Category Archives: Featured Stories

A bicycle (commute) built for two: Bike Buddies find inspiration, friendship

Jennifer Connors and Cynthia Stanich

Jennifer Connors (left) got the push she needed to finally try a bike commute when she was matched with her Bike Buddy, Cynthia Stanich (right).

Sign up

Sign up online to become a Bike Buddy or be matched with a Bike Buddy.

Last year, Jennifer Connors made the decision. She would start biking to work at the University of Washington. But she was too afraid to actually get on a bike and do it.

“I just didn’t,” Connors says. “I just dreamed about it for a year.”

Months passed. She bought a used bike. More months passed. She bought a brand new bike.

But she still hadn’t pedaled to work. Her home was not along a good transit route to campus, and commuting by bus took 45 minutes to an hour. But she kept “busing, Uber-ing and crying every day,” she says.

Finally, this April, she got the push she needed: She learned about UW Transportation Services’ new Bike Buddy program. The pilot program matches beginning bike commuters with experienced riders who live nearby and can show them the ropes.

‘It was the motivation I needed’

Connors, a work control manager for Facilities Maintenance and Construction, took the leap and signed up. She was matched with a Bike Buddy who, like Connors, lives on Capitol Hill: Cynthia Stanich, a research scientist in the Department of Chemistry who has commuted by a combination of biking and transit for four years.

Stanich had seen Connors’ fear of bike commuting in someone else: herself, years before.

“When I first started biking, I was afraid,” Stanich says. “I didn’t know how I was supposed to handle the roads. I was afraid of making drivers angry. I was afraid of hills. So I figured I could show someone that it’s not that scary, and how to handle all those things, as well as, you know, make a friend.”

The two exchanged some nervous emails and settled on a day to ride to campus together: Friday, April 29. Two days before Bike Month. Stanich, eager to help, planned a route from Connors’ home and tested it a few times.

When the big day arrived, it was raining. But the two Buddies rode to campus anyway. The rain poured, but Connors’ fear of biking to work evaporated as she realized that she could do it. And if it weren’t for the Bike Buddy program, she says, she would probably still be waiting to try a bike commute, too afraid to take that first ride.

“It was the motivation I needed,” Connors says. “Now I’m like, ‘Why did I wait for a year and a half? This is so amazing!’”

A surprising response

Bike Buddy map

Transportation Services’ 137 registered Bike Buddies are scattered throughout Seattle and beyond.

Across the UW, more and more commuters are discovering that amazing feeling. In less than two months, 137 Bike Buddies have signed up to offer assistance to beginning riders. So far, Transportation Services has matched 42 Bike Buddy pairs.

UW Bike Buddies are scattered throughout Seattle, with some living as far off as Edmonds, Redmond, Kent and Bainbridge and Vashon islands. You can see for yourself on our map of Bike Buddies’ home neighborhoods.

“The response from Bike Buddies has been particularly inspiring,” says Ted Sweeney, Transportation Services’ active transportation specialist. “I expected 15 to 20 people, maybe a few more, to volunteer to participate. With 137 buddies, we are able to make some really great matches for people in most neighborhoods within 10 miles of campus, and many places beyond that.”

And those matches can do more than pair you with someone to guide you along your first bike commute. They also introduce you to another face you’ll recognize around your neighborhood – most likely, someone from an entirely different corner of this huge university, whom you might never have met otherwise.

New commute, new friend

Carol Bogezi and Adam Sherman

Carol Bogezi and Adam Sherman live two blocks apart, but they had never met until they were matched through the Bike Buddy program.

Take Carol Bogezi, a Ph.D. student in the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences who grew up in Uganda, and Adam Sherman, an assistant dean at the Evans School of Public Policy & Governance from Woodinville. They live two blocks apart in Ballard, but they’d never met before they were matched as Bike Buddies this spring.

