SALLY BAGSHAW | Getting around in an age-friendly Seattle

I recently travelled to Washington, D.C. to attend the National League of Cities’ Annual Conference and engage in conversations about addressing homelessness and improving urban livability with leaders across the country.  

One of my primary goals was to learn what other cities are doing to address the needs of seniors in our community. As a tangential bonus, I met transportation engineers who are addressing traffic congestion and pedestrian safety in the DC area for people of all ages. We explored together how Washington, D.C. is becoming age friendly. 

D.C. gridlock is abysmal. In fact, their traffic is ranked the very worst in the nation by many measures. Being number one in this instance is not an honor. 

We face similar congestion challenges in Seattle, especially during rush hour or when an unanticipated accident occurs. We all remember the fish truck incident one year ago, and the propane truck flipping this winter during the snowstorm was a painful reminder of the progress that remains to be made.  

Washington State Department of Transportation data confirms what we already know — traffic delays continue to worsen on the freeways in the central Puget Sound region because more cars and trucks are travelling through our narrow corridor. For a deeper dive, please read WSDOT’s 2015 Corridor Capacity Report. 

What can we learn from Washington, D.C.? Interestingly, there is a bright spot. Traffic in one adjoining neighborhood southwest of Downtown runs much more smoothly than the rest of D.C. Arlington, Virginia offers some best practices for transportation planning we in Seattle can emulate. 

Like Seattle, Arlington County is a growing residential and commercial center. Thousands of new residents have moved there during the past decade, and millions of square feet of commercial space have been built to accommodate job growth. Thousands who are aging are choosing to stay there. 

Washington, D.C. recognizes “every trip starts and ends with a walk trip, made either on foot or aided by a mobility advice. With that in mind, cities with complete streets policies that accommodate all pedestrians are the foundation of an age-friendly city.”

Arlington County’s transportation planners recognized decades ago people will not be able to get where we want to go if all of us try to drive there. This is not an anti-car sentiment, it’s simply a fact: more single-occupancy vehicles in our limited public right-of-way will not reduce congestion, nor speed up our commutes. 

Arlington tried some novel approaches early on, and most residents and employees now plan their commutes differently — they ride a bus, take the Metro, carpool, walk, or ride a bike to get to their destination. By traffic planner’s measurements, 45,000 car trips have been eliminated from the streets of Arlington daily. 

It is hard to believe when we are sitting in traffic, but Seattle has been implementing many of the same mobility management tools recognized as being successful in Arlington. 

According to a recent Commute Seattle survey, 70 percent of those who work Downtown find ways other than driving to get to our places of work. I walk or ride my bike every day to get to City Hall. Search “Seattle: America’s Next Top Transit City” on YouTube to see a short video on what alternatives many of us choose to get around.  

Thanks to Seattle’s voters, our City has said YES to funding more affordable housing along our light rail lines and in our urban centers. Voters said YES to more transit hours and Rapid Ride solutions. Voters said YES to expanding our Link Light Rail north, south, and east across our region. These approaches are helping now, and will make a significant difference when fully implemented. 

Combining those funded projects with the newly released Pedestrian Master Plan and Bicycle Master Plan strategies, we will all be able to get around faster. Through our Age-Friendly Seattle efforts we will have mobility choices irrespective of our physical or financial capabilities. 

What aspects will improve conditions for all of us pedestrians? According to Kathy Sykes, Senior Advisor of the EPA’s Aging Initiative, “1) making sure there is adequate time to cross intersections, 2) good lighting for visibility and safety at night, and 3) having connected sidewalks for those who use canes or wheelchairs are some of the key things communities can provide.” 

Consistent with the published Pedestrian Master Plan, I am promoting new ways to fund and improve sidewalks and crosswalks across our city so everyone can choose to safely walk and make connections within our neighborhoods. We have models from other jurisdictions to follow for funding options, and this will be the topic of upcoming discussions. I will be proceeding to meet with members of our District 7 community, as well as people from across the City to discuss priorities for your neighborhood. Join us as we make Seattle Age-Friendly, street by street.    

SALLY BAGSHAW represents District 7 on the Seattle City Council.