A young girl sells lemonade along the Ballard Greenway. Photo courtesy of Seattle Neighborhood Greenways
A young girl sells lemonade along the Ballard Greenway. Photo courtesy of Seattle Neighborhood Greenways

Members of the Queen Anne community are working with the city to make streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians through a network of greenways. 

Cathy Tuttle co-founded the Seattle Neighborhood Greenways group two years ago and now serves as its executive director. The group takes a lot of its cues from Portland, Ore., and Vancouver, B.C. — both cities have established greenway systems. 

Greenways are residential streets that have a low volume of traffic. The greenway is a place where cyclists and pedestrians can safely get through a neighborhood without fear. They often run parallel to a neighborhood’s major arterial and lead to neighborhood highlights (parks, libraries, business districts) and connect to other neighborhoods. They’re designed for children, the elderly and car-less commuters. 

The Seattle group has grown to include another type of greenway: areas with difficult-to-cross arterial streets. 

The greenways group has about 1,000 active members split into 23 groups that focus on specific neighborhoods. The group meets monthly as a citywide coalition, to “share ideas and push forward on a lot of safe-street programs,” Tuttle said. 

The grassroots group is making headway. In the most recent release of Seattle’s Bike Master Plan, 95 percent of the proposed bikeways are greenways that the group would like to see. This isn’t just a coincidence: The group meets and works with the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to make these kinds of things happen. 

“They’ve been good partners,” Tuttle said. 

Two years ago, she said, greenways weren’t even part of the conversation in Seattle. 

SDOT Bicycle and Pedestrian Programs manager Sam Woods said adding greenways is complementary to the existing bike and pedestrian planning SDOT already does. Seventy percent of Seattle’s streets are residential, she said, and the city has the ability to create a connection using those quiet streets. 

Different greenways have different price tags. Often, the streets are reduced to 20 mph and have speed bumps and greenway signs are installed. Some are nearly complete, while others need wider sidewalks or the most expensive improvement: a new crosswalk. As more greenways are implemented, Woods expects the price to go down and efficiency to improve.

The Seattle Neighborhood Greenways group is funded through a mixture of private individual donors and local organizations and foundations.   

‘Lobbyists for safe streets’

Queen Anne Historical Society president Michael Herschensohn had always been a bike commuter, and when he retired, he began participating in long-distance rides. For him, it was a great way to get outside and get exercise “without going to a smelly, old gym.”

The Queen Anne greenway group doesn’t have an official leader, but Herschensohn does take on some leadership duties. The group has about 10 to 15 “hardcore members” and more who come to meetings. 

There isn’t a group in Magnolia, Herschensohn said, which is “one of our greatest disappointments [because] Magnolia has magnificent potential.”

The neighborhood groups do crowd-sourced mapping to determine where the routes should be. From there, they organize scouting walks and bike rides to determine the best routes. Residential streets with easy geographical features and existing greenway structures always come out on top. 

“We are lobbyists for safe streets for people walking and biking in Queen Anne,” Herschensohn said. 

There were two intersections the Queen Anne greenway group made their priority. The first was the intersection of Seventh Avenue West and West McGraw Street. The other was the crosswalk at Queen Anne Avenue North and West Highland Drive, which recently was installed. The group would like to create a Queen Anne Loop: 1.6 miles of greenway in a rough square from Highland Drive to Eighth Avenue West to McGraw and down Bigelow Avenue North. 

“[The Highland and Queen Anne Avenue intersection] is a wonderful example where a grassroots community group affected change,” he said. 

The citywide group does events and openings and tries to raise awareness. It also does memorial walks and bike rides within weeks of recent traffic fatalities to bring awareness. 

“That has really impacted the way the city has responded,” Tuttle said.  

‘Stepping up to change’

Tuttle estimates about 65 percent of Seattle is covered by greenway groups who crowd-source and select new greenways; that other 35 percent really needs people, she said, noting she’d specifically like to see groups in Crown Hill and South Park. The group has learned that they have strength in numbers, though. 

“I’m really happy when I hear someone say, ‘Oh, I live in Bryant. Did you know there’s this great connection between Bryant school and the Burke-Gilman Trail?’ That makes me really happy,” she said.  

In the next 10 years, the greenways group would like to have 250 miles of greenways throughout the city. At current budget levels, SDOT wouldn’t be able to create that many greenways by 2023, Woods said. 

By the end of the month, two greenways in Seattle will be finished, with a total of 9.5 miles, and there are about 20 miles in progress. Tuttle thinks it will take SDOT’s staff seeing the streets as a place for people. 

“I hope they can step up to that rate of change,” Tuttle said. 

As the Queen Anne group continues to plan for more greenways in the future, Herschensohn would like to see connections to Uptown, The Gates Foundation and Interbay. A potentially impossible dream would be to have a greenway connect the new bike lanes on Roy Street to the Ship Canal bike path. He would also like to see more SDOT funding go to bike commuters as more people put down their car keys in exchange for handlebars. 

“I’m so amazed that the idea is so compelling,” he said. “The concept has infiltrated all of the urban and land-use planning in the community. That’s an incredible achievement.” 

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