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Biking to Work with Seattle’s Mayor Mike McGinn

When Seattleites elected a new mayor at the end of 2009, they really went for a breath of fresh air. In the general election, Mayor Mike McGinn, who rides a bike to work daily, was outspent nearly four to one. The race was very close, but with an energetic volunteer base -- and a campaign that emphasized many livable streets issues -- he pulled out the victory.

Only a few weeks into the new administration, I got the chance to commute with Mayor McGinn from his home in Greenwood to City Hall. It wasn't hard to convince him, seeing as he's a longtime Streetfilms fan, going back to his days as the founder of an organization called Great City.

As you'll see, McGinn has a lot of great things to say. Particularly exciting is a new website called Ideas for Seattle, which asks residents what they would like to see the mayor focus on. Take a look: A good dozen of the current Top 20 could be classified as livable streets issues. (Note: I think other cities should replicate this.) So we wish Mayor McGinn the best and can't wait to check back in a few years to see what kind of changes have taken place.

[music intro]
Mayor Mike McGinn: Hi. Welcome to Seattle. This is Mike McGinn, Mayor of Seattle, and me and Clarence Eckerson are going to bike downtown; from my house in the neighborhood of Greenwood to City Hall. It's about a six and a half mile bike ride and I usually bike it every morning. In Seattle, I ran as a populist, and in Seattle, that means you ride a bicycle. These are collectors items now. These are the "Mike Bikes" stickers. This is our first set -- our only collateral.

I started bike commuting for, Oh, a bunch of different reasons, but ultimately, I bike now because I like it. So, I guess maybe as more people like biking, it's more likely you'll find more mayors like it, too.

You know there's a lot of public support for "livable" streets and in fact, when I was running my non-profit, Great City, I started a campaign we called "Streets for People." Which was kind of really borrowing a lot from the New York Streets Renaissance and you know, trying to figure out how to bring together all the different advocates for more livable streets.

Woman 1: [riding alongside Mayor] [indecipherable 01:08] Good. [to camera as she rides by] I love the Mayor!
Man 1: [street commentary] Oh yeah, he's doing a good job.
Clarence Eckerson: Stopping at a red light, of course. Because people on the West Coast are really good about that.
Mayor McGinn: Most of the time. If you're a biker, the problem is that these lights won't change for you, because they'll only turn green if there is a car here. So they mark on the ground the "T" where you should put your bike wheel if you want to trigger the light. [yells to crowd to show support] Vote Yes for schools! [car horns honking]
Mayor McGinn: It's fun. No, I went down and helped fundraise for the school levy, and helped kick it off, and I've been publicizing it on my Facebook page. They did a few things right when they designed City Hall. One was a lot of bike parking and the other thing is that there are showers in City Hall. There's a also locker that has tools in it, so that if you need to do some bike repairs here, there's tools for shared use.

Mainly in this section of the garage it's Handicapped parking or short-term visitor parking for people coming to City Hall. But even though, there's kind of the "mucky muck" parking back there, which is for the Council Members; they still have to pay for it on a monthly basis, so no free parking here at City Hall.

There are very few bike runs downtown, so a street like 5th, you just have to take a lane and sometimes we slow the cars down. Other times, the cars slow the bikes down.

I'll say this, particularly in Seattle, it's nice to have some direction; because in Seattle, it's pretty "hilly" and picking the right streets makes a difference to whether you're going to have a good ride or not.

I want to introduce you to somebody. Come over here, Allison.

Allison Burson: Then we have to go in.
Mayor McGinn: Then we have to go in. So Allison's my scheduler. During the Campaign, and even in the Mayor's office, it's her job to try to make sure we can schedule things so that I can bike between events as much as possible.
Allison: The hard part is making sure he's never biking downhill and then back uphill again. We try to go to the lowest point, first thing in the morning, and then work our way uphill from there. [music]
Mayor McGinn: It was a really tight race. We were outspent about 4:1 in the general election but my volunteer base carried me through. We started a website called "Ideas for Seattle," and it was part of our transition, so we asked people to give us ideas. We also did Town Halls, and we asked our friends to go out and ask questions of people about what was important to work on.

