Respect Gayborhood With Safe Streets, Not Rainbow Crosswalks

Eli Goldberg June 25, 2015
(Eli is a former leader of Seattle Neighborhood Greenways who remains committed to safe streets advocacy)
Our brand-new rainbow crosswalks in Capitol Hill have received dozens of well-deserved news articles, garnering nationwide coverage. Kudos to the City for starting to treat Capitol Hill's streets as the community spaces that they are. And it's great to see SDOT take this first step towards tailoring our street spaces for the needs and personalities of our diverse neighborhoods. From the national news coverage the rainbow crosswalks have generated, hopefully, SDOT, you've realized you're onto something bigger than just rainbow-colored crosswalks: you've tapped into the potential of using our streets to respect and strengthen our community identity. But these rainbow crosswalks also tangibly demonstrate the ongoing gap in SDOT's ability to express and act on a understanding of the needs of our individual neighborhood. Even after painting rainbow crosswalks on our streets, it couldn't be clearer that SDOT has just started on the journey of learning how to act on and support our neighborhood's unique needs and values. Capitol Hill is indeed a 'gay' neighborhood – but it's a lot more than that. It's a neighborhood where we see ourselves as the walkable core of Seattle. We all pay a dramatic premium for it. And tragically, Capitol Hill's identity and success as a walkable neighborhood has taken place without SDOT's intervention – and not because of any vision or leadership from the city for the walkability of our neighborhood's streets. Through literally decades of SDOT's inaction, our core mixed-use streets – such as Olive, Pike and Pine – feature outrageously wide road geometry. These 1950s-esque roadway designs unflinchingly prioritize our community's main streets for cars to dangerously speed through our neighborhood above the safety and comfort of those of us who actually invest in our neighborhood by living, working and doing business here. We know from extensive research that speeding drivers on these streets are less likely to notice, let alone yield to, people walking and bicycling. On 11th & John, where I live, I see mothers running like scared rabbits across a two-lane road that's designed like the four-lane arterials that we know to be the most dangerous urban streets possible, just to take their children to Cal Anderson Park. SDOT has done literally nothing to correct these problems at scale, despite thousands of new residents each year attracted to the vision of a walkable community where they can leave their car at home. And it's a vision that SDOT needs to step up to the plate and help us actively realize. Walking home from work last night, I photographed one of your cute rainbow crosswalks at 10th & Pike. You can see the juxtaposition of the rainbow crosswalk with the unassisted, high-speed arterial crossing (one of numerous) that my neighbors cannot safely walk across. It's a sad symbol of SDOT's continued inaction in prioritizing and building safe and comfortable streets for walking in our neighborhood. The rainbow crosswalks are adorable. I know I will see tourists photograph these daily for years to come. They deserve every inch of the positive press they are receiving. But the best way SDOT can respect LGBT residents like me in Capitol Hill is by actually providing the streets that support the ways we actually live, work and play in our "gayborhood" – on foot. For the tens of thousands of dollars of Street Use permit fees allocated to these rainbow crosswalks, SDOT could have easily fixed some of the worst problems in our neighborhood using modern tactical urbanism methods. If we can creatively find the money and political capital for rainbow crosswalks, why can't we find it for fixing our community's most vital street safety problems? Why do our most dire needs not receive the same urgency and creativity? Rainbow crosswalks are a great first step towards contextually-aware street design, but they don't offer meaningful change on their own. SDOT, you need to meaningfully step up your game in Capitol Hill in 2016. And welcome to our neighborhood. We could really use your help making it better.