Bogezi learned to bike last year, and she had biked to campus a few times during April. But she had some questions: Would she be safe? What’s the best route to take? Could she really commute regularly by bike? “I didn’t know anyone who biked to campus from my neighborhood,” she says. “I thought it would be inspiring.”

Then she was matched with a Bike Buddy, Sherman, who began biking to campus about a year ago after his first child was born so he could save time by getting his daily exercise during his commute.

“The match was perfect,” Sherman says. He taught Bogezi tricks that he’d had to learn the hard way, guiding her along a shorter and safer route to campus that uses bike lanes and showing her how to fix a flat tire. “There wasn’t this for me,” he says, “and I thought, ‘This would have been nice.’”

Sherman had signed up to be a Bike Buddy because he tries to do whatever he can to encourage more people to bike, hoping to reduce climate impact and encourage bicycle-friendly infrastructure. But the program gave him more than that: He met a new friend and gained a new connection to his neighborhood. The two made fast friends, and they’ve ridden to campus together several times, chatting the whole way.

Connors and Stanich have become friends, too, emailing each other to report on their Bike Everywhere Challenge performance. “I had no idea I would get somebody who was awesome and friendly,” Connors says.

Who among us isn’t interested in a better commute, or in a new friend? Sign up to be matched with a Bike Buddy in your neck of the woods, and you might find both.

Why tap on and tap off with your U-PASS on light rail?

Guy looking at his phone on light rail

Using U-PASS

Hopefully, you’ve gotten this message before: Always tap your U-PASS before you get on a Link light rail train and after you get off.

But you might wonder: Why should I worry about tapping my U-PASS twice? What difference does it make? If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, will it really matter how many times I tap my U-PASS?

The answer is YES! It matters a lot. Let us explain.

On Link (or on a Sounder train), your fare is based on the length of your trip. One-way adult fares on Link range from $2.25 (that will get you from University of Washington Station to Capitol Hill) to $3.25 (that gets you from the UW to the airport).

If you tap your card before you get on the train but fail to tap when you get off, you’ll be charged for the most expensive possible trip. If you’re using an ORCA card to pay your fare, that’s probably reason enough for you to tap twice.

But what if you’re using a U-PASS? As you well know, you can take unlimited transit trips with your U-PASS, so what difference does it make if you don’t tap off?

If you fail to tap on or tap off, you might run the risk of a $124 citation. That’s the penalty for riding Link or Sounder without paying a fare.

If a fare enforcement officer comes around to check that you paid your fare, you can’t just show your Husky Card as proof of payment. The ORCA technology that brings your U-PASS to life is embedded inside your Husky Card. Fare enforcement officers use RFID readers to detect the ORCA chip hidden in there. And if you fail to tap on before you board the train, those readers will be able to tell. You risk receiving a citation.

But you could also be at risk if you fall to tap OFF. Here’s how: Let’s say you get off a Link train without tapping your U-PASS. After grabbing coffee and a snack, you get back on another train soon after. When you tap your U-PASS to get on the train, the reader will actually register that as a tap OFF. If a fare enforcement officer checks your card now, it will show that you haven’t tapped on for your second train. There’s that citation risk again.

Just remember to tap on and then tap off, and you can rest easy.

But the risk of a citation is not the only reason to do it.

When U-PASS members tap on and tap off, it helps keep costs down for everyone. You see, the U-PASS program pays area transit agencies for each trip taken by U-PASS members. That means that if you fail to tap off and are charged for a more expensive trip than the one you took, the U-PASS program has to pay the difference.

For example, if a U-PASS member takes a ride downtown from UW Station to do some shopping, the cost of the trip should be about $2.50. But if the U-PASS member doesn’t tap off, the program is charged about $3.25.

We know what you’re thinking: Why does 75 cents matter? If I found 75 cents in my couch, I’d still need to find five more quarters to wash a load of laundry!

But the U-PASS program has nearly 58,000 members. Among such a huge group, 75 cents here or there can really add up. That’s a lot of laundry.

