Greenways aim to pave the way to safety

Greenways aim to pave the way to safety

Greenways aim to pave the way to safety

    Designated as the fourth-most “bike-friendly” American city by the Huffington Post in 2010, Seattle is about to get even friendlier.

A citizen-based effort has been growing since a concept called “Bicycle Boulevards” was founded more than a decade ago, according to Seattle Parks Foundation policy and program director Becca Aue. 

Recently, the project was rebranded “Neighborhood Greenways,” Aue said, because it was much more inclusive and “the facilities benefit so many more users than bicyclists.” 

“Neighborhood greenways,” a term borrowed from a nearly identical project in Portland, refer to any “route on a non-arterial street that is optimized for safe, family-friendly bicycle and pedestrian travel, and are usually designed for reduced vehicle speeds and volumes,” according to the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT). 

The project is important, said Madison Park resident and community advocate Bob Edmiston, because the city lacks and ultimately needs a “citywide network for low-stress bicycle and pedestrian facilities.” 


Portland’s model

Edmiston was turned on to the project when he attended a presentation for the University District greenways system last September. 

Portland Greenways project managers Mark Lear and Greg Raisman visited the University of Washington campus to share how they planned to transform Portland into a city where 80 percent of residents will live within a half-mile of a “neighborhood greenway” in a mere five years, according to an article in the Portland Mercury newspaper.

Many consider Portland’s network of Neighborhood Greenways to be the start of the trend. From there, numerous other American cities have followed suit, including Minneapolis; Wilmington, N.C.; Tuscon, Ariz.; Madison, Wis.; and Berkeley, Calif.

With that kind of reputation behind them, the Portland-based greenway pioneers easily resonated with the members of their audience, which included Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw.

A proponent of the Neighborhood Greenways project, Bagshaw has said before that Seattle’s own greenways network could benefit from borrowing ideas from Portland’s successful model. 

Bagshaw said she saw firsthand how the new trees planted in Portland’s greenways transformed the previously dreary residential streets, “providing color and sense of neighborhood pride.” A reason for which Bagshaw is vying for the project is that she said Neighborhood Greenways would restore a sense of neighborhood unity in Seattle. 

Initially, Edmiston admitted, he was interested in greenways for selfish reasons: He bikes to work at the University of Washington’s Seattle campus, from his home in Madison Park. It’s a route that demands a good amount of audacity on the part of the rider; it’s “a sketchy route,” he said, bluntly. 

But Lear and Raisman of Portland struck a chord with Edmiston, too, and he’s been at the forefront of the effort ever since. 

Edmiston said that one of the main differences between Portland’s greenways evolution and Seattle’s is the organization and leadership, or lack thereof. The Portland greenways project was executed by two experienced project managers (Lear and Raisman) who did it all: “the outreach, the planning, the overseeing,” Edmiston explained.

“Seattle’s approach,” he said, chuckling, “is so very Seattle.” He called it “grassroots, consensus-based, very collaborative, technology-mediated [and] communal.” 

Edmiston said that this is effective for the purposes of the project because it is the residents who know the streets best — that it is the locals who can put together the most efficient and comprehensive plans for the greenway routes.

Bagshaw seconded Edmiston’s sentiment: “Creating the design for the Neighborhood Greenway is an interactive process, and your neighbors should be a part of the discussion.”

Edmiston said that if each neighborhood contributes what it feels is the best possible route for the area “from a biker’s [or pedestrian’s] perspective,” then the pieces can go together quite easily for Seattle as a whole.


Roadways for all

At his day job, Edmiston serves as a human-computer interaction usability consultant for the University of Washington. By night, the mapping and planning fanatic works voluntarily to help consolidate and coordinate all of the greenway routes that each different Seattle neighborhood group has come up with. 

He said his goal is to eventually “crowd-source all of the local knowledge about how to get around on a bike or get around on foot…and aggregate all of that community information” into something comprehensible and useful. 

In a presentation for the Madison Park Community Council in January, Edmiston shared the “four types of cyclist models” originally introduced by Roger Geller, bicycle coordinator for the City of Portland. Edmiston explained that the majority of the population, about 60 percent, falls within the category of “willing but wary,” meaning they would be open to the idea of cycling, but they refrain because they are afraid of traffic.

Meanwhile, only 6 to 8 percent of the population is confident enough to ride in traffic, a group he calls the “enthused and confident,” and less than 1 percent falls under the category he calls “strong and fearless.” The last group, the “no-way/no-hows,” make up about 33 percent, he said. 

The “willing but wary” are the clear majority; they are those who “aren’t comfortable mixing it up with cars,” Edmiston said. They are the main group that Neighborhood Greenways is targeting.

Edmiston said the current provisions for cyclists, such as bike lanes, are not sufficient. “Neighborhood greenways do not [look like] any of the current bike-lane networks,” he said. “Those basically just mark the ‘open-door zone’ for parked cars.

“Most of the bicycle facilities that have been built so far are not appropriate for most of the population; [they’re] only appropriate for expert cyclists,” he said. 


Other benefits

Aside from concerns to improve safety, Aue said there would be a number of other additional beneficial byproducts of the project. These would include an increase in local economic activity and real estate values. 

According to SDOT director Peter Hahn, “There are economic benefits to slowing speeds, calming traffic and improving bicycle and pedestrian circulation in a business district. Pedestrians and bicyclists will be able to better access businesses by a Neighborhood Greenway route designated especially for them.”

Bagshaw deduced that “if a neighborhood street became greener, traffic [became] slower and fewer cars were driving on the street, that property values would be enhanced.”

Aue also pointed out that the added fitness opportunities would lead to improvements in public health, and that reductions in carbon dioxide emissions would lead to an increase in native habitat and biodiversity. She said the project also promises “more pleasant and beautiful streets.

“These streets will become even more pleasant for the people who live, walk and bike on them, [because] by adding new park-like amenities and limiting cut-through traffic, greenways are naturally attractive to families and anyone seeking a safer, more connected community experience,” Aue said.

As for the price tag, Edmiston said that Lear and Raisman had shared estimates in their presentation that each mile of greenway costs $150,000 to $250,000, on average. 

During his research, Edmiston overheard that the costs to repave just one mile of the average street in Seattle — 15th Avenue Northeast in the University District was used as the example — would cover the complete construction of 45 miles of neighborhood greenways. 

“It’s the cheapest infrastructure you can possibly make,” Edmiston said.

It varies by neighborhood exactly how much external intervention must be applied to create a viable greenway. Throughout the Capitol Hill neighborhood, for example, “You can literally just put up a few signs and you’re basically done,” Edmiston declared.

“Some streets are more problematic than others, but a lot of them would require very little work,” he qualified.


Completion by 2013

In additon to the Wallingford community, which is starting construction this spring, the other neighborhoods with greenways plans in the works are Ballard, Beacon Hill, Greenwood, Laurelhurst, North Delridge and the University District, according to Tom Fucoloro, who writes for the Seattle Bike Blog. 

The city has planned to construct a total of 11 miles of greenways throughout those neighborhoods and Wallingford by the end of 2012, Fucoloro reported.

For more information, visit the  Seattle Neighborhood Greenways website at

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