Every year for a decade, Washington has been ranked the most bike-friendly state in the nation by the League of American Cyclists – a title earned through a combination of traffic laws, planning, education and state infrastructure, and a feather in the cap of the state’s dedicated cycling community.
But this year, Washington was knocked down for the first time, behind Oregon and Massachusetts, which took the top spot this year.
The redesign – while it may not be a five-alarm fire among the general public – is an embarrassment to bike advocates, especially on the heels of what they consider a year monumental for the new funding of bicycle projects by the State Legislature.
“I think being ranked number one was a helpful verbal shortcut because we live in a state where bicycling is considered a legitimate form of transportation and recreation, and we’ve chosen to support that,” said Vicky Clarke, Policy Director for Cascade Bike Club.
The cycling world is determined to reclaim the title from Washington. It’s an achievable goal, they say, as millions of dollars in new spending on bike projects begin to flow from the state to communities in the coming years.
This year, the Legislative Assembly passed nearly $17 billion in new transportation spending over the next 16 years. It was the fourth major transportation package in the past 20 years, and mostly took place along party lines — in part because of Republican opposition to so much cycling infrastructure spending. While much of the set is devoted to freeways, it includes more than $1.2 billion for “active transportation,” including projects for bicycles and pedestrians.
Over the next 16 years, $290 million is earmarked to improve routes to school for walkers and cyclists; $216 million for school-based cycling education programs; Another $278 million is for bicycle and pedestrian subsidy programs; and about $300 million is earmarked for a list of specific projects.
The spending is largely made possible by the state’s new plan to fight climate change — a carbon trading system that’s expected to raise more than $5 billion over 16 years.
It’s “a massive increase in dollars for active transportation and for the first time there is a dedicated funding stream for multimodal transportation,” Clarke said.
But Washington’s filing did not take into account the new funding. Ken McLeod, director of policy for the League of American Cyclists, said they wanted to affirm other states’ progress this year rather than make Washington the default first-place finisher.
“I think we wondered out loud, ‘Will there be a good time for Washington not to be number one? “, He said. “We wanted competition, then decided that the time was as good as any, and then Washington passed this incredible legislation just before we published it.
The newly available dollars will go a long way to supporting large-scale, community-level projects in the state.
The Eastrail Cycling Corridor will receive $29 million from the package. For such an ambitious project – 42 miles of track between Redmond and Renton when complete – that’s just a slice of the many millions of dollars it will take to complete.
But it opens up new avenues to complete some of the more technically complicated parts, said Katherine Hollis, executive director of Eastrail Partners, including nearly $10 million for converting the steel rail bridge over the Interstate 90 bike lane, $5 million for upgrade. a trestle over Highway 202 and $6 million to extend the trail into Gene Coulon Park in Renton.
“$29 million is still a small part of the overall investment that Eastrail will be when fully connected and it reflects some really big projects that were due to start,” Hollis said.
Thirteen miles of the trail – which has support from local governments up and down the Eastside as well as private companies like Amazon, Meta and REI – have already opened, with more sections planned for 2026.
In Kent, the Meet Me on Meeker project, an approximately 2-mile cycling and walking corridor between Kent and the Green River Trail, will get a $10 million increase. HB Harper, Kent’s director of long-range planning, said this could speed up completion of the project by 10 years or more.
“We can actually finish this before I retire,” Harper said.
It’s a complicated project that will take time, Harper said, partly because it will cross the aisles of many private companies and because the designers want it to be of very high quality. But the section that state money will fund is a “kingpin” of the whole project.
“It’s a really critical link that we had no other way or no other idea how we were going to fund,” she said.
State spending on cycle lanes was part of the reason the overall package was passed along partisan lines. Republican leaders on the House and Senate transportation committees called the spending a misalignment of priorities, saying more should have been spent on road maintenance.
But the Democrats forged ahead.
The sight of spandex on two wheels is common in Washington. Before the pandemic, more than 2,000 people a day commuted to work on the Fremont Bridge. The Cascade Bicycle Club runs nearly 20 major rides a year, including the famous Seattle to Portland ride, which is known to attract around 8,000 cyclists.
McLeod of the League of American Cyclists said he often hears from states frustrated with their rankings. He acknowledged that the ranking system can be counterintuitive, emphasizing the trajectory of policies enacted at the state level rather than a snapshot of what it’s like to ride there.
Washington’s demotion, he said, was less about everything the state has done, and more about actions other states have taken. For example, where Washington was the only one to house an “active transportation” division within its State Department of Transportation, others began to follow.
“It’s definitely a rising tide and a more competitive field,” he said. “We are seeing more and more states taking improving cycling seriously.”