That means tapping on AND tapping off helps keep U-PASS costs as low as possible, for you and all other U-PASS members.

What if you’re transferring to a bus, or another train? Should you still tap off? Yes! It’s simple:

  1. Tap on before boarding any transit vehicle using your U-PASS.
  2. If you’re riding on Link light rail or a Sounder train, tap off at the end of your ride.
  3. If you’re transferring, just follow those steps again on the next leg of your trip. That ORCA technology inside your Husky Card will be able to tell that you’re transferring. It’s that smart!

U-PASS sleeve giveaway

Now you know why it’s important to tap on AND off on light rail and Sounder trains. Need something to help you remember? Come see us! We have a limited supply of free U-PASS wallet sleeves that keep your U-PASS at the ready and remind you to tap on and tap off on light rail. Drop by UW Transportation Services to get one, and do it soon.

May transportation safety initiatives

Click It or Ticket

As America waits with bated breath for summer, we tend to get a lot more mobile. Accordingly, many transportation safety initiatives and awareness campaigns fall during the month of May.

Click It or Ticket is a seatbelt use and awareness initiative led by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and enforced by police nationwide. Seatbelts have been shown to increase survivability in traffic accidents by 70 percent. For more information on this campaign, visit the NHTSA Occupant Protection web page. For information on Washington’s seatbelt laws, visit WSP’s Rules of the Road web page.

Global Youth Traffic Safety Month highlights the fact that car crashes remain the number one killer of teens and young adults in America, and that people between 16 and 44 are America’s highest-risk group for traffic fatalities. The United Nations General Assembly has resolved to make this a global priority campaign. The U.S. Department of Transportation and National Organization for Youth Safety (NOYS) sponsor the campaign in the U.S. For more information, visit the NOYS homepage.

Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month

May is also Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month. Motorcycles account for 3 percent of all registered vehicles in the US, but people riding motorcycles make up 14 percent of all traffic fatalities. A factor in this sobering statistic is that only six out of 10 motorcyclists reported using DOT-compliant helmets in 2013. For more information on efforts to combat motorcycle-related traffic fatalities, visit the NHTSA Motorcycles webpage. For information on Washington’s helmet laws, visit WSP’s Motorcycle Helmets webpage.

Follow us on Twitter: @UWTranspo

Guy looking at his phone on light railWhat’s this light rail passenger smiling about? Probably our new UW Transportation Services Twitter account!

Yes, we’re now on Twitter. There, we will offer UW commuting tips, news and stories much like what you see on our TS Facebook page – except briefer, more frequent and with more GIFs. Plus, Twitter is more immediate and up-to-the-minute than Facebook, so we can use it to give you super-fast updates on news that might affect your commute. Give us a follow: @UWTranspo.

Never used Twitter before? Give it a try! Here’s a helpful guide for new users.

Q&A: The real reason the Burke-Gilman Trail is closed

Trail construction

Construction progress on the Burke-Gilman Trail, as of April 29 (looking east from the T-wing bridge).

The Burke-Gilman Trail is a treasure for the University of Washington and Seattle – the premiere biking and walking path in our region, and one of the best out there anywhere. But since October 2015, a portion of the trail through the UW campus has been closed while construction crews work to make it better and safer for biking and walking.

We told you all about the closure back then, but we understand if you have questions now. After all, it was a long time ago, and maybe you hadn’t yet arrived at the UW. Maybe your brain was super-focused on midterm exams. Maybe you were knee-deep in the preparation of an elaborate Halloween costume and had no time for anything else. Maybe you read about it then but weren’t sure that the current work had anything to do with it.

Whatever the case, we’re not judging! We’re pleased to answer some questions about the Burke-Gilman construction.

Why is the Burke-Gilman Trail closed?

The BGT is closed between 15th Avenue NE and Rainier Vista so that we can totally remake it for the benefit of people walking and biking through campus.

