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Neighborhood greenways are front-page news

I can’t say I disagree that neighborhood greenways are front-page news in Seattle. With more and more neighborhood groups forming every week, the political strength and excitement is bringing people together behind safe neighborhood streets in a big way.

If you spy a physical copy of the Seattle Times around town, you will see Madison Park’s Bob Edmiston riding down the street on his over-the-top e-bike setup. Though his motorcycle helmet and mega-reflective clothing might not make an appearance on Copenhagen Cycle Chic any time soon, it’s almost a perfect illustration of how much protection some people feel they would need to ride on some of Seattle’s busy roadways.

From the Seattle Times:


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The streets are outfitted with signs, speed bumps, greenery and other traffic-calming measures, such as crossings and reduced speed limits. This year, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) will build seven miles of greenways — mostly funded by the 2006 Bridging the Gap levy — in Wallingford, Beacon Hill, Ballard and Delridge at a cost of $150,000 per mile.

Residents say they see greenways as a way to deter cars and get more people out in their neighborhoods.

The rallying has gone viral. Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, Google Docs and blog posts are devoted to building greenways from Ballard to Montlake, the Central District and beyond.

To Edmiston, the crowdsourcing makes perfect sense. People usually know the best, safest, fastest way to get around their neighborhoods. Compiling that information is critical to building Seattle’s greenways, he said.

“We’re basically trying to harvest all the tribal knowledge within each neighborhood in order to make a new network,” he said.

A few thoughts on the story:

  • It’s awesome that it’s on the front page. It does a pretty good job of explaining what neighborhood greenways are and the level of citizen they are aiming to help. It’s obviously not some project for the ever-maligned so-called “spandex crowd” stereotype that people love to hate on and disregard. Instead, neighborhood greenways are for people who live in neighborhoods … you know, everyone!
  • Neighborhood groups should find a good way to capitalize on the attention to include some new people who may not have been paying attention before. Maybe a flyer campaign or post on your community blog/forum would be timely and effective.
  • Neighborhood greenways are caught in the same trap that any safe streets movement is caught in: How do you promote the idea of safe streets without implying they are dangerous today and scaring people even further away from walking and biking? Bicycling is safe today, but it could be a whole lot safer. The more people who cycle, the safer it gets for everyone, and the more people cycling the easier it is to accelerate funding for projects to make it even safer. We don’t want to smash the egg before the chicken hatches (or some metaphor like that…)
  • We need to make sure it’s clear that the most expensive portion of that $150,000/mile estimate is for safe crossings of busy streets that serve people walking and accessing transit stops as much as it helps people biking. The sharrows and wayfinding signs are pennies in road project terms. We are underselling neighborhood greenways if we give the impression they are only for people who bike (or want to bike).
  • I don’t have Portland envy. I like Seattle way more. But Portland certainly has the political will to try a lot of ideas before other cities do, and there is no shame in learning for their successes and mistakes to make Seattle a better place. But in the end, our neighborhood greenways are going to be different than theirs due to our often skinnier street widths, our proliferation of traffic circles and all our hills. Seattle’s going to have to have plenty of chances to invent some new solutions for our unique issues.

What do you think?


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17 responses to “Neighborhood greenways are front-page news”

  1. Steve

    First let me say I think neighborhood greenways are a great idea. They’re needed in all the city’s neighborhoods and I look forward to riding them.

    This is what struck me after reading the article. I think it’s really sad that everyone can’t already feel safe riding a bike on Lake Washington Boulevard through the Arboretum. It’s supposed to be a park boulevard not an arterial. The speed limit is 25 mph, but try riding your bike through this beautiful park, and like Mr. Edmiston experienced, someone in a car will be 6″ behind you. I’ve had that happen to me during morning rush hour. I don’t mind riding in traffic at all and I always use the Lake Washington Loop route (with it’s extra hill) instead unless it’s the weekend. It shouldn’t be that way.

