What’s Next for Healthy Streets in Seattle?
In the spring of 2020, Seattle Neighborhood Greenways pushed the idea of Open Streets as one of our 8 Solutions for Safe Social Distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. These streets are closed to vehicle through-traffic and OPEN to people walking, rolling and biking in the street (local access, deliveries and emergency services are still allowed).
Thanks to the outspoken support of neighborhood advocates like you, the City introduced Stay Healthy Streets a few miles at a time until we had over 25 miles in 13 locations around the city! Other open street programs were also launched, including streets as recreation spaces near parks (Keep Moving Streets); streets to alleviate pick-up and drop-off stress in front of schools (School Streets); pedestrian plazas for gathering and dining (Cafe Streets) and more.
The programs received a HUGE amount of public support. People were eager to engage in a process that yields more permanent changes.
Through 2021, we continued to conduct community engagement and outreach, and push SDOT to improve and expand the programs. Now, over two years since their launch, what’s going on with the pilot programs and what’s the plan for the future?
What’s Going On Now?
The Healthy Streets program now has two distinct components with different sets of goals.
1. Healthy Streets as routes for people to walk, roll or bike safely and comfortably -- whether for transportation, recreation or both.
SDOT is plodding slowly ahead to make 20 miles of Stay Healthy Streets permanent, starting with Greenwood’s 1st Ave SHS--part of which is now completed. Engagement and planning are well underway for routes on Beacon Hill, Lake City and High Point. There are parallels and overlaps with other SDOT program goals including Neighborhood Greenways and Safe Routes to School.
2. Healthy Streets as destinations for people to gather.
A great example is the immensely popular street in Little Brook, in collaboration with Lake City Collective. A new mural was painted last fall. South Park and Georgetown are also following this example. There are parallels and overlaps with other SDOT program goals including Home Zones, Pedestrianized Streets and Café Streets, as well as temporary or event-based programs like Festival Streets and Playstreets.
SDOT has also taken on some of our other recommendations, and has been successfully asking people what alternative ways they want to find to meet community needs--overlapping tools from this program with others such as Home Zones, Pedestrian Streets and Playstreets. "Want to host a play street on an existing Healthy Street? No permit required!"
The city’s three Keep Moving Streets--streets for recreation that expand and amplify park space--are also continuing. Notably, completion of the Green Lake Outer Loop construction is expected this year! Lake Washington Boulevard has been open for select summer weekends and holidays, and SDOT has launched a Task Force to conduct community engagement for a permanent street solution.
What should happen next?
The last two years have fundamentally changed many aspects of how we use our streets. Transportation focus has shifted in a big way--from commuting routes to and from downtown, to a more dispersed neighborhood-based approach.
How are we getting to school, to the library, to visit our friends and neighbors? As our awareness and appreciation for neighborhood routes and community connections grows, we've started to value and accept the Healthy Streets and similar programs as the norm. This is the transportation planning model that Seattle Neighborhood Greenways has long advocated for--one that increases accessibility and mobility options for women, kids, elders and those who work outside of the downtown core, or outside of 9-5 hours.
We believe a successful Healthy Streets program will have a unified vision within SDOT, with branding that is easy to communicate, recognize and understand. This requires simplifying the SDOT definition of a “Healthy Street” and combining existing programs with overlapping goals to minimize bureaucratic complexity. We also need a remediation plan for upgrading existing streets to the improved standards of the new program.
The program must also have these 6 elements:
Thank you for your continued advocacy!
- Strong community engagement strategy, with a focus on serving community needs, and a public interface that makes this program accessible and the streets easy to use either informally or for special events.
- Clear goal for traffic calming, including a willingness to inconvenience car drivers. The program should include an expanded menu of options for street designs including diverters and give neighborhoods the opportunity to find creative approaches, include art and placemaking elements, expand the tree canopy, and create places for people that fulfill community needs. In order to decrease the volume of car traffic, the design needs to intentionally inconvenience car drivers who are not going to local destinations.
- Adequate budget to implement designs completely and with high-quality materials that will not fall apart right away or require exceptionally high ongoing maintenance. For example, concrete barriers are both safer and require significantly less maintenance than plastic flex-posts that are regularly run over by car drivers and create unsafe road detritus. Funding should be provided for infrastructure to expand the program and upgrading existing temporary materials or inadequate infrastructure, as well as for maintenance, community placemaking, and community utilization.
- Equitable access and distribution of routes that are prioritized in neighborhoods that have less safe streets to walk, roll and bike on, less tree canopy, and less access to public community spaces. Community spaces created need to intentionally lift up
- Strong standards for Healthy Streets that adhere to NACTO standards for bicycle boulevards, at minimum, and are consistent across SDOT programs with similar goals. Our recommendations include:
- Routes planned with a continuous, logical, and direct route
- Streets designed to be safe and comfortable for people walking, rolling, and biking, including both decreasing speeds and decreasing the number of cars through use of diverters and other barriers.
- Street crossings that prioritize greenway traffic by default, cause minimal delay to greenway users, and prioritize safe and convenient crossings of arterials
- Green infrastructure that enhances the environment such as stormwater drainage, tree canopy, art and placemaking elements, and other opportunities to create places for people that fulfill community needs
- Regular, transparent evaluation process with published reports. Evaluation should occur on a schedule every few years, not just once after the infrastructure goes into operation, and should include measurements for traffic speed and volume, rates of compliance at intersections, and qualitative information about community utilization of the space and the user experience gathered through surveys, interviews, or neighborhood conversations. We should also create automatic triggers so that when a report shows undesirable conditions, SDOT will automatically move to add the elements necessary to improve those conditions.