A 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 for children, efficient and comfortable for people walking and biking and cost effective, to name a few great points.
The Times story was largely positive, but — compared to my idea story — it focused too much on adults biking and not enough on the benefits to people walking and people living along such routes. After all, they aren’t really for people who currently find biking and walking efficient and comfortable, but for people who do not yet feel that way.
Then came the Letter to the Editor. As soon as I read the headline “This only supports 1 percent of the population,” I knew things were about to drive right off a factual cliff. Sigh…
In fact, Seattle has among the highest rates of walking and biking in the nation. 11.5 percent of people walk or bike as their primary way of getting to work. Add on top of that the unmeasured (but certainly very high) number of people who walk or bike for other tasks — like going to a grocery store, restaurant or park — or the number of people with mobility issues who need more safe crossings at busy streets, and you see that this letter’s “one percent” assertion is so laughable that I’m amazed they published it.
The letter then goes on to say that the planned Wallingford neighborhood greenway eliminates half the parking (it actually adds parking) by placing bike lanes on the street (there are no bike lanes in the plans). The letter writer then bemoans the addition of parking elsewhere because those spots had been blocked due to safety concerns (again, not true).
He then says the mayor is wasting $200,000 on it, yet the whole project only costs $100,000 from a citizen-initiated neighborhood project grant supported by the neighborhood council. Most of that money is being spent on a safe ADA-compliant crossing at Stone Way that will help people walking and biking cross that buys street (and access the transit stops).
So, basically, almost every piece of information in the letter is not true, and all the facts could have very easily been checked by a single phone call to SDOT, which holds regular business hours (here’s a post with lots of details and an SDOT presentation).
I don’t expect to agree with the Seattle Times Ed Board on very many things, and of course a Letter to the Editor does not necessarily represent their opinion. But it seems like they at least have a duty to get raw hard facts right before publishing something.
In the meantime, it’s probably best for the ever-growing number of neighborhood greenway supporters in the city to use this as a learning opportunity. If people think neighborhood greenways are just for the four percent (and growing!) of Seattleites who bike to work every day, then the projects will face serious opposition. But they are about making our neighborhoods more family-friendly, which is why so many people from all walks of life are getting involved in their neighborhoods today. The promise is powerful and the costs are low.