Seattle was built with a unique pioneering spirit that sets us apart from other urban centers. That spirit built the Space Needle, Pike Place Market, world-class sports stadiums and one of the most beautiful downtowns of any American city — as well as a culture as innovative as any in the world.
As a growing city we face real challenges, including the interwoven crises of housing and homelessness, an ongoing racial equity reckoning, and an economy devastated by a global pandemic. As we write the next chapter in Seattle’s story, we must embrace our city’s greatest destinations: Seattle’s many neighborhoods with unique character like the Central District, Fremont, Pioneer Square, Columbia City, Queen Anne and West Seattle. Neighborhoods that could, and should, be on the travel wish lists of locals and tourists alike.
The problem? Despite major ongoing efforts — and spending — on transportation, people still can’t move easily and affordably throughout the city. Light rail is steadily coming online for more communities, but its timeline is measured in decades, not months or years. Bike lanes start and abruptly end. Projects like the Downtown Streetcar have fizzled
. And Seattle’s local neighborhoods must be far more walkable, bikeable, and just plain enjoyable for locals and visitors of all ages and abilities.
Seattle’s leaders must be as bold and creative as Seattle itself and consider transportation solutions on a generational scale. If Seattle is going to come close to achieving its ambitious pledge to eliminate climate pollution in the next eight years, it’s past time to swing for the fences. With a new mayor, a shake-up in city leadership and some lessons from the pandemic, this is the moment to think big.
To start, Seattle’s leaders must prioritize active commute infrastructure, including major progress on the bike network. Seattle’s Department of Transportation has made great progress in recent years building bike lanes that serve neighborhoods like Green Lake or Fourth Avenue downtown, but projects that better connect neighborhoods like Eastlake Avenue East and Martin Luther King Jr. Way South are still years out and should be put on a faster track.
It is also past time for the city to cross the finish line to pedestrianize Pike Place Market and build on that progress in neighborhood cores by doing the same in Capitol Hill’s Pike/Pine corridor, Ballard Avenue and the University District’s “Ave.” Pedestrianizing these streets is great for local businesses, the planet, residents and tourists. They turn a visit to Seattle from an hourlong search for parking into a memorable afternoon at an outdoor cafe. And while we’re at it, let’s make Seattle’s popular “Stay Healthy Streets” a permanent fixture of our neighborhoods.
These ideas aren’t novel, and Seattle doesn’t have to start from scratch. Seattle’s elected officials could look beyond U.S. borders to places like Mexico City. Every Sunday, Mexico City closes major streets to cars from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. They even offer free bikes and Rollerblades for users to enjoy.
Cities like Los Angeles clearly took notice. The city allows a local nonprofit to temporarily close streets to cars and reopen for city residents and tourists to enjoy as public parks. The biking, skating, and dancing creates an incredible feeling of community.
Sacramento offers another example where the city’s Slow & Active Streets initiative encourages walking and biking on residential streets by limiting car traffic. Thirty percent of residents reported in a city survey that they were biking or walking and scooting more due to the program.
I work at Expedia Group. Seattle is our hometown. We want it to be one of the most vibrant and connected cities in America — not just for those who live and work here, but for visitors across the country and around the globe. We want people from around the world to experience the food, nature, events and cultures that make each neighborhood a must-visit destination. We won’t be able to realize that vision, however, if visitors can’t easily and safely get there.
These issues are personal. There are small businesses and microbusinesses tucked away in Seattle’s neighborhoods that have meant the world to me — and people who visit our city deserve to check them out.
Connecting walkable neighborhoods with sustainable mass transit and active commute routes is required if we want an equitable economic future and a livable planet — but it’s also what will make our city truly enjoyable. As we look to what’s next in our mobility future, Seattle should do what Seattle does best: build a truly iconic, connected city.