Seattle recently made bold moves to put pedestrians and cyclists first as the pandemic-induced stay-at-home order creates a new normal. Up to 20 miles of roadways in the “Stay Healthy Streets” program shall remain permanently closed to nonessential through traffic to encourage people to exercise safely while social distancing. Environmentalists are praising the move because curtailing vehicular traffic means a reduction in carbon emissions.
“Our rapid response to the challenges posed by COVID-19 have been transformative in a number of places across the city,” Sam Zimbabwe, Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) Director, told The Seattle Times. “Some of the responses are going to be long lasting, and we need to continue to build out a transportation system that enables people of all ages and abilities to bike and walk across the city.”
Quarantine fatigue has been a major motivation towards more citizen safety measures to sustain public health through exercise. Not only were 20 miles of Stay Healthy Streets permanently closed to encourage walking, jogging, skateboarding, scootering and cycling, but Seattle’s Office of the Mayor also announced plans for enhanced bike infrastructure and additional protected bike lanes. The news has garnered praise from the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board.
Mayor Jenny Durkan further explained, “We are in a marathon and not a sprint in our fight against COVID-19. As we assess how to make the changes that have kept us safe and healthy sustainable for the long term, we must ensure Seattle is rebuilding better than before. Safe and Healthy Streets are an important tool for families in our neighborhoods to get outside, get some exercise and enjoy the nice weather. Over the long term, these streets will become treasured assets in our neighborhoods.”
According to SDOT, the streets that have become pedestrianized were selected because they have few open spaces, lower rates of car ownership and are located in routes open to essential services as well as takeout meals. Of course, postal services, deliveries, garbage and recycling trucks, plus emergency vehicles are still permitted on these “closed” streets.
SDOT will also be reprogramming traffic signals to reduce pedestrian wait-times at crosswalks so that crowd formations at intersections can be avoided. Pushing buttons to request walk signals will no longer be needed for 75% of Seattle’s densest regions as walk signals there will become automated to minimize the touching of surfaces. An estimated $100,000 to $200,000 will be used for these safety measures, which include helpful new signs and barriers.
The SDOT blog has documented that ever since Washington state’s Governor Jay Inslee issued stay-at-home orders, vehicular traffic has dropped by 57% in Seattle. It is hoped that permanently closing almost 20 miles of street will lead to fewer idling cars and limit traffic even after the lockdown lifts. In so doing, reductions in air pollution will continue for the Evergreen State’s Emerald City long after the lockdown lifts.
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