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Durkan climate crisis executive order includes more free transit for students, creation of ‘urban pedestrian zones’

More school kids on public transit, studying more free transit in the city, and identifying sites for new “urban pedestrian zones” in Seattle — as voters are choosing her successor this Election Day, Mayor Jenny Durkan is rolling out new environmental initiatives for the city as part of her attendance at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

Durkan’s executive order directs the studies and expansion of the ORCA Opportunity Program to provide free ORCA cards to Seattle Public School students. The program will now provide free, unlimited use cards to middle school students adding 8,000 more kids to the program already utilized by more than 13,000 students at the city’s public high schools.

The Seattle Times reports the order also “instructs the Seattle Department of Transportation to study expanding free transportation, with an emphasis on ‘equity and climate implications’ for minors, including Black, Indigenous and other students of color, those from low-income and unhoused families and youths with disabilities.”

The order also calls on the transportation department to expand the city’s Stay Healthy Streets program to establish the “city’s first urban pedestrian zone.” Potential sites for the urban pedestrian zones will be identified in December for implementation of the first location by next summer. One idea floating around City Hall for years has been the creation of a so-called Capitol Hill “superblock” that would, as CHS reported in late 2019, redirect or incentivize car and other vehicular traffic to go around a defined group of city blocks instead of through it so that pedestrians, cyclists and residents have more space and peace of mind –and cleaner air — inside it.

While the order likely falls short of creation of a Pike/Pine Superilles, it could set the groundwork to begin the long-sought transformation of the busy food, drink, entertainment, and nightlife area.

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