Spotlight on: Seattle Neighborhood Greenways - Creating Healthy Streets for All Seattle Residents
By Jessica Roberts and Luke Lamon, Alta Planning + Design | Based on an interview with Eli Goldberg and Cathy Tuttle, co-founders of Seattle Neighborhood Greenways
What do you think is special about Seattle Neighborhood Greenways?
Neighborhood greenways are exciting because they substitute what our culture sees as a niche concern (enabling safer bicycling on city streets) with a much bigger concern of many American cities: adapting residential communities to be healthier, more livable places that offer comfortable mobility to everyone, across all life stages.
By committing to this broader goal, we have built a much broader and more powerful organizing coalition than we typically see with traditional bike advocacy. If you look at our leadership, you'll see lots of middle-aged moms. We even get support from neighbors who hate bicycling--they still need to walk!
Seattle has added its own twist to greenways by crowdsourcing our route network plan to neighborhood groups. These community-driven routes will form the basis of our new Bike Master Plan's greenway network. This neighborhood crowdsourcing has empowered hundreds of people to get involved in the livability of their own neighborhoods, often for the first time.
How did your group come together - was there one specific incident which sparked this movement and its subsequent growth?
The idea behind Seattle Neighborhood Greenways came together on a Spokespeople ride in April 2011. Spokespeople is a monthly bicycle ride series in five Seattle neighborhoods designed to build confidence for "willing but wary” bicycle riders interested in cycling for everyday transportation. The April 2011 ride brought together Spokespeople founder Cathy Tuttle, Seattle Children's Hospital Transportation Director Paulo Nunes-Ueno, Beacon BIKES co-founder Dylan Ahearn, University Greenways co-founder Eli Goldberg, Totcycle and Ballard Greenways co-founder Julian Davies, and Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw.
We shared our stories on the ride. Cathy was working with Seattle DOT staff to define what made streets safer for walking and bicyling. Paulo was tasked with building a network of greenways as part of the mitigation for the expansion of Seattle Children's Hospital. Dylan's Beacon BIKES had hired Alta Design + Planning to make a circulation plan that included greenways. Eli, after two years away from Holland, longed for the freedom and magic of Dutch complete streets. Julian, a pediatrician, wanted safer streets for children. And Sally, a month after a study trip to Portland with Seattle DOT Director Peter Hahn, was a new convert to the idea of greenways. Following this ride, Sally wrote a blog post that defined greenways for the community and for local government.
Since then, we've seen truly explosive growth, with over 16 neighborhood groups planning and advocating for greenways, and the creation of a central city-wide grassroots organization, together with tremendous leadership from Seattle City Council member Sally Bagshaw.
How can Neighborhood Greenways help to defuse the cars v. bikes rhetoric that exists in many communities?
Greenways offer a transformative tool in defusing the "cars vs. bikes” rhetoric because they offer an infrastructure product that everyone can imagine benefitting from and which helps protect the most vulnerable road users: seniors, children, and people with constrained mobility. Whether you bike or not, you probably want your residential street to be peaceful and attractive and to be protected from cars barreling through at dangerous speeds.
Because our greenway routes are being planned, studied and tested by and for the neighborhood residents themselves, it's a lot harder for even the most curmudgeonly citizen to imagine that we're part of the mythical U.N. Agenda 21-sponsored bicycle conspiracy seeking to deprive them of their cars.
What advice can you give to other citizen-led groups out there hoping to work with their local government on a project such as this?
If you want to make lasting change at scale, you need to actively invest in becoming a key partner with your city's elected officials and staff by offering solutions to key problems and speaking their language. We galvanize community support and get favorable press that helps our city leaders feel good about investing in livability improvements like greenways. In turn, city staff and elected officials have become increasingly willing to trust and partner with us.
For more information about the Seattle Neighborhood Greenways group, see http://seattlegreenways.org/.
Photos courtesy of Eli Goldberg and SeattleGreenways.org