Greenwood Set to Get First Permanent ‘Healthy Street’ Upgrades

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A "type 3" barricade on Beacon Hill's Stay Healthy Street at Beacon Avenue. Permanent improvements will replace these temporary signs. (Photo by the author)

Beacon Hill, Delridge, Highland Park, and Bell Street Park are next up for permanent upgrades after Greenwood.

In the next few weeks, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) will start work on upgrades to the 1st Avenue NW neighborhood greenway in Greenwood, the first set of permanent improvements made to Seattle’s Stay Healthy Street network. Dropping “Stay” from the name, “Healthy Streets” will replicate the signed restrictions on through vehicle traffic that were implemented in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, with “Street Closed” signage that allows people walking and rolling to use the roadway instead of being restricted to the sidewalk. Painted markings and planter boxes will take the place of A-frame signs and traffic control barrels.

Since it is the first Healthy Street to be constructed, the changes in Greenwood are notable because that street will become the de-facto prototype for the rest of the Healthy Street network. Last year, Mayor Jenny Durkan committed to making 20 miles of the approximately 25 miles of open neighborhood streets permanent, but since than it’s been less than clear what that would look like and what benefits the city’s residents would see from that investment.

These 2021 upgrades to 1st Avenue NW will only be seen between N/NW 73rd Street and N/NW 79th Street. A second phase of the Healthy Street is planned to be installed all the way up to N/NW 100th Street, but not until next year. It wasn’t expected that the work would be broken up in this way; early this year SDOT had announced its intentions to construct all 20 miles of permanent improvements by the end of the year, a promise that seemed ambitious when it was announced.

Two signs on opposite sides of the street with planter boxes, inside painted lines
Every intersection along a permanent Healthy Street will get upgraded signage like what’s shown here. (City of Seattle)

In addition to the intersection treatments and traffic calming features along 1st Avenue NW itself, SDOT is adding traffic calming along streets that intersect this Healthy Street. N/NW 73rd Street, which nearby residents in community meetings brought up as an “unofficial arterial” with heavier, faster traffic than adjacent streets, and where the Healthy Street ends at a T intersection, will see three paint-and-post traffic circles with speed cushions between them. N/NW 79th Street, which sits adjacent to St. John Catholic School, will see speed cushions and relocated stop signs for increased visibility. These are improvements intended to impact how fast people are going on the Healthy Street but also obviously improvements in their own right, and have apparently come about through the community engagement process.

Three traffic circles at intersections where the road forms a T
Illustration of traffic circles along N/NW 73rd Street as shown at a recent community meeting. (City of Seattle)

As for the rest of the project up to N/NW 100th Street, slated to go in next year, it’s unclear what the traffic calming features will look like, but so far the SDOT hasn’t proposed to add any traffic diversion infrastructure to the street, any hardscape that would prevent someone from driving from one end of the corridor to the other, behavior that’s encouraged by the placement of stop signs along the neighborhood greenway only for cross-streets. Traffic diversion infrastructure is noticeably scarce along Seattle’s neighborhood greenway network, and the Healthy Street upgrades would be an opportunity to add it.

Map showing the Greenwood Healthy Street with surrounding safe streets infrastructure.
The first phase of Greenwood’s Healthy Street will be made permanent south of N/NW 79th Street, with the rest to come later. (City of Seattle)

After Greenwood, the next street in line for permanent Healthy Street improvements is the Beacon Hill neighborhood greenway. The northern segment of that street, which connects the Mountains to Sound Trail with a trail alongside Jefferson Park, will likely be the focus of any first phase of upgrades — SDOT conducted a site visit that focused on that segment earlier this summer. The southern portion, between Jefferson Park and S Lucile Street, a connection to Georgetown, would be upgraded later.

