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Neighborhood greenways and Prop 1 are about much more than bicycling

As neighborhood greenways quickly gain grassroots and political support in Seattle, the city could be on the verge investing in miles of the family-safe residential roads every year.

In a front-page story in the Seattle Times, Mike Lindblom explains the vision behind neighborhood greenways and the funding plan that could make them a reality.

From Seattle Times:

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Greenways have become a political selling point for Proposition 1, a proposal to add a $60 annual car-tab fee to collect $204 million over 10 years for transit, pavement, pedestrian and cycling projects. Proposition 1 includes a potential $937,500 a year for two miles of greenway per year in addition to those already planned, according to a city-budget scenario.

“It’s not about getting people out of cars, it’s about letting people who want to ride bikes get out and ride their damn bikes,” said a smiling Eli Goldberg, a University District greenway advocate who encouraged an audience last week to campaign for Proposition 1.

Lindblom also spoke with John Fox, a Proposition 1 opponent, who makes a very half-hearted and ill-informed attempt to paint neighborhood greenways as “short-shrifting” sidewalks.

Proposition 1 opponent John Fox replies that greenways are an OK idea but show misplaced priorities, considering the ballot measure envisions only nine blocks of new sidewalks a year. “It’s inappropriate to put that amount into this (greenways) package while short-shrifting sidewalks, road repair and bridges.”

What Fox may not be aware of is that neighborhood greenways create a pedestrianized atmosphere that make the roadways comfortable and safer for running, playing and cycling in the streets themselves (as shown in this excellent and often-cited StreetFilms video). In fact, in neighborhoods with very few sidewalks, neighborhood greenways and the focused traffic calming they come with could be an affordable alternative or temporary solution to the missing sidewalk problem in many parts of the city. We can create miles of neighborhood greenways far faster than sidewalks. Neighborhood greenways also include needed road repairs to make them safe for cycling (and, therefore, for all road users).

When done right, neighborhood greenways create roads that feel more like trails (AKA “greenways”) than busy streets. By focusing traffic calming on one neighborhood street at a time, the city can create a safe and fast people-powered arterial to connect people’s homes with the places they need to go (schools, commercial centers, parks, transit stops, etc) within their neighborhoods.

Much of the money spent on neighborhood greenways (sometimes half or more) is spent creating new, very safe crossings where the greenway meets a busy street. In the case of the upcoming Wallingford greenway on 44th/43rd, the project includes a new crossing at Stone Way. This will help reconnect the neighborhood long split by this road and make it easier and safer to access the Route 16 bus stops on Stone.

A safe crossing at 43rd and Stone (pictured) would make it safer and easier to access this bus stop. (via Google Street View)

Note also that this safe crossing is only possible because the city redesigned Stone Way a couple years ago. That road diet, which was very controversial at the time, has provided the city with all kinds of tools to increase the safety of crossing the street on foot. In its old four-lane design, the only option would have been to install a traffic signal, which would likely cost more than the entire Wallingford greenway budget.

This is one example of how the city’s past efforts to increase road safety on arterials have enabled even more road safety projects today.

However, the message that neighborhood greenways are about much more than bikes got a bit lost on Q13, which ran a report this weekend titled “Bikes drive Proposition 1 debate: Proposition would add new ‘bike greenways.’” Many parts of the report are good (Anna, the mom with her kids toward the end, hits the nail on the head), but the headline and story framing are a bit off.

It may be true that bicycle advocates have been among the most vocal so far in support of Proposition 1. But that needs to change. Half the funding raised from Prop 1 will go to awesome (though not often sexy) transit reliability and speed improvements, and we need people out there explaining how those improvements work and making transit the center of the Prop 1 campaign.

Bicycle-specific funding makes up only a small part of the proposed Prop 1 spending. Bicycle, pedestrian and freight improvements combined make up only 22 percent of the total proposed funding. This bill is very good for bicycle access and road safety for all users, but it’s also much much more than that once the transit improvements (49 percent) and road repairs (29 percent) are considered.

We should not undersell this proposition by focusing only on the smallest (though, perhaps most exciting) slice of the pie.

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22 responses to “Neighborhood greenways and Prop 1 are about much more than bicycling”

  1. My impression is that transit advocates aren’t out in front on Prop 1 because they’re not happy with what transit improvements they’re getting. That may be misguided.

  2. Fox may not be aware of the potential of greenways, but I assure you he’s aware that the current greenway plan runs through Wallingford. Wealthy, well-connected, Wallingford, which already has excellent pedestrian access and pretty good bike access. He’s not telling people that greenways are bad or couldn’t be applied in places without sidewalks. He’s telling people, “They’re taking your car money and spending it on their greenway, while they leave your neighborhood behind without sidewalks.” That’s the sort of argument that gets people up in arms.

    And that argument will always resonate until sidewalks in Seattle are pretty much ubiquitous.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      That’s an excellent point. Greenway spending must have a social equity goal. Perhaps neighborhood without sidewalks could even have priority. These are ideas we have to decide as we move forward with these plans.

      Plus, the Wallingford greenway isn’t part of Prop 1. But I see your point.

      1. The 17th/18th Ave S Greenway which is currently being implemented on Beacon Hill (wayfinding signs are in, paint soon to come!) has sections without curbs that are very beat up. The Greenway will be a great and affordable way to improve this suboptimal infrastructure.

