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City building and planning neighborhood greenways in all corners of the city this year

The city is catching its groove on neighborhood greenways this year, setting a pace for installing and planning them in all corners of the city simultaneously.

While neighborhood greenways so far have been somewhat experimental and one-off projects, 2014 is set to be the year where — with the help of SDOT Community Liaisons Dawn Schellenberg and Emily Ehlers — the city hits a consistent pace with outreach, design and construction happening on several different projects. With the new system, the city should be able to ratchet up the number of these projects it can get on the ground each year and improve the public outreach process so neighbors have a chance to weigh in on their safety problems early on.

Instead of coming into a neighborhood with a set plan and trying to sell it to a potentially skeptical crowd, the new process includes an initial listening session where neighbors can tell the city what safety problems exist (“I can’t cross this street safely,” “people speed down this residential street to avoid traffic on the main street,” etc). Then, after analyzing the public feedback and looking at city-wide bike and walking route connectivity, the city will return to the neighborhood with a neighborhood greenway plan that addresses the biggest needs. Neighbors — who now have a sense of ownership on the project — then have another chance to weigh in before construction begins.

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There are currently 13 projects in the study or construction phases for 2014 and 2015, including two routes in Rainier Valley, one in West Seattle, three in northeast Seattle, one in Ballard and six in central and eastern neighborhoods.

Here’s the work plan (exact routes and installation schedule are subject to change):

2014 Work Plan MapWhile Seattle is finally figuring out how to expand the neighborhood greenway network, Portland is largely dropping their impressive efforts, citing budget issues. From Bike Portland:

The city’s decision to nearly eliminate local funding for neighborhood greenway construction isn’t due to any conscious opposition in the Portland Bureau of Transportation. At every level, PBOT officials are proud of the program and eager for it to resume.

Instead, it’s a sign of just how severe PBOT’s revenue crunch is — and of the sacrifices the city has made in order to fulfill the $100 million commitments of former Mayor Sam Adams to the new Sellwood Bridge and Orange Line MAX, and also Mayor Charlie Hales’ $11.3-million promise to change PBOT’s image by paving — or in many cases, as it turned out, fog-sealing — 100 miles of city streets.

Portland’s once-mighty neighborhood greenway process installed around 18 miles of neighborhood greenways in 2010, but the city only built two miles in 2013 and plans for three this year.

Meanwhile, Seattle went from zero in 2010 to now building two-to-three times as many miles as Portland with no plans to slow down until every home is within close distance to either a neighborhood greenway, trail or protected bike lane.

This momentum is due in large part to the enthusiastic and ever-growing neighborhood greenway groups around the city, and the growing support system provided to these groups by the Seattle Neighborhood Greenways umbrella organization. Led by Cathy Tuttle and staffed by Gordon Padelford, SNG helps the neighborhood groups identify needs and opportunities to make an impact or apply for grants. Since each neighborhood group is run by volunteers who may not be fully plugged into the political machinations in the city, the support from Tuttle and Padelford is invaluable.

By the end of 2015, a neighborhood greenway network will finally start to appear. What were lone sections here or there will start to make sense in the context of the city’s bike network. It will also become apparent where the most-needed sections of protected bike lanes and trails are to help people get through areas where neighborhood greenways are not possible (often, this means crossing between neighborhoods, which often act as little “islands of bikeability“).

With miles of neighborhood greenways in nearly every part of town, protected bike lanes downtown and the launch of Puget Sounds Bike Share all on the horizon, Seattle’s bike boom is just getting started.

UPDATE: Here’s the work plan with mileage included, from SDOT:

2014 Work Plan+Existing copy

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29 responses to “City building and planning neighborhood greenways in all corners of the city this year”

  1. Dawn Schellenberg is very cool.

  2. Andres Salomon

    SDOT did just reorganize their greenways page as well. It’s worth checking out for plans, open houses, etc. There are open houses for multiple greenways happening this month.


  3. Gordon Padelford

    My ears are burning. Talk of SDOT greenway development would be incomplete without mentioning Emily Ehlers who was hired last fall and works with Dawn. They are a two women powerhouse of greenway outreach! You can see them in action:

    Tonight in Lake City

    This Saturday and next Thursday in the U-District:

    On March 25th in Ballard

    On March 27th in Wedgwood

    A minor note: the map incorrectly shows all of the “Central Greenway” #11 being built in 2014, when in reality only the John-Jackson segment will be constructed this year. I’m told an fixed map will be available soon.

    Thank you to everyone who is part of this movement! You all do amazing things.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Sorry for leaving you out, Emily!

  4. JB

    What am I missing with these so-called greenways? I have been on the one in Ballard and it seemed like any other quiet neighborhood street, aside from the speed bumps which are about as annoying on a bicycle as in a car, and the narrowness which forces you within a foot or two of oncoming traffic. I suppose the intersections with busy streets were a little better, but overall I would prefer plenty of other streets in Ballard to the one with greenway treatment. I think this money would be better spent on protected cycle tracks like Broadway, which I find to be a much more relaxing cycling experience.

