Members of the North Seattle community are working with the city to make streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians through a network of greenways.
Cathy Tuttle co-founded the Seattle Neighborhood Greenways group two years ago and now serves as its executive director. Tuttle likes to ride her bike but didn’t feel safe on most of Seattle’s streets.
Greenways are residential streets that have a low volume of traffic. The greenway is a place where cyclists and pedestrians can safely get through a neighborhood without fear. They often run parallel to a neighborhood’s major arterial and lead to neighborhood highlights: parks, libraries, business districts and connect to other neighborhoods. They’re designed for children, the elderly and car-less commuters.
The Seattle group has grown to include another type of greenway: areas with difficult-to-cross arterial streets.
The greenways group has about 1,000 active members split into 23 groups that focus on specific neighborhoods. The group meets monthly as a citywide coalition, to “share ideas and push forward on a lot of safe-street programs,” Tuttle said.
The grassroots group is making headway. In the most recent release of Seattle’s Bike Master Plan, 95 percent of the proposed bikeways are greenways that the group would like to see. The group meets and works with the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to make these kinds of things happen.
“They’ve been good partners,” Tuttle said.
Two years ago, she said, greenways weren’t even part of the conversation in Seattle.
SDOT Bicycle and Pedestrian Programs manager Sam Woods said adding greenways is complementary to the existing bike and pedestrian planning SDOT already does. Seventy percent of Seattle’s streets are residential, she said, and the city has the ability to create a connection using those quiet streets.
Different greenways have different price tags. Often, the streets are reduced to 20 mph and have speed bumps and greenway signs are installed. Some are nearly complete, while others need wider sidewalks or the most expensive improvement: a new crosswalk. As more greenways are implemented, Woods expects the price to go down and efficiency to improve.
The Seattle Neighborhood Greenways group is funded through a mixture of private individual donors, organizations and foundations.
Finding safe routes
The neighborhood groups do crowd-sourced mapping to determine where the routes should be. From there, they organize scouting walks and bike rides to determine the best routes. Residential streets with easy geographical features and existing greenway structures always come out on top.
A few years ago Ballard resident Jennifer Litowski bought a bike trailer so she could bike around the neighborhood with her young son. She often found herself putting her bike on her car and driving a mile or two until she was at a park or by a road where she felt safe biking. After that, she began getting involved with the Ballard greenway group. The Ballard group has about 20 people with an email list of more than 120 people.
“As walkable as some of the neighborhood is, there’s still a lot of places where it’s not easy and people don’t feel safe,” Litowski said. “When you’re out with your kids or you have a bad hip, your needs [need to be] taken into account.”
Ballard has one completed greenway that’s more than two miles long on Northwest 58th Street. The greenway links Golden Gardens, downtown and Fremont. Online, there are proposals for seven additional greenways in Ballard.
“We would like everybody in the city to be less than half a mile away from a safe route,” Litowski said.
‘Stepping up to change’
Many people walk and bike because they don’t have the money or don’t want to invest in a car, Tuttle said. Andres Salomon is one of those people. Salomon, a software engineer, and his wife used to live in Boston, where he lived car-free, and they decided to do the same when he moved to Seattle and saw the traffic.
Salomon runs the Northeast Seattle group, which covers includes Bryant, Ravenna, Wedgewood, Windermere, View Ridge, Roosevelt, Sand Point and Laurelhurst.
The group has 50 people on its mailing list and more than double that following online. The Northeast group currently has one 1.4-mile greenway on 38th Avenue Northeast, which connects to the Burke-Gilman Trail, Thornton Creek Elementary School and residential homes. There are proposals for more than 10 more greenways in the area online.
“We envision a greenway between every arterial street,” Salomon said. “I’m pretty proud of the trajectory that we’re getting to take.”
In the next 10 years, the greenways group would like to have 250 miles of greenways throughout the city. At current budget levels, SDOT wouldn’t be able to create that many greenways by 2023, Woods said.
By the end of the month, two greenways in Seattle will be finished, with a total of 9.5 miles, and there are about 20 miles in progress. Tuttle thinks it will take SDOT’s staff seeing the streets as a place for people.
“I hope they can step up to that rate of change,” Tuttle said.
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