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Bike commutes appear to spike after viaduct closure

At least three common commuter routes had their highest January days ever

In the foreground is a highway with a bike lane. There is a person riding a bicycle in the bike lane. In the distance is a body of water and a sky with many white clouds. SeaRick1/Shutterstock

Monday marked Seattle’s first weekday commute without the Alaskan Way Viaduct—and most of State Route 99—and the beginning of the Seattle Squeeze, and while it wasn’t a giant disaster, it wasn’t a picnic, either. Jammed-up streets mean longer travel times for many in motorized vehicles, whether it’s a single-occupancy vehicle, a carpool, or even a bus.

This made walking and biking even more efficient for those able to take that option, something that WSDOT, the city, and bike advocacy groups actively encouraged. While some were worried about getting people to ride to work in January, it appears a lot of people took that advice.

Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) traffic engineer Dongho Chang tweeted out some preliminary data on Tuesday morning, showing higher ridership than ever for this time of year. Chang compared January 14’s bike counter data for three locations—the Fremont Bridge, Elliott Bay Trail at Myrtle Edwards Park, and the Spokane Street Bridge—compared to the closest Monday of the two years prior. The comparison is striking: Ridership experienced jumps between 44 and 164 percent over the past year, and between 176 and 191 percent over the past two.

This is a gigantic deal for January, which typically sees low ridership as the weather gets chilly. It’s each location’s highest one-day January count since counters were installed, and in the case of the Spokane Street Bridge, it’s a long shot. Each location’s January high took place on the same day—January 26, 2015. The difference is especially pronounced on the Spokane Street Bridge, with a 75 percent increase.

The difference on the Spokane Street Bridge is especially pronounced, and makes sense. It’s also known as the Low Bridge, or the West Seattle Low-Level Bridge, and is the most popular bike route out of West Seattle, which is pretty dependent on State Route 99—and, being located on a peninsula, has fewer alternate routes. While the numbers on the Fremont Bridge and on the Elliott Bay Trail are good for January, Spokane Street actually had one of its highest ridership days since SDOT started counting in 2012. Monday was the bridge’s busiest bike day outside of the month of May, and its 20th busiest since data collection began.

The day didn’t bust any year-round records for either of the other locations, they still experienced unusually large ridership. Average January 2018 ridership on the Fremont Bridge, for example, is about 1,931 a day—less than half the 3,987 bikes that rode over on Monday—compared to a comparable Monday six months before (July 16, 2018), which was just about 25 percent above the previous July’s average. That’s the least dramatic: Ridership on Monday was 142 percent above January average on the Elliott Bay Trail, or 244 percent above for Spokane Street.

Seattle bike counter data, July 2016-January 2019

Date Elliott Bay Trail Fremont Bridge Spokane Street Bridge
Date Elliott Bay Trail Fremont Bridge Spokane Street Bridge
July 18, 2016 1609 3897 1163
January 16, 2017 546 1442 390
July 17, 2017 1790 4791 1288
January 15, 2018 1100 2220 630
July 16, 2018 3326 4864 1345
January 14, 2019 1593 3987 1666
SDOT Open Data

Second Avenue bike lane data was not available as of publication, but we’ll update if we hear anything.

Elliott Bay Trail

Elliott Bay Trail, , WA

Myrtle Edwards Park

3130 Alaskan Way, , WA 98121 Visit Website

Alaskan Way Viaduct

Alaskan Way Viaduct, , WA