    1. Josh

      Speed humps are unpleasant if you’re going fast on skinny-tired road bikes, but those riders aren’t the primary target audience of all-ages-and-abilities facilities, whether you’re talking greenways or sidepaths.

      If you’re meandering at 8-12mph on a cruiser or hybrid, riding around the neighborhood with kids, going a few blocks to the corner store, etc., well-marked speed humps aren’t a real comfort or control issue for bicycles. But they slow car traffic to much safer speeds for pedestrians as well as people on bikes, and as drivers get used to the routes, they will encourage more drivers to use other streets.

      1. Tom Fucoloro

        I actually find speed humps to be fun to go over.

    2. BallardCommuter

      I have to agree that Seattle seems to be missing the mark in designing greenways well, with 58th being a prime example. The way it is configured, it’s just as convenient for motorists as for bike riders. I’ve only been on it a handful of times, but one of those times I was with my young son and I had a car driver behind me revving his engine and following closely for blocks on end. It was very stressful.

      Why aren’t there diverters for cars (right turns only with bicycles allowed to go straight) at major cross streets such as 24th, 20th, and 8th, just to name a few? I could be wrong, but the only one I know of is at 15th. If it’s a convenient route for motorists, motorists will use it and feel entitled to do so quickly.

      Portland may be doing fewer of these, but they know how to design them correctly.

      1. Sean

        I’m with you Ballard commuter … We’ll said. In Vancouver , several diverters are utilized over that distance in a proper greenway to prevent extended car “cut thru” traffic.

      2. Andres Salomon

        It will be interesting to see if SDOT embraces this. They’re taking a relatively conservative approach to greenways; build some infrastructure, take measurements in a year, add more infrastructure to the greenway if measurements warrant it. I know they have target volumes for vehicles on greenways. That data should probably be made public, so we can have a conversation about implementing more aggressive techniques if necessary (as well as a discussion about whether the target volumes are appropriate).

        I get the impression that SDOT considers heavily utilized greenways (bicycles and peds everywhere) to be enough to discourge cut through traffic. We really need something that expresses to driver that the streets-are-for-cars equation is not true on greenways.

      3. BallardCommuter

        I do not agree with the idea of my family and I being human traffic calming devices.

      4. Conservative indeed, but it’s been ramping up. The Wallingford (44th/43rd) greenway doesn’t have any stop signs for cross streets, on SDOT’s theory that the mini roundabouts constitute proper traffic control — deferring to Seattle side street precedent rather than outside greenway standards. But subsequent greenways like 39th, Fremont Ave., and 58th have them. Maybe if we get enough complaints about aggressive drivers on greenways they’ll come around to other cities’ practices on diverters.

  5. Josh

    It’s exciting to see such a broad spread of useful infrastructure investments.

    Will the bike/ped counter network expand along with the greenway network?

    It would be great if we could get temporary bike/ped counter installations this year on streets planned for greenways next year, so that we’d have before-and-after comparisons.

  6. Stuart

    I’m of mixed opinion. I understand the goal of providing low stress routes between and within neighborhoods to resources like grocery stores and parks. But it seems like they are picking low hanging fruit in some places. For example the stretch of study route #14 on 16th Ave E between Madison and Aloha is already essentially a greenway. I suppose they can improve the crossing at Thomas, but other than that the only value add that would be any help is a repave to remove tree root ruts. I don’t imagine that will be in the cards.

    Also like your concerns about 23rd, it seems this is less about increasing access to the commercial street then making less stressful to avoid. 15th itself isn’t a horribly un-bikeable street, but safety improvements could be made both for bicyclists and pedestrians. I hope that doesn’t become less of a priority because of a parallel route.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Yeah, that’s a risk. We have to make a stand that a parallel route does not make a repaving project into a “complete street.” When the city invests in remaking a street, that is our opportunity to fix that street and make it accessible for everyone. The 23rd project is a terrible precedent to set. Background for those not familiar with it: http://www.seattlebikeblog.com/2014/02/18/city-cuts-safety-out-of-24th-ave-plans-2-chances-to-weigh-in-on-high-budget-street-remake/

      However, depending solely on complete streets to make our city safer and more bike-friendly is also a bad idea, since it will take a lifetime for the city to rebuild every street. Neighborhood greenways are a great way to improve bike route options, especially in areas where complete streets projects are not going to happen any time soon.

      Plus, the benefits of neighborhood greenways go far beyond bike routes (this is Seattle Bike Blog, so we tend to focus on that aspect). They also improve neighborhood safety, create more safe crossings for people on foot, prevent cut-through traffic and help turn residential streets into places for all kinds of play.

      We need a mix of all kinds of safe streets projects, but no one kind of project will get us to Vision Zero or make Seattle the most bike-friendly city in the nation. Misusing neighborhood greenways as a way to avoid making tough decisions on complete streets will NOT get us there.

      1. Stuart

        I agree completely. As it happens I live on 16th and Thomas, so I’m excited for the possibilities along this route. It will definitely help people access Volunteer park on the North and Trader Joes and the Co-op on Madison. I already see kids cycling (with parents) on 16th, so it absolutely does represent a desire line. And for those families I imagine the greenway would be awesome.