Trail construction

Looking west from the T-wing bridge.

How will the trail be improved?

When the trail reopens, it will be double its previous width, with new separate pathways for people biking and people walking. It will have better lighting, more blue emergency phones, and even better views. Intersections where people might cross the trail will be more clearly indicated. The trail will be better connected to campus, the University District, the new UW Station and UW Medical Center. Plus, the project includes the construction of a new secure bike parking facility near the T-wing overpass with room for more than 100 bicycles, plus some additional covered bike parking.

OK, that’s a lot. Give it to me in one sentence.

In short, the new trail will make for a safer and more comfortable experience for everyone who uses it.

Sounds wonderful! But in a broader sense, why is this project necessary?

What a terrific question! Consider this: Ridership on Link light rail has increased by about 66 percent since the University Link extension opened, exceeding expectations and breaking records. Around 60,000 people are riding Link on a typical weekday.

We don’t know exactly how many thousands of those people are moving through UW Station every day, but if you’ve visited the station yet, you know it’s getting a lot of use. And many of those people will naturally head from the station to the Burke-Gilman, which people can bike or walk to without crossing a single street.

And that’s not all. The new SR 520 bridge walking and biking path is set to connect to Montlake Boulevard NE in summer 2017. And a new Life Sciences Complex is scheduled to open right along this stretch of trail, between the Hitchcock and T-wing bridges, in 2018.

Put it all together, and this stretch of trail is going to become even busier over the next few years than it already is. To safely hold all those people, we really need a wider trail, with all those safety improvements we talked about before.

Retaining wall

A look at the newly constructed retaining wall on the south end of the trail, just east of the Hitchcock bridge.

It’s been a while since October. [Redacted “Star Wars” character name] was still alive, as far as I knew. What’s been done since then?

Quite a bit, though it’s not all work that you can see from the surface. First, crews demolished the old trail. Then they installed drainage, electricity, irrigation and other underground things that are not exciting but are nonetheless important. They’ve built retaining walls on the south side of the trail, necessary because the trail is moving a bit to the south. Crews have been building railings, stairs and other pieces off site, and they’ve been pouring foundation and getting the surface ready for the new trail to be paved. They’ve already poured some concrete walkways.

Also: Stop worrying about spoilers. “Return of the Jedi” came out in 1983; everyone already knows Yoda is dead.

What’s left to be done, then?

The crews will finish up work on those retaining walls; install various pieces such as stairs, rails and lamp posts; and install the new bike parking facility in lot C10 near the T-wing bridge. One of the last steps will be to actually pave the trail asphalt, plus install new landscaping.

Trail demo section

This demonstration Burke-Gilman section near Mercer Court provides an idea of what the new, wider trail will look like, with separate biking and walking paths. (There will be a few design differences.)

Why did you have to close this whole portion of the trail for all this time? Couldn’t you have done the work in pieces, or left a skinny piece of trail for me to squeeze through sideways like a spy?

It’s all about safety. Trust us, you don’t want to be in that construction zone. There’s a lot of heavy equipment moving around, a lot of digging, and a lot of heavy objects being lifted. And all of that is happening in a narrow corridor. To be safe, we needed to close this portion of the trail.

For similar reasons, the construction has impacted some other things in the area, including bike racks near the T-wing bridge that were removed so we can replace them with a covered, secure facility. We and our crews are always working to minimize our impact on people at the University, though. (And, in case you didn’t know: The bike racks in the Bloedel Hall courtyard tend to have capacity available.)

OK, OK, I understand. Now, the big question: When will the trail reopen?

It’s always tough to know exactly how long a big construction project like this will take, with weather and other variables at play. But we estimate the project will be completed sometime in July.

What should I do until then?

Get pumped! In a few months, you’ll have a brand new trail with double the space and clearer lanes for bicycling and walking – and so will the thousands more people who will use the trail in the coming years.