      2. As someone who supports walking, biking, and transit, I think the 44th/43rd greenway is awful on its own merits and in terms of building support for greenways. Okay, it connects to the schools, great, but if the idea is to create an alternative to 45th the proposed 46th-47th/bike-ped bridge over I-5 is a better option, though admittedly longer-term (how do you even get across the freeway going eastbound?). Even if you want to build a greenway south of 45th and/or right now, 41st would seem to be a better option for people outside the neighborhood because of the existing bridge over Aurora.

        Though I’m not familiar with them, the others on the map in Lindblom’s piece look like potentially productive routes (though only Beacon Hill is in a particularly poor area), with the exception of the short stretch of 9th Ave NE (also in an area not lacking for sidewalks or money, though the sidewalks on 9th near the playground may be narrow and on only one side, I haven’t been there in forever, and the U-District may be the poorest area north of the Ship Canal), though it would be nice if the 17th Ave NW route continued past Market to the Burke-Gilman Missing Link. (Is that east/west route in the U-District really supposed to go on 50th as the map makes it look?)

      3. Okay, I only just noticed that the map on the Times piece is actually a slideshow of closer-in maps so I don’t have to squint.

        *On the Ballard east/west route, what’s wrong with the current signed route on 56th, which connects to the zoo’s northwest loop under Phinney, as a greenway candidate? Or do greenways need to be relatively straight and flat?

        *Looks like the east/west U-District route is in fact on 47th, but that just makes the Wallingford route more head-scratching. It would be nice if we could extend it up 22nd to 54th.

      4. Hey Morgan —

        I love that you’re looking critically at the routes. Just so you know, the stretch on the 9th is pretty much off the discussion table based on conversations with the UCDS parents.

        We’re having a weekend event this coming Sunday to explore a route concept along the 12th. Please feel welcome to join us!


      5. Hey Morgan —

        I love that you’re looking critically at the routes. Just so you know, the stretch on the 9th is pretty much off the discussion table based on conversations with the UCDS parents.

        We’re having a weekend event this coming Sunday to explore a route concept along the 12th. Please feel welcome to join us!

  3. Yo Jo

    The comments in the Times story are quite sad really. I try and add my bit to the noise by pointing out how wrong some of them can be. From my perspective, if everyone on a greenway street wants it, there is not one single thing to complain about. The amount of money needed is very small.

    1. Times comments are a lost cause.

      1. Tom Fucoloro

        I wish the Times would get rid of the comment voting system and either let comments thread or have them chronological (newest or oldest first, don’t care). Comment voting systems just allow the status quo to shout down all new ideas and is not very useful for a healthy conversation. At least in the comment firestorms that happen on Slog it’s easier to see a wider variety of opinions.

      2. Tom Fucoloro

        After all, I don’t blame folks for not wanting to waste their days voting on Seattle Times comments. I wonder who these people casting votes are. I don’t know anyone who does that.

      3. Gary

        It seems to me that the Seattle Times Comments sections are full of paid hacks. As in paid by people who have political agendas that they think they can promote by dominating the comments.

        It’s that or the unemployment rate is far worse than I thought and these people have nothing better to do.

  4. jeff

    Unfortunately the budget for greenways in Seattle (470K/mile) is about twice as much per mile as they are paying in Portland (250K/mile). Is there anything that Seattle can build in a cost efficient manner?

    1. Eli

      I’m curious how the $470K/mile figure has gotten circulated…is this just because of the jutaposition of a 2 mile per year target with the ~$1 mil theoretical annual funding in Mike Lindblom’s article?

      FWIW, I’ve never heard SDOT claim it would cost that much.

      1. Tom Fucoloro

        Yeah, here’s what Mike wrote: “Proposition 1 includes a potential $937,500 a year for two miles of greenway per year in addition to those already planned, according to a city-budget scenario.”

        I’m guessing that means that some of “those already planned” are dependent on Prop 1 for funding, and the two miles per year are extra that are yet unplanned? I have asked SDOT for clarification and will update when I learn more. I highly doubt SDOT anticipates $470k/mile. after all, the whole Wallingford greenway (abt 1 mile) is only costing $110,000 (though we’ll see if that’s good enough).

  5. ODB

    “Bikes Drive Prop. 1 Debate”?
    Who the hell frames the “debate”?
    More like, “News Outlets Frame Prop. 1 as About Bicycles Even Though They Get a Tiny Fraction of the Funding”
    Or “Opponents Succeed in Mischaracterizing Prop. 1 as a Bike Boondoggle”

  6. […] greenways have recently seen a lot of press, including articles in The Seattle Times, Publicola, Seattle Bike Blog, and The Atlantic […]

  7. […] the letter does not mention it, Proposition 1 is vital to accelerating the creation of neighborhood greenways around the city. Without Prop 1, there is no […]

  8. […] in the day we biked to the Arboretum with Brad and the Yes on Prop 1-mobile. We communed with nature for quite a while, but eventually got too cold and wet and took […]

  9. […] of the project is an enhanced crossing at Stone, which will include a concrete median island to help people biking and walking cross the busy, wide roadway. Motor vehicles will not be able to make a left turn from 43rd onto to Stone […]

  10. […] and locations further north? The Greenway plan will be either DOA or delayed for years however, if Proposition 1 does not […]

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