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Neighborhood-Powered Streets, Part 1: Greenways find new political momentum in Seattle

This story kicks off of a series about Seattle’s young neighborhood greenway movement we are publishing this week. In the first installment, we look at neighborhood greenway design and Seattle’s newly-found political power supporting them.

Bicycle advocates have worked tirelessly to create safer routes across the city, between neighborhoods and towards downtown. Because of these efforts, each year commuting to work and otherwise traveling through out the city has become safer and more popular. But what about trips to the neighborhood park, to the bar or to the grocery store? What about the 40 percent of trips in America that are two miles or less?

Enter Beacon BIKES, Spokespeople and Seattle’s budding, organic neighborhood greenway movement. I say “organic” because the movement has truly started from the bottom-up by neighborhood residents who saw a way to make the lives of themselves, their children and their neighbors healthier, safer and more fun. By creating neighborhood-focused bike groups, residents are taking back their streets, pushing the city for greenways focused on intra-neighborhood connections. In a very short period of time, neighborhood biking groups in Wallingford and Beacon Hill have made huge progress and have drawn an impressive amount of city political support led by Councilmember Sally Bagshaw.

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Councilmember Bagshaw standing on a "sharrow flower" in Portland

“This will make connections abound the city for people like me who want to ride a bike,” said Bagshaw, who is chair of the Parks Committee. “They connect places that people want to go, whether it’s schools or parks.”

Sometimes referred to as bike boulevards, Seattle is following Portland’s lead by turning to the term “neighborhood greenways” to reflect the positive effects the projects can have on people walking, neighborhood culture and in creating more environmentally sound stormwater capture systems.

“My goal is to be able to bring the neighborhoods in as well as the bicyclists,” said Bagshaw. “It’s not just a bicycle issue.”

What is a neighborhood greenway?

A neighborhood greenway is basically a road project that turns a low-traffic neighborhood street into an extremely safe corridor that de-emphasizes motor vehicle travel. Cars can still use neighborhood greenways to access houses and other destinations along the way, but through-travel would be discouraged. Methods for achieving this can vary from speed bumps to traffic circles to concrete medians at intersections that force motor vehicles to turn.

Meanwhile, bicycle use is enhanced by efforts such as turning stop signs away from the greenway at intersections and by creating very safe crossings at busy arterial intersections. To goal is to create a street so safe “you would allow your eight-year-old daughter to ride alone in it,” said Bagshaw.

Bicycle boulevards and neighborhood greenways have been created all over the country, but in Seattle we hear about the ones in Portland the most. I had the chance to check out the Going St neighborhood greenway a few months ago. If I had any doubt about the potential these projects have for making bicycles and safe and efficient, they vanished after just a couple blocks riding without stop signs.

The greenways can also fall into a category of linear parks, and could be used to connect existing parks to each other. Because of the heavy traffic calming and enhanced arterial crossings, neighborhood greenways are faster, safer and more comfortable for people walking as well as biking.

“This is really what Olmstead had in mind” with his “string of pearls” idea for Seattle parks, said Bagshaw.

The projects may also be good opportunities for Seattle Public Utilities to make improvements to the city’s water runoff system by planting more vegetation and installing bioswales and other methods that are effective at cleaning and/or capturing stormwater. For this reason, the projects may also be a good way for multiple city departments to split the project costs and share resources.

Here is a great StreetFilms video about Portland’s neighborhood greenways:

Portland’s Bike Boulevards Become Neighborhood Greenways from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

Tomorrow, we will take a closer look at two neighborhood groups that are taking back the streets in front of their homes and paving the way for other groups to follow in their sharrows.

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8 responses to “Neighborhood-Powered Streets, Part 1: Greenways find new political momentum in Seattle”

  1. biliruben

    Any suggestions for a neighborhood (Lake City) who’s lack of any sort of bike or ped infrastructure is bordering on criminally negligent on the city’s part, but has no existing organizations and substantial neighborhood resistance to anything non-car?

    I’m not much of an organizer, and don’t have much in terms of extra time (two working full-time parents with a kid), but if there is anything productive I could do to get some sort of infrastructure so I wouldn’t feel like I was risking my kid’s life any time I take him out in anything but my pick-up, I’d be willing to make what effort I can.

    1. bikefish

      McGinn reported that he got more positive than negative responses regarding the reconfiguration of 125th – that suggests there are a lot of folks in Lake City who agree with you. Hopefully some of them read this blog – maybe even the One who will take this idea and be the catalyst you can rally around. Good luck! Momentum is already in your favor.

  2. Thank you so much for writing about greenways Tom. I feel they have the potential to completely, quickly, and affordably transform Seattle for ALL cyclists.

  3. Vermon

    I too live in Lake City. I too would like to see more bike friendly routes in the area. I have the time to help in any way! I’d like to meet the organizers who put the Beacon Hill greenways in gear as a start. Any other ideas please share!


    1. biliruben

      Good to hear, Vermon!

      It would be nice to get a dedicated group together to discuss the possible.

      If I didn’t hate facebook…

  4. […] blog Totcycle has identified several Ballard streets for consideration.  Seattle Bike Blog has excellent coverage on the topic and encouraged readers to use the comments section to get organized in their […]

  5. […] all the things SNG leaders have accomplished since launching not so long ago (can you believe we wrote this series only a year and a half ago?), the most powerful result has been simply empowering residents in […]

  6. […] Just ten days after Mayor Mike McGinn wrote a lengthy letter explaining why he was going forward with the controversial NE 125th Street changes, I wrote the first post in a four-part series about two groups of neighbors — one in Wallingford and one on Beacon Hill — who had started getting together with the intention of gathering a coalition of residents, organizations and businesses in their neighborhoods to urge road safety changes. They were frustrated that they could not safely or easily bike to school or to the grocery store with their kids because the streets were too dangerous. This was my first big story about Seattle Neighborhood Greenways. […]

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