I need general advice about bicycle commuting and specific recommendations for Seattle.
July 22, 2009 2:11 PM   Subscribe

I need general advice about bicycle commuting and specific recommendations for Seattle: where to live for commute to UW, bike shop recommendations, must have equipment, neighborhoods to avoid, good routes and trails, and the like.

I'm planning a move to Seattle. Lots of good threads on the green about Seattle info and bicycling info. The Seattle department of transportation maps and guides seem fantastic -- any personal experience you could add to using them would be much appreciated.

I'm considering using a bicycle as my main commuting vehicle to the University of Washington. Obviously, closer is better but closer means higher rents and more undergrads -- right? In searching for places to live, I'm trying to gauge how far from UDub I can get and have a tolerable commute. I'm a pretty good judge of my fitness and stamina for it, but I don't have any idea which neighborhoods make for a convenient ride. As in, I'd prefer an hour long ride on an easy trail to a twenty minute ride on a hilly five-lane road. Are there any definitive architectural encumbrances (e.g. bad bridges, freeway crossings, etc.)?

Bonus for family friendly parks nearby and cheap rents. Double bonus for specific apartment or landlord recommendations.

I'd also love some recommendations for bike shops - especially ones that trade in used gear and cater to the commuter.
posted by GPF to Travel & Transportation around Seattle, WA (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Quite a few of my UW grad-student colleagues live in Wallingford or Fremont--the commute along the Burke-Gilman trail is short and lovely, and the rents are, I think, reasonable.
posted by fermion at 2:34 PM on July 22, 2009

As in, I'd prefer an hour long ride on an easy trail to a twenty minute ride on a hilly five-lane road. Are there any definitive architectural encumbrances (e.g. bad bridges, freeway crossings, etc.)?

Anywhere along the Burke-Gilman — outside of Fremont and the U District — will get you to and from work pretty quickly. Inside the U District and most of Fremont, you'll be fighting with traffic where the trail intersects major roadways.

I'll relate my own commute, as it's a bit odd. I live up in Capitol Hill, so my commute to UW is very fast (ten minutes) going down the hill on 23rd. I'd die of a heart attack or get run over by an angry SUV driver if I had to go back up 23rd, so I bike to Fremont Bridge from the Burke-Gilman and go back through downtown. This makes my trip home take about 30-40 minutes.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:47 PM on July 22, 2009

I'd also love some recommendations for bike shops - especially ones that trade in used gear and cater to the commuter.

Recycled Cycles is just outside the SW corner of the campus. I have used the following shops, which are both well stocked and handy: Elliot Bay and Velo. Velo is probably more geared to daily cyclists. Elliot seems to focus on touring and racing, but the touring focus will help for commuting gear.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:55 PM on July 22, 2009

For a bike commute, I'd definitely look at something near the Burke-Gilman trail. The trail is nice, as it's fairly flat (mainly converted railway easement), and has few road-intersections. It goes alongside the north side of the canal and Lake Union coming to UW from the west, and so is convenient for places in the south of the Ballard, Fremont, and Wallingford neighborhoods. This side of the trail tends to be better lit, if you'll be commuting in the evenings. Coming to the university from the north-west, the trail borders Lake Washington. It eventually joins up with the Sammamish River Trail to the west, which will take you as far around the lake as Redmond, but the east side is likely out of bicycle commuting range.
posted by JiBB at 2:59 PM on July 22, 2009

You definitely want access to the Burke-Gilman if you can get it. We live in Wallingford and it is absolutely perfect for this purpose and there are tons of families here and the Wallingford Park is packed with kids and parents and nannies this time of year. They have a wading pool they fill up on hot days and it's quite the social scene for 2-5 year olds and their parents. Problem is, there's not a lot of apartments here. You don't say what your rent budget is, but a house in Wallingford is going to cost you a bit.

Fremont has a lot more apartments but it's not quite as kid friendly. And most of Fremont is an uphill climb from the Burke-Gilman which could be a pain after a long day.

Ballard is a little further out, but has much more diverse housing options - apartments, small houses, etc. It's about 5-7 miles on the Burke-Gilman, and fairly flat, definitely an easy commute.

Stay away from the University district if you want kid-friendly.

North along the Burke-Gilman, there are several bedroom communities that could be suitable and an easy commute. Look at Wedgewood, Bryant, and Windermere. Laurelhurst is a little too affluent for most people I know, but it's close to UW.

Some other neighborhoods that aren't along the Burke-Gilman but would also make easy bike commutes (flat, wide shoulders, etc.) include Greenlake, Maple Leaf, Montlake, Ravenna, Madison Valley, and Madison Park -- all of these are pretty kid friendly.

In terms of routes, the city puts out great maps that I use religiously. I wouldn't worry about highway 520 being an obstacle, there are good bridges with lots of bike traffic over them. The drawbridges aren't a big deal either. They go up and down in less than 5 minutes and I always consider having to stop for them a charming idiosyncrasy of this wonderful place we live. I-5 is best crossed via the Burke-Gilman or Ravenna Ave. Do not live anywhere on the east side of Lake Washington if you want to bike to UW.

Weather and darkness are big issues in the winter. You are definitely going to want rain gear, fenders, a good light, and a waterproof pannier. It really is wet for much of the year, but there are lots of us who bike commute year round. It does get down to the 40s for much of the winter, but only rarely lower than that and the city pretty much shuts down when it snows.

Gregg's Greenlake Cyclery is a very popular bike shop that has everything you need. It's a little too big for my tastes, but everyone seems friendly and knowledgeable enough there. There is a Performance Bicycle shop in the University District but that place has way too much of a Best-Buy vibe for me. My favorite shops are Montlake Cyclery who are great for repairs and basic cycling gear, but they are too small to have a wide variety of commuter gear. My absolute favorite bike shop on the Burke-Gilman is Counterbalance Bicycles which is right along the trail near University Village and specializes in supporting people who commute along the Burke-Gilman. I also whole-heartedly recommend Recycled Cycles mentioned above.

