Seattle streets don't have to be a war between the bike and the car. These guest columnists argue that the establishment of "neighborhood greenways" would create more — and more pleasant — choices for bikers and pedestrians in our communities.
AS your neighbors and fellow community members, we have a vision of a Seattle where we can all safely and easily drive, walk or bike to the grocery store, the park, the library or our children’s schools.
Seattle traffic can make driving a headache, while walking or biking along busy streets does not feel safe or pleasant for most of us. We propose a solution to this problem that has worked for many cities across the county: the implementation of a network of “neighborhood greenways” for safe and efficient travel by foot and by bicycle.
What is a neighborhood greenway and how do they differ from other streets? Let’s look at two streets.
The first is an arterial with a posted 35 mph speed limit. The roar of traffic makes it hard to chat with neighbors. The sidewalks are dirty from vehicle exhaust and there is debris on the road where bike sharrows are painted.
This street feels unpleasant for walking and biking. Pedestrian fatality rates increase exponentially with vehicle speed. That means 5 percent of pedestrians will die when hit by a car going 20 mph. At 30 mph, 45 percent will die. At 40 mph, 85 percent will die. When your intuition tells you that fast-moving streets are uncomfortable to walk or bike on, you are right!
The second street is a nearby quiet neighborhood street. This street has more trees and plantings that slow traffic as well as clean the air and filter stormwater. Neighbors, both young and old, like to walk their dogs and jog on this street. At arterial crossings, widened curbs and traffic islands make it easier and safer to cross. The street is thoughtfully laid out to connect the local destinations we want to get to the most, along signed routes with the fewest hills and hazards.
During the school year, you may see a “train” of kids walking and biking to school together, escorted by their parents. This street feels less like a speedway and more like a place in our neighborhood we use and love. It is a street that connects destinations and communities. This second street is a neighborhood greenway.
How do we get these great neighborhood greenways in Seattle?
Seattle does not have any neighborhood greenways — yet. After riding on and learning about neighborhood greenways in cities such as St. Paul, Berkeley and Portland, neighbors in places including Beacon Hill, Northeast Seattle, Wallingford, Ballard and the University District have been meeting to bring their benefits to our own communities.
Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, a greenway proponent, has made several blog posts on the topic, but we need support at all levels of government to make these streets a reality. We hope for strong community and political support to invest funding such as vehicle-license fees into planning and developing a network of Seattle greenways. By letting our elected officials know that we support neighborhood greenways, we give them the courage to develop the streets we need.
We are your neighbors. We want streets that are safe for us, for our grandparents and for our children to walk or bike on. We don’t want to take away your cars (or ours!), we aren’t going to force anyone to walk or bike, we don’t want to remove parking spaces and we aren’t going to create congestion.
We just want to have the choice to walk or bike from our homes along pleasant streets to the store, the park, the library and our schools. We want everyone to enjoy traveling around this beautiful city we all call home. Please join us as we explore how to build these people-friendly streets in Seattle.
Dylan Ahearn is chair of Beacon BIKES; Cathy Tuttle is chair of Wallingford Spokespeople; and Michael Snyder is chair of Ballard Greenways.