As you notice, Clarence, "Ideas for Seattle" has a lot of ideas about how to make the city more "walkable," more bike friendly, and add more transit. The people of Seattle are really ready to "catch up" to some other cities in having great transit and great walking and biking.

When I was running my non-profit, Great City, we really loved Streetfilms and we'd publicize them. On my campaign website, I think we used a Streetfilms from The Embarcadero." I'd pass it around to people in town. Films from Bogata about "Ciclovia" and about their bus rapid transit system as well. So I think Streetfilms is a great resource.



Clarence Eckerson, Jr. has been making fantastical transportation media in NYC since the late 1990s. He's never had a driver's license and never will.

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  • Chetan

    As a Seattle resident, I can finally be proud of my city government. Mcginn is a great mayor.

  • This is Totally Awesome

    Totally, totally, totally awesome. I can't say it enough! MIKE BIKES!

  • http://i.feedtacoma.com/Erik/ Erik B.

    Hopefully, Seattle can implement some better urbanism now.

  • Mike Gaughan

    Great Job. Nice piece!

  • http://lightrailblogger.com Tony Arranaga

    I think I just fell in love with Seattle all over again.

  • Glenn Fleishman

    My objection to this lovely video of our mayor? He bikes down Westlake, which isn't more of a direct path, and is extremely dangerous. The city hasn't marked Westlake with bike lanes or shared, and it's a 35 mph zone with people going 45 to 50. Coming off the Fremont bridge as he was, he could have had a bit of a climb up Dexter (steep but not terrible) and then ridden a bike lane marked, lower-traffic, lower-speed flat path straight into downtown.

    (I'd love it if Westlake were converted to two lanes + turn lane + bike lanes; it's a four-lane rode with never much actual traffic except turning traffic.)

  • TruthSquad

    How come this film didn't show or discuss the two SUV's that follow him around when he bikes to appointments?

  • Clarence

    Truth Squad,

    Have no idea what you are talking about. There were no SUVs.

  • GREAT Mayor

    If only more cities had this kind of a mayor who understands what it is like to be a commuter. Way to go Mayor Mike, we could use you in St. Louie.

  • TruthSquad

    http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2010/01/11/mike-bikes-with-an-suv-behind-him

    "But one part of the appealing symbolism—the mayor of green Seattle setting an environmentally friendly example by ditching his car—is offset considerably by the fact that McGinn, now under the constant protection that every mayor receives, has been trailed on his rides to work by security officers in a large SUV.

    'These security guys, they’re serious guys and they don’t mess around," Matassa said. "When they tell you that’s how it is, that’s how it is.'”

  • TruthSquad

    Look, I agree that biking is great and I agree with McGinn's basic ideals about transportation.

    That being said, this kind of self-aggrandizing fluff is a little off-putting when Mike Bikes needs to prove that he is not a one-trick pony and is actually capable of running a major city. Which some voters are starting to seriously doubt.

    Just sayin...

  • Chetan

    Seattle got really fed up with bad streets, thats what got Mcginn into office.

    We spent tons of time talking in the 80s and 90s and nothing got done. Then, all of a sudden, this city pulls it together. In 2006, we passed transit now, and increase bus service, 2007 transit advocated tried to pass a road/transit bill, it failed because of the road element. In 2008, they came back and passed a huge transit expansion plan. In 2009, we elected an extremely transit friendly Mayor, city council member, and county executive. 2010 could have another light rail expansion vote. Seattle is becoming one of the greatest cities ever.

  • TruthSquad

    That's right, Chetan, everything good that happened in Seattle was because of Great City. It had nothing to do with Greg Nickels and Grace Crunican.

    Total revisionist history. Where do you get your pot? It must be killer.

    And how exactly will McGinn pay for ANY further transportation improvements if he can't deal with the budget first? Gonna be tough since he and his buddies blackballed Dively and have NO CLUE how to manage a city.

