Seattle Neighborhood Greenways Action is Afoot (and a-Bicycle, for that matter)

(edit:I’ve been told that a shared definition of a Neighborhood Greenway would be helpful for some readers. We’re working toward  our “ideal vision” but in the meantime check out the “What is a neighborhood Greenway” section in this post by Sally Bagshaw for the basics. -Tim)

The Carfreedays family is jumping into the hotbed of Seattle Greenways grass-roots activism and joining up with our neighbors in NE Seattle on the NE Greenways project!

Greenways fit with the kind of riding we do (parent and kid-powered transportation), and c0uld really be the key resource for making it safer and easier for kids all over this city to skip the minivan and ride bikes or walk to school!

Bike Train to Bryant ElementaryWe don’t claim to be Greenways experts but we have some strong feelings, nonetheless. We’ve been riding around Seattle for longer than we’d like to admit. We know this city pretty well. We know the terrain and the people and the baggage that comes with both. And we’ve been avidly riding the streets of PDX on visits for the past five years or so. We aren’t Stumptown natives by any stretch, but we have more than a passing familiarity of what it feels like to ride the Green Streets of our fair neighbor.We think having some experience in both places is pretty important because PDX is where everyone points when they mention potential Seattle bike infrastructure. As in, “Hey look at that awesome (insert bike thing) over there in Portland! Let’s do that heeeere.”

We’re not Portland, OK?

Riding the wide streets of PDXWe at Carfreedays are as  Portland-cycling-crushed as the next skirt- or trousers-wearing rider, but also know we shouldn’t let that get in the way of reality. We aren’t going to be Portland—no way. Our streets are different (Narrower. Less elbow room in the grid; hardly anyone there parks on the street). Our geography is different (they’ve got a river. We’ve got a river and lakes and canals and hills and ridges and all sort of other stuff). And maybe most important now, our city transportation planning priorities are different (insert your favorite viaduct or SLUT joke here).

So let’s give up on emulating our neighbors to the south and get moving on a network that fits the constraints of our city and embraces what makes Seattle such an awesome place to live (and ride).

Neighborhoods must Lead

I’ll try to do more on that whole there vs. here  thing later, but for now I want to focus on a local characteristic that will really make a difference as Seattle works toward a real neighborhood greenways effort: The strong (powerful!) tradition of community and neighborhood activism in this city.

In contrast to Seattle, Portland has kick-ass (and getting better all the time) transportation options for cyclists. They got there in no small part because they’ve had the benefit of some forward thinking planners and city leaders who have made a huge effort and priority to increase the ride-share. Make no mistake, these people stuck their necks out to make cycling and walking a priority.

Portland GreenwayWe all know Seattle’s system is far (faaaaarrr) behind Portlandia (bear with me, I promise I’m not wallowing in self-loathing). We’ve had some good but sporadic leadership, and even developed some great bicycling plans. But  mostly when push comes to shove our politicians choose cars and developers over bikes and human-scale streets.

So here’s where we get to the good part. Seattle communities and neighbors are wicked-strong and quite adept at killing projects. Examples? The Montlake/Madison Park neighborhoods blocked 520-bridge improvements for the last 30 years. The Laurelhurst community puts fear into the hearts of Childrens and UW planners. All over the city, neighbors have picked causes and marshaled their forces (time, energy, will) behind (and admittedly, usually against) them. The hands of the people hold a lot of power in Seattle.

And now Seattle neighbors are turning their attention to our streets. Instead of blocking something, we want to create. We’ve decided it’s time to take a sliver of our public space currently dedicated to cars and make that space safe for children and families.

Imagine how great it would be to have just one street within a few blocks of your home where you could walk with a friend, and know your kids could ride their bikes or safely play soccer with neighborhood friends. Yes, it would still be a street with cars and all, but the scale of the place would be different. Slower. People would be the priority, and cars, 0n this one street, would know they are visitors.

Now imagine how much better the whole city gets when we stitch together many these slower streets. Each street is focused on the needs and character of the neighborhood, but strategically connected to make a city-wide transportation network, allowing neighbors to safely and easily ride from say, their  house in Laurelhurst to the Ballard Locks. Or from Beacon Hill to Madrona. And from anywhere to Greenlake!

Riding to Greenlake

Possible? Definitely. Parts of Seattle are lovely to traverse by bike and foot.  And we need not wait for top-down planning to make it better. Neighbors only have to work together and say “Hell Yes! Greenways are a priority!”

It’s working in Wallingford, it’s working on Beacon Hill, and it’s getting ready to work in NE (with a nice push from Children’s). So get on out there. Come to a Greenways meeting. Talk to your neighbors. Call a city council member. Whatever you want. Just get involved and help make Seattle Greenways a priority for Seattle!

