Today, Seattle Neighborhood Greenways released a community-sourced map and proposal identifying 130 miles of resident-requested “open streets” for safe walking, biking, and rolling during this period of social-distancing.
Governor Inslee’s newly extended stay-at-home order currently allows walking and biking for exercise and essential transportation, with the expectation that people stay at a minimum distance of 6’ apart.
Narrow sidewalks (97% of Seattle’s sidewalks are too narrow for people to safely pass each other), missing sidewalks (the case for about ¼ of the city), and crowding at local parks and trails have made it difficult for local residents to enjoy fresh air and recreation at a safe social distance. Responding to these reports, Seattle Neighborhood Greenways created a community survey, shared widely by local news outlets. To date, 250 requests have been made for specific streets to be opened for walking, biking, skating, and other non-car based modes of transportation.
“It’s not just a matter of creating more space for people to walk their dogs, bike with their kids, or get a healthy run in — which is clearly needed. It’s also needed space for people getting to and from essential jobs and services,” suggests Clara Cantor, Community Organizer at SNG. “Transportation comes in second only to housing for major household expenses in Seattle. And now, especially, with finances tight for folks, walking and biking are the most affordable means for getting to work for many of our city’s essential workers. We’ve got to make sure people can get where they need to go safely.”
To date, the City has implemented nine miles of a Stay Healthy Streets initiative featuring the open streets model: i.e., streets that are open to people walking, biking, skating, and rolling, allowing only local access to drivers. Today, eleven more miles of Stay Healthy Streets are being implemented by city staff.
“We’re grateful for what SDOT and the Mayor’s Office have already accomplished. The beauty of this solution is how easy and affordable it is to create a Stay Healthy Street,” adds Gordon Padelford, Executive Director for SNG. “The expense is low—one driver in a city truck, distributing a traffic cone and two street signs to each intersection—and the payoff is so high. We’re receiving loads of stories and photos of how people are making use of, and enjoying, the extra space for outdoor recreating. Right now, only a handful of neighborhoods are benefiting from the Stay Healthy Streets program. We really want to see this expanded to reach the whole city.”
SNG’s collaboratively-created eight-point proposal, Safe Streets for Social Distancing, identifies another key equity issue: The proposed 130-mile network of open streets serves neighborhoods lacking abundant access to public parks, backyards, and/or sidewalks; and takes pressure off of the larger public parks, where overcrowding has led to police enforcement.
KL Shannon, Community Organizer for SNG and a longtime social justice activist in Seattle, says, “From what I’ve seen, in years of working with folks in Seattle’s black and brown communities, is that a police presence makes a difference in who feels safe being out and about in public spaces. For folks who are getting targeted by implicit bias—just for being young, black, and outside—over-policing in the parks is going to be a disincentive for youth to get more physical activity while we’re in quarantine.”
The open streets model for safe social distancing is part of a national and international streets-for-social-distancing movement. Other cities that have responded to the safety necessities of the COVID-19 pandemic with the open street solution include Portland, Vancouver, Victoria, Oakland, Minneapolis, Denver, New York City, Philadelphia, Montreal, Lima, Paris, and Berlin. If the full SNG-proposed 130-mile network were to be rolled out, it would be the biggest open streets implementation in the U.S.
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