Safe Streets: Letter to Mayor Jenny Durkan

Thank you for launching the Stay Healthy Streets program, which initially closes 2.5 miles of Seattle Streets to through traffic, with additional plans to expand to 15 miles. We note that this is significantly less than some of our sister cities, for example Oakland, where they closed 75 miles of streets, or Boston where they have closed large stretches of parkway. We urge you to expand the program significantly. Here’s why:

Seattleites need to get out. Seattleites need to get outside for their physical and mental health, and they need enough space to do that safely. As Jeanne Marrazzo, director of the division of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham stated, “If we don’t encourage people to get outside, we will have a widespread social insurrection… People are already challenged by the isolation imposed by social distancing.…” Access to the outdoors is too important to our mental and physical health to not provide this option.

Our streets are not equitable. On quieter streets, in less dense areas, pedestrians have already moved into the streets to maintain safe physical distance while walking. In denser, low-income areas where the traffic is heavier, pedestrians must try to pass each other on sidewalks that are only 6 feet wide. This is unfair – and the CIty must ensure that every Seattleite has safe and comfortable places to walk outdoors.

We need to practice the new skills of the post-covid world. Seattleites must learn new behaviors: physical distancing, the use of personal protective devices, good physical hygiene and an awareness of health risk status. We are pleased that the City of Seattle is already developing educational material around this. We feel the opening up of our streets is an excellent way to allow Seattleites to practice the new skills of a post-covid world, and a safe place for the City to help teach those skills. If we cannot learn how to share the streets and the parks with physical distancing, how will we ever learn to share offices, schools and so forth as the pandemic subsides?

We have an opportunity to explore what Seattle’s Green New Deal might look like for transportation. The current lull in traffic provides an extraordinary and unprecedented opportunity to pilot ways the City can support walking and biking and rolling; mobility options that are sustainable, affordable, and healthy. Here is a rare chance to experiment with projects that bring so many public benefits – better air quality, more exercise, more neighborhood connection (even at safe distance!), more affordable transportation, and less contribution to climate change. Someone once said, “never let a crisis go to waste…” Perhaps this pandemic has given us a rare opportunity, let’s take it.

There have been many excellent and low cost proposals on how we might open up our streets. Seattle Neighborhood Greenways has a wonderful suite of proposals. 350 Seattle, Rainier Valley Greenways, and many other groups have excellent proposals on how to open up our streets to bikes and walkers. Some have been around for a while — for example Tom Fucoloro’s suggestion on March 26th in the Seattle Bike Blog to turn Lake Washington Blvd to a bicycle road. Yet weeks later, your administration has only committed to opening 2.5 miles of roadway…? Seattle should do better.

Seattleites need healthy spaces where they can walk and ride bikes. Please fix this problem. Now is the need and the opportunity.

Sincerely,

Anne Miller, Andrew Kidde, Beth Brunton
On behalf of the Steering Committee,
South Seattle Climate Action Network

cc/Shefali Ranganathan; Sam Zimbabwe
Councilmembers Tammy Morales, Kshama Sawant, Teresa Mosqueda, Lorena Gonzales