Walking the Talk

Walking Green Lake by Seattle Daily Photo - from our Flickr pool

Walking Green Lake by Seattle Daily Photo - from our Flickr pool

The Seattle City Council is reviewing a draft plan to make Seattle a more pedestrian-friendly town. Appropriately enough, the measure is called the Pedestrian Master Plan. Very grand sounding, ain’t it?

I’ve lived in Seattle long enough to remember when Westlake Plaza was closed to traffic, and I’m still outraged that the city opened it. Westlake Center has never regained the vibrancy and foot traffic that it had when the Plaza was closed. And does anyone think that closing Pike Place Market to through traffic would detract from its appeal? There is no bad there.

The new plan, currently in draft and public comment stage, purports to focus on “safety, equity, vibrancy, and health,” through six stated objectives:

1. Complete and maintain the pedestrian system identified in the Pedestrian Master Plan
2. Improve walkability on all streets
3. Increase pedestrian safety
4. Plan, design, and build complete streets to move more people and goods
5. Create vibrant public spaces that encourage walking
6. Get more people walking for transportation, recreation, and health

These are great goals, and the plan (read it HERE or download as a PDF –low res or high res) does an admirable job of outlining strategies and tactics to meet them. The city has a funding levy of $60 million to fund pedestrian improvements over the next six years. Based on current programs, the plan projects that $47 million will go towards new improvements, such as sidewalks, curb ramps, and signals, while $19 million would pay for maintenance. The plan would require other funding to fully support all of the objectives, such as private investment.

And it’s this last part that has me worried: private investment.

The draft Plan includes stated strategies for meeting the objectives. Among the strategies for #5– “Create vibrant public spaces that encourage walking”– the single most important strategy is missing: car-free streets. Instead, “develop guidelines for car-free and shared space streets,” is the last item in the sidebar, under “sample of actions” that could possibly, perhaps, be considered to encourage walking.

Private investment does not like car-free streets. Private investment likes lots of convenient parking, preferably on-site parking. Pedestrians buy only as much as they can conveniently carry home or back to the office. Drivers buy as much as can fill up their SUV for the drive home to the suburbs. Car-free streets favor small businesses that serve local residents and employees. Parking lots favor ‘shopping destinations’ that serve tourists and visitors. National chain stores and big retailers wield the political clout and investment dollars that result in parking lots, narrow sidewalks, and through traffic. Neighborhood business owners, residents, and employees get screwed. Again.

It doesn’t have to be that way. As residents and business owners, we have a say in this process. The public comment period for the draft Pedestrian Master Plan has been extended to Friday, June 26th. You can read it at http://www.seattle.gov/mostwalkablecity.htm, or download a PDF from the same site.

Also, the Transportation Committee and the Special Committee on Pedestrian Safety will host a public hearing on the draft plan on Tuesday, July 21st, from 5:00-6:30 p.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall (600 Fourth Ave.). This is your chance to be heard. Don’t blow it!

Other ways to comment:

Online webform: http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/pedestrian_masterplan/contact.htm
E mail: mostwalkablecity@seattle.gov
Telephone: 206-733-9970
Mail: Pedestrian Master Plan Comments
Seattle Department of Transportation
P.O. Box 34996
Seattle, WA 98124-4996

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