling organizations in the city is Cascade Bicycle Club, which hosts one of the biggest cycling events in the US - their annual 206-mile Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic (STP). Most riders complete the ride over two days, but every year a few brave souls attempt to do it in one day.

If you’re not quite up for a 206-mile ride, they also host group rides and regular events throughout the year. Here’s a list of their upcoming group rides in 2022.

Although Cascade Bicycle Club is the biggest organization, it’s certainly not the only one. If you’re new to cycling, the Major Taylor Project offers year-round programs that include group rides, skills training, a Build a Bike program in winter, and a training regime for students who want to one day tackle the STP.