  2. merlin

    I found the focus on Bob Edmiston jarring and confusing, and the choice of illustrations further garbled the message. I’m glad that Bob Edmiston is taking the greenway idea into my neighborhood from its hotbeds in Wallingford and Beacon Hill. But the photo of Bob in his bizarre space gear riding in traffic does nothing to convey the concept of a greenway, where young and old mingle on bikes and on foot along leafy residental streets. There’s a lot written about Bob’s safe biking route from Madison Park to the U District – but the maps show greenways in Wallingford, Ballard, Beacon Hill and Delridge. Where exactly does Bob ride? I’m puzzled. The photo of “new greenway signs” on Beacon Hill shows old fashioned wayfinding signs, not greenway signs, and they are marking a separated multi-use trail, not a greenway.
    The impetus for greenways in Seattle did not come from Cascade Bicycle Club or from Sally Bagshaw or from Bob Edmiston, although their support is great – it came from several dynamic neighborhood groups wanting safe, quiet residential streets. Why don’t we learn any names associated with the successful Wallingford Greenway, which has already begun implementation – and has gained the support of residents all along the greenway route?
    I hope I’m wrong, but I’m afraid if I didn’t already know about greenways, this article would make me want to ditch my bike and go buy a car.

    1. merlin

      good grief Merlin, you don’t need to go all negative – Bob Edmiston is doing great work, and the article gives visibility to the whole greenway movement. You must have been reading the comments on the Times article – that would put anybody in a bad mood!

  3. ODB

    Nice to get front page coverage. However, I agree with Tom and Merlin’s comments about Mr. Edmiston’s exotic and expensive gear–this is exactly the wrong image for the intended audience for greenways, i.e., pedestrians and non-hardcore cyclists. I wish the author had picked as her focus the 39-year old mother in Ballard who met her neighbors through greenway planning.

    The other bummer is the article’s emphasis on conflict and danger, e.g. “almost getting killed at least twice a week”; “At least I know the aggressive drivers see me”; “riding alongside the stream of rushed and frustrated drivers can feel daunting”; “narrowly avoiding collisions as drivers sped past, laying on the horn”; “being regularly bullied by cars”; “The theory that bikes have a right to the road and should share lane space with cars on main roads … is hazardous in practice.” I know conflict sells papers, but please.

    By the end of the article, I felt like the Times was at it again, marginalizing bicycling as loony/fringe activity and exploiting the conflict angle.

  4. antijen

    Folks, I know Bob – he’s a great guy, a bit of a character, and a tireless organizer and champion for greenways. The media loves a great personal story and a striking photo. And, I must admit, Bob’s rig is far more striking than me on a 15 min break from work ;-). I’m thrilled to see positive coverage of greenways.

    But…for the next steps, how do you convince the media that ordinary people are doing this and that THAT is the compelling story? I wish I knew – perhaps the internet is a better medium. There are a lot of family cycling and bikes-as-transportation blogs out there that have done more to normalize bike riding as an everyday activity than any newspaper article.

    Getting the message out about pedestrian safety is so crucial but has been a challenge – we talk about it all the time and a significant part of our planning is around pedestrian crossings. But it still gets boiled down to “bike, bike, bike” in these stories. We’ll definitely include greenways walking tours as well as bike rides in our events this spring and summer.

    (a 39 year old mother from Ballard)

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Bob is completely awesome and he speaks his mind. I didn’t mean anything in this story to rag on Bob. He has been an incredible force in keeping things moving, getting involved in Madison Park and helping me and the Central Seattle Greenways folks get started (and lending his projector for the meeting, etc). He’s a vital piece of the whole greenways movement, and I like him just the way he is. He’s a problem solver in a way that I could never be.

      And, it’s not anybody’s fault if a story doesn’t match all our preferred talking points. That’s journalism. The writer is filtering for interesting stories. I know I certainly don’t write only what people want me to write. If I did, I would be a pretty crappy journalist. And I don’t know if extensive media training is really the best use of our time and resources.

      I meant this post more as an opportunity to think about what stories we want to keep pushing for, knowing full and well it’s not always going to get out exactly how we intend. Plus, it’s a citizen movement! Not everyone agrees on the preferred narrative. Which is great.

      1. antijen

        I meant that as a reply to the comments, not to your post, which has good food for thought, Tom. In the end, maybe the solution is MORE – more stories, in more venues and more people involved.

    2. JohnS

      For all of you out there planning greenways projects, please keep Feet First in the loop! Our Neighborhood Walking Ambassador program is a great fit with walking tours of prospective greenways. Learn more here:

      http://feetfirst.org/act/ambassadors

  5. Gary

    When I saw that photo of Bob in the morning paper (dead tree version) I was laughing. By the time I got to work yesterday, I was thinking, maybe there is something to that faring business after all.

