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.
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.