      2. Tom Fucoloro

        16th and Thomas is one of my pet peeve intersections. It is sooo dangerous for no reason. I see so many close calls involving people of all modes. Improving that will make a huge difference.

  7. Peri Hartman

    Considering that greenways are oriented towards peds, kids, or casual cyclists, how much overlap should there be in the purpose of cycle tracks?

    Cycle tracks obviously don’t cater to peds, but should they cater to doddling cyclists? Number one, I do want to support getting more people comfortable biking on a regular basis rather than just for occasional recreation. However, not all cyclists are the same.

    Ideally, we would have lanes for fast cyclists and lanes for slow ones. There isn’t generally space for that. But, if we have greenways and cycle tracks, is there a way we could encourage slow cyclists to use greenways and keep the cycle tracks open for faster riding? Is this a good thing or should all fast cyclists be relegated to the regular traffic lanes?

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Protected bike lanes/cycle tracks do help people on foot because they decrease the effective distance required to cross the street. This image does a good job showing that: http://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/americabikes/pages/211/attachments/original/1351783102/NYCDOT_-_9th_Street.png?1351783102

      As for creating a distinction between “fast” and “slow” cyclists, the city has a much higher duty to improve streets for the greatest number of people. Someone on a bike who wants to travel faster than what I’ll call “a Burke-Gilman pace” simply can’t be a huge priority for the city. On the other hand, improving access and safety for everyone must be a priority.

    2. Josh

      Judging by public comment at meetings, on news articles, and on this blog, it sounds to me like a majority of cycletrack users want the fast cyclists to go elsewhere.

      That’s certainly been clear in the commentary on Westlake — I think I’ve seen as many complaints about fast cyclists in the Westlake parking lot as I have complaints about motorists.

      From a safety perspective, building sidepaths for faster cyclists would also be significantly more expensive. Compared to what’s been built on Broadway or Linden, you’d need wider lanes, broader turns, better sight lines, more shy distance, etc. When you’re traveling 20mph, a bicycle really is a vehicle that needs a facility engineered for safe handling and reaction times.

      1. Peri Hartman

        You are absolutely correct. I am completely accepting that cycle tracks, in general, don’t need to accommodate fast riders. If the speed limit is 30, going 20-25 (which is hard to maintain for more than several blocks) is fine in the regular traffic lanes.

        However, there are some streets, particularly Westlake, where the speed limit is 35 and drivers often go 40-45. It is not safe to ride in the traffic lanes.

        In cases like this I think it is important to accommodate fast riders. If not, fast riders are going to either use the traffic lanes and cause congestion and danger there or they will use the cycle track and try to go fast endangering slower riders.

        It’s easy to make the statement that fast riders should go slow. But that’s the same statement as telling Westlake riders they should use Dexter. Unless there’s a law, making a statement has little effect.

        We can choose to deny my hypothesis and wait till we have (in my opinion) a failed solution. Or we can address it during the design – in cases like Westlake.

      2. Andres Salomon

        I don’t think the solution here is to build special infrastructure for fast cyclists. I think the solution is to slow down cars on Westlake to reasonable speeds.

        There’s absolutely no reason to have 35+ mph speeds in a dense city. We already have multiple highways running through the city if you absolutely must get from one end of the city to the other using a car in a reasonable time frame (highway congestion is a valid concern, but that’s a separate issue). We’re not in the exurbs, there are better ways to get from point A to point B without having 40mph speeds on streets.

        Seattle’s standard speed for arterials is 30mph. We don’t need higher arterial speeds than that.

    3. Josh

      I’d actually say greenways are a safer route for fast cyclists than sidepaths.

      While through car access is intentionally limited, greenways remain streets engineered for vehicles traveling 20+ mph. (Speed humps are a minor annoyance if you’re riding a bike suitable for a city street instead of a race track.)

      It seems wasteful to suggest building both streets and sidepaths for vehicular speeds when the great demand seems to be for all-ages-and-abilities infrastructure.

      1. ODB

        Another perspective is that the features that make a path safe for going fast (or even “Burke Gilman speed”)–like adequate width, good sight lines, minimizing pedestrian and vehicle conflict, etc.–are the same features that increase the safety and comfort of the path for all cyclists, no matter how fast they’re going. In other words, a path that is even marginally safe for going fast is a path that is super-safe for going not fast. So I think ideally we would be designing facilities for fast cyclists so that everyone can feel comfortable. Obviously, compromises get made in the real world and making a really safe facility no doubt costs more money and takes up more precious real estate than one that’s only safe for low speeds. But if the goal is to accommodate “all ages and abilities” maybe we should give some thought to accommodating *all* ages and abilities.

  8. Kimberly Kinchen

    Exactly this.

    1. Kimberly Kinchen

      Ack, was trying to reply to Tom’s comment about the need to make cycling infrastructure work for the most people.

  9. So Happy to see all the progress, this is needed to make the bike share a success. Looking forward to visiting Seattle again.

  10. […] city’s neighborhood greenway plans are moving ahead on schedule, with 5.4 miles of improved residential streets ready for construction […]

  11. […] is planning to build lots of them—52 miles in the next five years (presuming that voters renew some version of the Bridging the […]

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