    I used to own a Zzipper faring but it broke and I haven’t replaced it due to the cost vs value. I can’t ride with a full face helmet as it’s too hot. But I too have more lights than an aid truck, a better flashier vest than Bob and reflective tape all over my fenders. And it does help, I get more room when cars pass because they have more time to prepare what to do and when to pass me.

    What’s really sad is the 300+ comments on that articles lots by people mad that bicyclists somehow aren’t paying their fair share. We go over and over and over that same material and yet people don’t believe that roads are mostly funded via property and Federal Income tax. I think it’s that owning a car is getting more and more expensive, there is more congestion and frustration so they want to blame somebody.

    I am also surprised that the article didn’t mention the top of Capitol Hill. It’s nearly a greenway now from Madison to Yesler on 17th, 18th, 19th, and parts of 20th. Then once you cross Madison there’s lots more quiet residential streets with turns at the end to keep cars from driving through.

  6. kommish

    I commute from W-ford to Madrona on the Lake Washington Loop, and can’t for the life of me figure out why he takes Lake Washington Blvd through the arboretum. It’s no faster and about a million times more dangerous because the road is so narrow. Whereas I love the Loop – it’s calm, with almost zero traffic, with some nice little turns through alleys and past a couple of absolutely luscious gardens. I find I can really power through Montlake pretty quickly, and my whole commute, including the giant hills I climb at either end, is about 35 minutes.
    Anybody got thoughts on the merits of Lake Washington Blvd? Because I’m lost.

    1. Gary

      Once I discovered that there was a parallel road to the one down the middle of the Arboretum, I too have only ridden that way. Its marked last time I looked as a ‘bike way’ as well. I assume there is some traffic on it trying to beat the backup in the arboretum, but it’s a way better option.

      Looking at Google maps, it’s too bad that there isn’t a bike path from E. Mc Gilver and 37th Ave E to the arboretum and through and along the shoreline. The park is public land and it could be done, it’s outside of the golf course and shouldn’t be that big of an issue.

  7. Mike Lindblom

    For your reading pleasure, here’s a greenway news story without “space gear,” from the archives:
    http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2016372160_greenways01m.html

    1. ODB

      Ha! That’s awesome Mike–my ideal greenways article exists, right down to the focus on Jennifer Litowski, and you’ve already written it!

  8. I too regularly ride and commute on Lake Wa Blvd through the arboretum. I know the other roads nearby that will go to the same place. But I have to agree with Steve- it is a scenic, narrow road with a 25mph speed limit. It goes through a park- there are a lot of pedestrians about. Because it is winding and narrow, and drivers have come to think of it as an arterial, a lot of motorists behave badly and pass unsafely here. Steve is right, it shouldn’t be that way. Sometimes on my way home, northbound from Madison, I’ll wind it up to a little over 25 mph on my bike. Even though I am riding the speed limit, cars still pass unsafely and impatiently.
    Overall I was happy to see the front page article on greenways. We desperately need them. The way I see it, a fit and dedicated cyclist will always find a reasonable way to get from point A to point B. Its entirely different for a casual cyclist or if you are riding with your kids. Then you have to carefully plan a route that isn’t going to scare you or be dangerous.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      There have been a lot of ideas thrown around for solving the Lake Washington Blvd traffic problems. I’ve heard people argue for tolling the road near 520 and people argue for closing it to motor vehicles or making it local access only (e.g. putting a barrier at some point in the road that prevent cut-through traffic).

      If these are unpopular or controversial enough to stop them from happening any time soon (or if nobody wants to take it on politically), maybe the city should just line the road with speed humps. Portland has found them to be successful at lowering speeds to nearly 20 mph. Maybe the Neigborhood Safe Speeds Bill could also be used to lower the official limit to 20 (if it passes, of course). I’m not sure if the street qualifies as “non-arterial” or not. It’s obviously a key roadway for many, but it also has a historic designation…

      My point is: There are a lot of good options for solving this problem. Which one are we going to choose?

  9. ODB

    Here are the letter responses that the Times chose to run:

    http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/northwestvoices/2017512760_bikespushforanetworkofsaferroutes.html

    Does a newspaper have any responsibility to vet the accuracy of the letters it prints? Or–with respect to the percentage of the Seattle population that bicycles to work and their tax contribution to road maintenance–is it cool to give a platform to viewpoints that have no basis in fact?

  10. […] front page news story on neighborhood greenways in the Seattle Times earlier this week prompted what I thought was a pretty conversation on the blog about how people looking to promote neighborhood greenways should present them: Good […]

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