In Seattle, we love to walk. Every day, walking accounts for one quarter of our trips. But can Seattle step up to be “the most walkable city in the nation?”

Red are missing sidewalks. (City of Seattle)
Red are missing sidewalks. (City of Seattle)

Becoming the most walkable city in the nation is the stated vision of the latest draft of the Seattle Pedestrian Master Plan. To some, this vision seems more like a delusion, because 26% percent of our sidewalk network is missing, and every neighborhood has streets of fast-moving traffic that feel nearly impossible to cross. But we’re optimists at Seattle’s grassroots walking and biking advocacy organization, Seattle Neighborhood Greenways. We believe becoming the most walkable city in the nation is achievable.

Here’s how.

First, we have to acknowledge the magnitude of what we need to accomplish. Completing our missing sidewalk network will cost at least $2.04 billion, using Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) estimates. The cost of building all of the crosswalks, curb ramps, and signals that are needed to navigate our streets is harder to estimate, but it’s in the billions of dollars as well. On top of this, the Vision Zero safety program that focuses on fixing the most dangerous streets and making it safer for people to walk is significantly underfunded. At the current rate of funding, completing all this will take hundreds of years.

Second, to be the most walkable city in the nation, we also need go beyond these basic safety and accessibility investments by making walking enjoyable: planting more street trees, building more benches for our seniors, prioritizing pedestrians at stop lights more often, and creating denser neighborhoods where everything you need is within a safe, easy walking distance.

Sidewalk improvements under construction in Northeast Seattle.
Sidewalk improvements under construction in Northeast Seattle.

Third, we have to commit to tackling the problem of funding a truly walkable city head on. For far too long, the magnitude of the problem has led to paralyzation and finger pointing. It’s time for our elected officials, department staff, advocates, and neighborhoods to roll up our sleeves together and find solutions. From developer impact fees, to donated crosswalks, to requiring sidewalk maintenance when adjacent property is sold, there are a ton of ideas out there that other cities have successfully implemented to fund good walking infrastructure. Which ones will make the biggest difference and be equitable in Seattle? Let’s find out.

Finally, we need to get started now. A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, and this journey can start if the Seattle City Council requires SDOT, the Department of Neighborhoods, and the Office of Planning and Community Development to make walking a top priority.

You can help. Tell the Seattle City Council that making Seattle America’s most walkable city is a priority for you. Tell them in person Tuesday, May 16th at Seattle City Hall, email council@seattle.gov, and join Seattle Neighborhood Greenways as we work to advocate for safe streets for people walking and biking.

This is a cross-post that originally appeared on Seattle Neighborhood Greenways.

Seattle Can Be A More Walkable City

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Gordon Padelford seeks to empower local neighborhood greenways groups and leaders. Gordon loves walking, biking, parks, safe streets, hiking, and living in Seattle. He got involved with Seattle Neighborhood Greenways through volunteering with his local group, Central Seattle Greenways, where he coordinated the SR 520 campaign and organized the 2013 Livable Streets Mayoral Forum.
Seattle Neighborhood Greenways is a safe streets advocacy organization with a rapidly growing volunteer coalition. Together, this coalition represents many neighborhoods across Seattle who plan and advocate for safe, equitable, and comfortable streets connecting people to the places they want to go.
The Urbanist encourages dialogue on important urban issues through guest contributions. Over the years, we've had dozens of guest authors share their opinions and insights ranging from commentary on current events to community interviews and researched think pieces. If you would like to see your name behind a byline on The Urbanist, feel free to reach out to our Editorial Team at editorial[at]theurbanist[dot]org.

4 COMMENTS

  1. You know where is a great place for streetwalkers in Seattle?

    Aurora Avenue. – They’ve got this streetwalking thing going on.

    How many streetwalkers do you see in Laurelhurst?

    Bupkus

    Need to step up their street-walking game that neighborhood does. How many streetwalkers want to end up a hood ornament on a Volvo or BMW or Mercedes? Bupkus. It’s all bupkus there in Laurelhurst.

  2. If we’re going to add density in Urban Villages, the streets must have sidewalks and those sidewalks must connect with where people want to walk to. The City errs when it includes streets without sidewalks inside Urban Villages.

  3. The guy in the picture would rather walk in the street than walk on the sidewalk next to the street. Can he not just cross the street and walk on the City provided sidewalk? Looks like he made a choice to put his best foot forward. He is the poster child for a Walkable Seattle, he is actually out walking.

    • I took this photo Mike Carr, so know the street well.

      The reason the man is walking in the street is because there is no sidewalk where he is headed. The small bit of sidewalk you see fits precisely around the footprint of a 500+ unit complex of low income, senior, and special needs housing in the Rainier Valley. I’ve posted another photo to clarify the site context a bit better for you. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/443d589e6fd3dfba440180f7dac1eea60d060afe6247381bde8a0fa4e9337456.png

      There were no sidewalks built beyond the footprint of this dense housing complex to nearby transit stops, elementary schools, shops, and grocery stores. And yes, many people in this area and other areas in Seattle do rely on walking for transportation: walking for transportation is common in low income communities of color. The man is indeed, as you say, “the poster child for a Walkable Seattle”.

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