Map showing the northern segment of the Beacon Hill Healthy Street with surrounding safe streets infrastructure.
The northern portion of Beacon Hill’s Healthy Street, some of which may receive permanent upgrades by the end of this year. (City of Seattle)

The Beacon Hill Healthy Street upgrade will include many of the same features as are being added in Greenwood: speed cushions, beefed-up intersection signage, and possibly new traffic circles. But also discussed has been the possibility of adding a traffic diverter at Beacon Ave S and S Hanford Street, the spot where the Beacon Hill Stay Healthy Street meets Beacon Hill’s main business district. There’s already a traffic signal at Hanford, but triggering the signal when you’re on a bike is not super easy. An improved bike detection system could be paired with a restriction for drivers on continuing on Hanford across Beacon Avenue. This will likely be an improvement, but isn’t really a substitute for a diverter along the street in a neighborhood since most drivers are heading to the arterial anyway.

A photo show an intersection with a green light on Beacon Avenue.
Beacon Avenue S and S Hanford Street could get a traffic diverter. (Google Maps)

As for the rest of the Healthy Street network? Things are even less clear. Currently, SDOT has a little over $2.6 million to make these improvements, including $2.5 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act pandemic relief allocation. That doesn’t appear to be enough to do all 20 miles, and SDOT’s Ethan Bergerson says they are “in the process of determining how to fund it more sustainably.” Previously, SDOT had proposed to divert funds to Healthy Streets from a set of bicycle master plan projects that likely wouldn’t be able to move forward before the end of the Move Seattle Levy because they didn’t have full funding. That idea was not received well by either the Bicycle Advisory Board or the Move Seattle Levy Oversight Committee but it appears to still be on the table.

Bergerson did say that SDOT is prioritizing Delridge and Highland Park Healthy Street and the Bell Street Park Healthy Street behind the Greenwood and Beacon Hill ones. But it’s not known how much additional funding will be needed for the program because outreach on what the improvements will look like is still ongoing. But policymakers will likely want to know what funding is going toward before allocating more. So far, it’s not clear that allocating more money to Healthy Streets would be better than funding other, more well-established bike and pedestrian improvement programs. As crews start to work their magic in Greenwood and Beacon Hill, that may change.

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Ryan Packer lives in the Summit Slope neighborhood of Capitol Hill and has been writing for the blog since 2015. They report on multimodal transportation issues, #VisionZero, preservation, and local politics. They believe in using Seattle's history to help attain the vibrant, diverse city that we all wish to inhabit. In December 2020, Ryan started a three-month stint as editor of Seattle Bike Blog.

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asdf2

One idea I would like to see is “no thru traffic” streets that get their designation virtually, rather than physical signage. Drivers who navigate own their own would remain free to drive as they please, but tech companies who provide turn-by-turn driving directions would be prohibited from suggesting routes that “cut-through” on designated “local access” streets, unless a known physical obstruction on the parallel main road requires it. Violations would be easy to detect, with nothing more than a smartphone, and tech companies that flout the rules would be subject to lawsuits.

Since the vast majority of drivers these days are clueless about street layouts and rely entirely on their phones or navigation screens, simply eliminating “cut-through” driving directions from mapping software would eliminate about 80% of cut-through traffic.

While not as effective on a per-street basis as the Stay Healthy Streets program’s signs and barriers, this approach has the huge advantage that adding a new street to the program costs the city essentially nothing – just punch a few buttons to add the street to the data feed and poof. Which means virtually every residential street in virtually every neighborhood can now be designated as a virtual “no thru-traffic” street. The existing Stay Healthy Streets program, by contrast, will never be able to scale up like this for any kind of reasonable budget.

kdw

I think this is an excellent idea ‘asdf2’. And necessary as virtual routing gets more and more pervasive.
I think I would also like to see a physical barrier that would prohibit thru traffic for vehicles every 3rd or 4th block. These are not through streets, after all, and through traffic should get ‘forced’ up to the arterials that better serve north & south traffic (Greenwood and 3rd Ave NW). Too often I see cars and delivery vehicles travelling MULTIPLE blocks on this “Health Street”. Fire Dept, SPD and Ambulance services can easily access any block on 1st from these arterials on either side. Similarly, public utilities vehicles can optimize their routes to spend less time on 1st NW – making it a true “Stay Healthy” street.

Nick vdH

Agree, physical diverters are really needed here and on Greenways/Stay Healthy streets throughout the city.