Upcoming events and resources


  • 7:30pm March 21st at the Sand Point Methodist Church (4710 NE 70th 98115), Paolo Nunes-Ueno, Director of Transportation at Seattle Children’s, will be presenting to the Hawthorne Hills Community Council on the Children’s Liveable  Streets Initiative. If you live nearby this is  chance to show some support for Greenways efforts in NE Seattle (and to Children’s for their leadership on the project).
  • 6:30 pm March 22 at the Phinney Neighborhood Center, SDOT Director Peter Hahn & Traffic Engineer Dongho Chang will present to the Seattle-wide Greenways meet-up. Info on Facebook.


Seattle Neighborhood Greenways general information:

Seattle Neighborhood Greenways on Facebook

Seattle Neighborhood Greenways blog

Neighborhood Greenways groups:

If I’ve missed anyone please let me know in the comments. I’m happy to update and I’m sure follow-up posts are coming.


10 responses to “Seattle Neighborhood Greenways Action is Afoot (and a-Bicycle, for that matter)

  1. Go get them!!! And an excellent point about NOT being Portland; in order for the system to work, it needs to take into account the uniqueness of your city. One of the most frustrating things being in Portland is hearing all the talk about “well, in Denmark/Netherlands, this is how they do it.”. We are not in the Netherlands or Denmark, we don’t have the same social fabric/culture. We do have great bike infrastructure, but I fear that we are beginning to rest on our laurels a bit. Maybe we can heterodyne a bit from your building greenstreets (“We can’t let SEATTLE pass us!”) and get the ball rolling in BOTH cities.

    • Much appreciated, Dan. Thanks for sharing your perspective. I’ve also heard the PDX to Copenhagen/Amsterdam comparison and thought, WTF?

      Don’t take that the wrong way — Portland has some seriously awesome stuff going, but you guys are so different in so many ways from Northern Europe that a comparison of any sort just isn’t worthwhile (or even applicable).

      And I’m totally in favor of utilizing the “competition” in every way possible. The relationship between Seattle and Portland in reminds me of sibling rivalry — there’s much love, but lots of attempts to be “best” in the eyes of Mom and Dad. Let’s use it to our advantage!

      • No offense taken; I’ve wondered the same thing myself. Sure we could build Dutch-style infrastructure, but without having the societal value structure (children riding everywhere solo from 8, acceptance of riding for general transport, being okay with giving bikes preferential treatment at intersections, et c.) most people wouldn’t take it if we paid them to do it. It does seem to be a “build it and they will use it” mentality. Best way to change the attitudes is to NOT make a big deal out of it, just go about our lives and set a good example for civil behaviour.

        As to the Portland/Seattle sibling rivalry, I like to think of our cities as two separated neighborhoods, you just have to take transit (Cascades) to commute between the two.

  2. Central Seattle Greenways! (Capitol Hill & the Greater Central District)

  3. Pingback: Big neighbohrood greenways meeting in Phinney tonight + Car Free Days jumps on board | Seattle Bike Blog

  4. More areas working on greenways: PhinneyWood, West Seattle, Laurelhurst/Children’s, and a few that exist but w/out social media sites yet like Rainier, Delridge, Montlake, Crown Hill.

  5. Thanks for the update, Cathy.

  6. Slow streets are the way to go – bicycle infrastructure such as bike lanes just give the illusion of safety. Side paths are worst – they increase the risk at intersections and driveways where most car/bike collisions happen.

    One reason the Dutch have such low bicycling fatality rates is that most of their non-main streets are SLOWER. That can directly reduce both the likelyhood of a collision and mitigate the effects if it happens, turnign what would be a fatal collision on a higher-speed street into some minor road rash or brusing.

    And it costs very little to go this route. Maybe a few new lights to enable crossing major roads by the slow roads. And speed cameras or increased policing or speed humps to help maintaint he slower speeds.

    I personally would like to see a fully-connected grid of slow streets with speed limits of 20 mph, or at least sppeds where 25 mph is actually the upper speed limit, not the lower limit

    . Even though a lot of timid bicyclists would not necessarily FEEL safer on these streets, they would BE safer.

    Here’s a political idea – try to team up with a Neighborhood Electric Vehicles group to try to acheive a grid of slow streets that both bicyclists and NEV drivers could use. Maybe suggest to AARP that they should jump on as a way for elderly drivers to maintain their driving independence longer by having access to slower, safer streets they could use a NEV on.

  7. Pingback: We are Honored | Riding on Roadways

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