According to the lore of the 2009 elections, Mayor Mike McGinn won his office in part thanks to legions of Seattle cyclists who were thrilled by this bike-riding candidate and the "Mike bikes!" stickers that surrounded him.
Fast-forward three years: The city's powerful Cascade Bicycle Club, in a report released on July 25, finds that Seattle is "slipping behind" other bike-friendly cities in the country. Portland now has a better bicycle commuting rate than Seattle, while Minneapolis and San Francisco are nipping at our heels when it comes to cycle-friendly amenities. According to Craig Benjamin, spokesman for the Cascade Bicycle Club, McGinn has also fallen short of the city's Bicycle Master Plan. The department of transportation's 2012 action agenda "only called for 100 more people riding bikes by 2014," he says, even though Seattle needs 450 more people on bikes each year to meet the plan's goals.
What happened? And can the bike lobby stay with a mayor with this sort of legacy?
McGinn spokesman Aaron Pickus says the economy is partly to blame. "You gotta look at the money you have and spend it as best you can across all transportation choices," Pickus says. The city's transportation budget has been hit with $23.9 million in cuts since January 2010, when McGinn took office in the midst of this deep recession.
Benjamin acknowledges that the percentage of the transportation budget spent on bikes has held roughly steady under McGinn, but he says that percentage should be higher. "Seattle spends 2 percent of its transportation budget on bicycling, when already 4 percent of our trips are taken on bikes," he explains.
McGinn could push for more federal grants for bike improvements and press harder for greenways, Benjamin says.
So will the Cascade Bicycle Club, which has 14,000 members and a mailing list of more than 50,000 people, back McGinn's reelection effort next year? Benjamin warns that he can't see his group endorsing anyone next year—for mayor or for city council—who doesn't show "bold leadership."