Seattle is a bike-friendly place. (If only they could do something about that liquid sunshine... but that's what they're famous for! That, and coffee, and grunge-nostalgia.) (Oh - and the Space Needle, and those dudes who throw fish back and forth.) But it's not as bike-friendly as Portland, and Mayor Greg Nickels wants to change that! This article from The Seattle Times touts a $240 million bike-facility improvement dream, which includes 100 miles of new bike lanes, bike/ped improvements to bridges, etc. ($27 million is already budgeted; the rest remains on the planning table, at least for now.)
To Mayor Nickels' credit, he has involved actual bicyclists in the planning and prioritizing. What a novel concept! (His detractors point out that he gets to and from work in a chauffeur-driven limousine. Hmmm...)
So - are dedicated bike facilities good?
There are a certain number of would-be cyclists who don't feel safe in traffic, but who will use a dedicated path or lane. A supporter says, "children and novices need paths to build confidence and skill before they venture into road lanes."
Are dedicated bike facilities bad? Silly question?
The way I see it, only where there is ignorance about bikes-as-transportation. (Many cyclists disagree. The Times article, linked above, mentions the differences of opinion.)
Unfortunately, there are folks who don't understand that cyclists can legally ride in the roadway. (Idaho State Law is quite clear on that.) And dedicated facilities can add to the misconception - a mistaken belief that bicycles belong only on dedicated bike paths, or bike lanes.
(Of course, a large segment of society believes the money would be better used to add more car lanes. Somehow, they're convinced that what failed miserably in Los Angeles will be successful in Seattle... or Boise... or wherever. I say no matter how much asphalt you make available, people in their cars will fill it, so you'll always need more.)
Transportation cyclists should be familiar with the name John Forester. He is a transportation scientist - in fact, he may be the "Yoda" of bikes-as-transportation. I agree with his declaration, "Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles." Dedicated facilities go against the "vehicular cyclist" grain, just a little bit. Or so it seems to me.
Besides, there isn't a bike path to every possible destination.
Wherever there is a dedicated bike facility in my riding area, I'll gladly use it, and be grateful for it. (I generally won't alter my route to take the bike path, if it adversely impacts my trip time... unless the path is super-sweet and I'm in no hurry.)
My dream street design is Adams Street, in Garden City (between Vet's Parkway and the Fairgrounds area). It has a nice wide lane in each direction with no parking and plenty of visibility, a center lane for turning and passing slower-moving vehicles, and no special bike striping or designation. THAT is the way it should be done.