    Sorry to put the kibosh on yer little victory party. Reality bites.

  • One Tribe Y’All

    Streetfilms has done it again! Actually that was all I was gonna leave here, then looked up and saw you guys have a troll on the site. Been a long time since I have seen that, oh well the haters never make it in life!

  • TC

    Nice piece, Clarence! Maybe one day you'll be doing one like it with our Mayor Mike... (I know, I know. But it's nice to dream.)

  • TruthSquad

    It is a nice video about biking. And it is nice to have the mayor of a major city as a spokesman. You guys made a nice video, and are justifiably proud of your work.

    If you don't want trolls and haters, limit your comments to that.

    If you start making inane comments about what a great mayor McGinn is, then you have every right to expect some blowback.

    Why? Because quite a few people, many of whom strongly supported Mike Bikes and/or think biking is cool, are very disappointed so far.

  • http://beagreencommuter.com Brent

    Great piece! Seattle should be proud of their Mayor.

  • http://i.feedtacoma.com/Erik/ Erik B.

    Great video.

    With that said, Tacoma's walking mayor Strickland is more "Green" than Seattle's biking mayor McGinn.

    Here is a post I made on the subject with the film clip embedded:

    http://i.feedtacoma.com/Erik/tacomas-mayor-strickland-more-green/

  • Joe

    Meanwhile his chief of staff has multiple luxury SUVs (recently stolen). I'm happy Mike Bikes, I'd be happier still if he fires his hypocritical chief of staff.

  • Phantom Lotus

    Truth Squad, it sure sound like you're looking for a fight but you have no adversaries here. Why don't you go take that noise to city hall and put it to some good use? I mean, unless you really just want to bark up the wrong tree all day... That's entirely up to you, though. You're entitled to your opinion, and booooooy do you have one!!

    Keep the rubber side down, y'all. I'm out.

  • JM123

    Cool video.To bad it is SO EXPENSIVE TO LIVE IN SEATTLE.

  • Oscar

    Although McGinn was elected mayor based on his pro-cycling leanings, I have yet to see him do anything for cyclists. For example, it is legal for cyclists to ride side-by-side on the road in Washington State. Yet, in Seattle, it is illegal for cyclists to do so, because of a city ordinance. Also, Seattle allows cyclists to ride on the sidewalk by city ordinance. This is bad for cyclists and for pedestrians. It is bad for cyclists because, apart from the danger of falling by crashing into slower-moving pedestrians, it re-inforces the view that cyclists do not belong on the road. It is bad for pedestrians because they are endangered and menaced by faster-moving and not-so-manouverable bikes that may crash into them and injure them.

    He claimed during the election that he wanted to complete the so-called "missing link" of the Burke Gilman Trail, a rails-to-trails shared path, in Ballard. He has been mayor for a while, but I have heard of no concrete plans to get that done, or to create or improve cycling rights of way elsewhere in the city.

    It is great that he bikes to work. But he must come up with concrete policy and public works results to back up the theater he puts on.

  • Mark

    Mayor McGinn has talked the talk, now he needs to walk the walk by instituting a mandate in SDOT and DPD to get a bike infrastructure program established and funded in Seattle. City council would go along with him on this, as long as he managed not to antagonize them.

  • Wise2u

    "Glenn Fleishman
    February 17th, 2010 at 3:31 pm
    My objection to this lovely video of our mayor? He bikes down Westlake, which isn't more of a direct path, and is extremely dangerous. The city hasn't marked Westlake with bike lanes or shared, and it's a 35 mph zone with people going 45 to 50. Coming off the Fremont bridge as he was, he could have had a bit of a climb up Dexter (steep but not terrible) and then ridden a bike lane marked, lower-traffic, lower-speed flat path straight into downtown.

    (I'd love it if Westlake were converted to two lanes + turn lane + bike lanes; it's a four-lane rode with never much actual traffic except turning traffic.)"

    Well maybe if you paid road use taxes through licensing people would be more behind an idea like that.