Peter Lagerwey, Seattle's "bike/ped" guru.
Starting this February, we are introducing a monthly Web profile called "Trail Voices" to highlight the work of rail-trail supporters around the country. Our interview subjects are anyone from high-level urban planners to local volunteers, and no contribution to the trails, hiking and bicycling movement is too big or too small—dedication comes in all sizes. We could never tell all the personal stories that make rail-trails a success, but we can share a few of the voices behind the movement.
Our first profile features Peter Lagerwey, senior transportation planner for the Seattle Department of Transportation Bicycle & Pedestrian Program.
Name: Peter Lagerwey
Involvement: His work with Seattle's bicycle and pedestrian planning spans more than 20 years, during which time he's developed a reputation as a "bike/ped guru." Peter has lectured and taught in more than 200 cities, and he co-authored "How to Develop a Pedestrian Safety Action Plan" for the University of North Carolina's Highway Safety Research Center. Most recently, he worked as project manager for the city's new, ambitious Bicycle Master Plan, which calls for installing more than 400 miles of bicycle facilities over the next 20 years.
On the trail: Peter and his wife Patricia love their tandem bicycle, which they rode for nearly 1,000 miles last year. They also participate in the annual Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic, a 200-mile summertime trek with 9,500 riders.
Off the trail: Peter is an avid reader and finishes nearly a book a week. One of his current favorites is Jared Diamond's Collapse.
When did you first become interested in bicycle and pedestrian issues?
My dad grew up in the Netherlands, and he worked delivering groceries on his bicycle there. When I was a kid he would tell me stories about all of the adventures he had at work on his bike. So from an early age I developed a romantic view of a bicycle. In high school in Minnesota, I was the only kid there who rode my bike to and from school year round—even in the winter.
How did you end up in Seattle?
In 1966, our whole family—my mom, dad, grandmother and five younger siblings—drove our station wagon to California on a four-week long "tour of the west." After that trip, I decided that when I grew up, I was going to move to either Seattle or Portland. Then in 1983 I attended a national bike conference in Seattle with my wife. It was her first time there, and she fell in love with the city immediately. Six months later I ended up with a job offer here. We packed up, moved to Seattle, and have been here ever since.
How has Seattle's transportation culture evolved since you've lived and worked there?
Alternative transportation has become a part of the local, state and national discussion at every level. This isn't to say that now everyone is doing everything right, but 25 to 30 years ago bike issues weren't even on the table. When I started, there were no design guidelines for planners, and actual "bike plans" didn't exist. Now good design guidance is readily available.
What advice would you offer to people who are interested in getting more involved in the trail movement?
First, I'd say get up to speed and take advantage of all the good things that have already been done. You don't need to reinvent a lot of things, and obviously Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has a lot of resources. If you need research or design guidelines, Bicyclinginfo.org is a great one-stop shop. Beyond that, I think a "friends of" group is a really good place to start. Joining one is a great way to learn dynamics of your state and local governments, to make contacts, and to meet advocates in your community. From there, you can graduate to things like working on local bike master plans, serving on committees, joining a board of directors, etc. I would start small and specific and focused, and move up from there.
With global warming so prominent in international headlines, what kind of effect can alternative transportation have on climate change?
Biking and walking are some of the most effective ways we have of reducing our carbon footprint. On a scale of 1 to 100, 100 being driving a car alone, a bike is like a 1. The value there is just incredible.
This month, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy inducted Seattle's Burke-Gilman Trail as the fourth member of the Rail-Trail Hall of Fame. How did that trail—first opened in the 1970s—impact the overall rail-trail movement?
The Burke-Gilman Trail certainly was one of the first rail-trails of national prominence, and it was a springboard for getting the rail-trail movement going. It became a model and a motivator for a lot of other projects around the country.
Do you have a professional project that you are especially proud of?
The Chief Sealth Trail. A major utility corridor runs through the southeast part of Seattle, and we wanted to put a trail through it because it was so hilly. We estimated the project would cost at least $11 million to complete. At the same time, a light-rail line was being constructed, and the fill was going to be hauled out and dumped into a landfill in Oregon. After a lot of negotiations, we bartered an unusual deal: the contractor could put the fill into the utility corridor, and in exchange they would construct the trail for free. We ended up spending about $3 million instead of $11 million, and now it's one of the most beautiful, fantastic facilities around.