As I said, I live in Wallingford, I used to work at UW and my wife still does a lot of work there. I bicycle and walk almost everywhere I need to go and we have a small child. This is a great place to live, especially for bicycle commuters and parents, so congrats on your upcoming move. MeMail me if you have any other questions I can help you out with.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 4:06 PM on July 22, 2009

Bear in mind that there are a few intersections on the Burke-Gilman that are freaking lethal. I'm thinking of the one behind U-Village where the trail crosses the street about 30' from the intersection and lights and the intersection of 15th and Campus Parkway (IIRC, the road that runs in front of the UW Medical Center). In the former, the trail is *just* far enough from the intersection that drivers making a turn on red don't have the trail enter into their consciousness and in the second the bike trail is out of the frame of reference for making a right turn on green and the view is obstructed to the extent that, if a bicycle is moving 15-20 mph, a driver cannot see the cyclist in time to avoid a collision. The city has thoughtfully (not sarcastic) provided a green arrow for right turns that should prevent cyclists and pedestrians from sharing the intersection with cars but, unfortunately, there are some real dumbasses who run the light.

These are avoidable hazards, of course, if drivers and cyclists pay attention and act responsibly but they're also locations where the design of the streets isn't conducive to safety. I know that every time I drive through these intersections I dang near sprain my neck trying to keep tabs on all traffic, bike, pedestrian, and automobile.

Also, if you're in Wallingford, I find 45th very pleasant on a bicycle for the same reason that it's a nightmare in a car. It's backed up something stupid and, as a result, it very easy to take a lane of traffic while bicycling at a comfortable pace (offer not valid when uncongested) that matches the speed of automotive traffic.

For shops, I've had good luck with the aformentioned Elliot bay (They were great helping out my non-bike-nerd wife) and you should also look into Bikestation. They're good folks and are very near to Salumi, one of the greatest things about seattle.

Welcome to Seattle! Based on one of your previous questions, I hope you're coming to the UW iSchool (that I, my wife, and a number of my dearest friends and moderators attended) and that it works out well for you.
posted by stet at 4:17 PM on July 22, 2009

I don't know much about commuting in Seattle specifically, as I'm in Olympia, but I wanted to re-emphasize this:

Weather and darkness are big issues in the winter. You are definitely going to want rain gear, fenders, a good light, and a waterproof pannier.

It tends to start raining regularly in November and go through April, with occasional rain in May and June as well. Additionally, with the high latitude, it gets DARK in the winter, so the lights are just as important as the rain gear.

Good luck, and have fun biking!
posted by epersonae at 4:51 PM on July 22, 2009

Response by poster: "I hope you're coming to the UW iSchool[.]"

Indeed, I am! Thanks for the welcome and thoughtful response.
posted by GPF at 6:58 PM on July 22, 2009

The BGT is, indeed, awesome, but there are lots of other places to live that are decent bike rides from the U that don't even touch it.

The ride along Lake Washington Boulevard is hands-down the most beautiful ride in town, and is flat for miles. To get from there to the UW, there is one hellacious switchbacked hill and then a nice ride with a gentle hill through or around the Arboretum and the Montlake neighborhood. This route opens up possibilities in Madrona, Leschi, Mount Baker, Columbia City, Seward Park. All of which are great and family friendly. In general south Seattle will be much less expensive than neighborhoods north of the U.

I live in Columbia City, and I believe it's 8 miles one way to the U, and even a big fat not particularly athletic lady like me could do that route. Took me 6 months to get to the point where I could ride all the way up that switchback, but if I can do it, so can you!
posted by Sublimity at 8:25 PM on July 22, 2009

Response by poster: Late and offtopic: I'm really glad I'm not moving to Ashevill, N.C. where a firefighter shot a bicyclist in the head. *gulp*
posted by GPF at 6:57 AM on July 28, 2009

That is all kinds of fucked up.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:44 PM on July 29, 2009

Response by poster: Follow up:

Although I don't yet have the 1st hand experience of those upthread, I went house hunting in Seattle and came to the following conclusions:

- Many, many people commute to work on bicycles. I knew this, but didn't realize how excited I would be to see it in action. Loads of bike shops that I can't wait to visit - especially those mentioned above.

- Seattle is smaller geographically than I envisioned. I checked the scales on the maps I was looking at, but it didn't map well to my brain. Suburban Texas had skewed my thinking to imagine Seattle was bigger than it is. Looking at the discussions here and looking at the map, I would have thought Redmond was in another state. Turns out, it's closer to downtown Seattle than my favorite grocery store here in Texas.

- The BGT is, in fact, just that cool. I'm going to be living with it less than 100 yards from my front door.

- The elevation differences are dramatic to this prairie boy.

- I don't need (or want) a car in town.

- The folks at the Visitors' Center at UW are great. It was staffed by a retired Metro Bus Driver who bicycles to work and a retired librarian. I couldn't have asked for a better welcome experience.

- There isn't such a thing as cheap rent in town. I could have gone further out (like Federal Way, Seatac, or east of the Lake) but the neighborhoods mentioned upthread - although affordable by Seattle standards - made me cringe just a little.

- Although I didn't wind up finding a place in Wallingford, I imagine we'll spend a lot of time there.
posted by GPF at 1:30 PM on August 22, 2009

Looking back at this thread many months later... Yeah, elevation differences can be a pain---one thing I like about the BGT, if lots of the places you want to get are along it.

And welcome to Seattle.
posted by JiBB at 2:14 AM on December 8, 2009

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