Seattle’s Summer Parkways program started quietly in 2015. Modeled on a pretty popular Portland institution, the idea is to close city streets (for the most part) to cars, and open them up to people on foot, bike, rollerblade, skateboard, and to connect parks where families and neighbors can hang out together.
Drawing over 100,000 people per year in Portland, Seattle has tried to emulate its success by converting another program, Seattle Summer Streets, into Seattle Summer Parkways in 2015. Seattle Summer Streets existed from 2008 to 2014 and turned certain streets carfree on weekend days, but the aspect that it was lacking compared to Portland was the connection of neighborhood parks and amenities.
Two neighborhoods participated in Seattle Summer Parkways last year after the City allocated $300,000 for the program in the budget that year: Ballard and the Central District. The CD went first, and attendance was pretty sparse after light media attention and little word-of-mouth. Confusion from neighbors over what streets they could drive through led organizers to spend much of their time policing the boundaries of the event rather than enjoying it.
But some things take time to develop. Portland has been doing their Sunday Parkways since 2008, though to be fair Seattle has had a program devoted to making Lake Washington Boulevard carfree on weekend days since 1965.
This year there are three Seattle Summer Parkways events: Rainier, which happened a few weeks ago, Ballard, which happens tomorrow, and West Seattle in late September.
The Rainier event was paired with the Rainier Valley Heritage Parade and Festival, which already brings a lot of people into Columbia City. In addition, Seattle Parks and Recreation hosted Big Day of Play in the Valley that day as well. These events combined to make a very well attended event, though bike traffic was relatively light, despite Pronto bikes available from the City for free to ride the length of the parkway route. Mayor Ed Murray was spotted, sans helmet, two-wheeling it down Rainier with Scott Kubly. It was a great example of what can be done in our public spaces if we open them up for a short period.
Tomorrow then is Ballard’s turn. Ballard Summer Parkways is paired with the Sustainable Ballard Festival. The route is comprised of a loop around Ballard Ave NW, 22nd Ave NW, and NW 58th St, and then a route to Sunset Hill Park via NW 77th St. Pronto will be out there again providing bikes for use along the route. It really should be an experience you won’t get to experience in Ballard this year- neighbors enjoying their streets without traffic.
See the full list of participants and amenities here.