A month ago, Seattle launched a campaign called “Stay Healthy Streets,” which effectively shut down 20 total miles of city streets for walking, jogging and cycling. The Seattle Department of Transportation selected specific streets based on limited access to public parks and low car ownership, and in the weeks since, Seattleites have come to rely on these empty thoroughfares for daily jaunts around the city.
Late last week, Seattle’s Mayor Jenny A. Durkan announced that the street closures would be permanent, and that the city plans on adding three more miles of Stay Healthy Streets, alongside an accelerated biking infrastructure plan.
“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,” said Mayor Durkan.
This plan is rare for these times in that it addresses issues beyond the COVID-19 crisis. Addressing the pandemic is important, of course — outdoor endurance activities have been a godsend for many during quarantine, and roping off more space to enjoy them makes sense — but it also addresses questions at the heart of other pesky American issues, like adult fitness and urban sustainability. This initiative could pave the way (literally) for Seattle to join the ranks of Northern Europe’s biking paradises, and enjoy positive side effects like open-space piazzas, reduced car fleets, and improved air quality.
Not to mention, it all loops back to COVID-19; when public transportation opens again, bit by bit, buses and transit systems will need to ferry lighter loads than usual. A reliable open-air network will make that a bit easier. Other cities skeptical of the plan should note Seattle’s response so far. Locals are big fans, and even have a favorite Stay Healthy Street already. That’d be First Avenue NW in Greenwood. Just give it a year or so before you go visit.
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