What started as an initiative to encourage exercise and provide easy access to shops and essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic will now be a permanent part of the Seattle cityscape.
The City of Seattle in Washington has announced that at least 20 miles (32km) of ‘Stay Healthy Streets’ will remain closed to traffic even after the coronavirus threat has been eliminated, and will now be for the exclusive use of walkers, joggers, and cyclists. These streets have been off-limits to vehicles since April so that residents may use them for exercising—while observing physical distancing, of course—and to walk or bike to supermarkets and other businesses providing takeout food and essential services. Only delivery, emergency, and residents’ vehicles are allowed on the closed-off thoroughfares.
The results have been very positive. In one ‘greenway’ within the Stay Healthy Streets network, the Seattle Department of Transportation observed a 300% increase in biking compared with 2017 data. The agency also reported a “57% drop in vehicle traffic volumes accessing downtown Seattle” during the quarantine period.
Aside from making the Stay Healthy Streets a permanent part of the city, the local government also announced an initial expansion of three miles (4.8km) to the network, as well as the prioritized construction of bike infrastructure. For those traveling on foot, efforts to make the city more walkable include adjusting some 800 traffic lights to reduce the waiting time of people wanting to cross the street, and the automatic activation of the walk sign even if people don’t press the crosswalk button.
“We are in a marathon and not a sprint in our fight against COVID-19. As we assess how to make the changes that have kept us safe and healthy sustainable for the long term, we must ensure Seattle is rebuilding better than before,” said Mayor Jenny A. Durkan. “Safe and Healthy Streets are an important tool for families in our neighborhoods to get outside, get some exercise, and enjoy the nice weather. Over the long term, these streets will become treasured assets in our neighborhoods.”
Here in the Philippines, there has been an upsurge in the use of bicycles and electric kick scooters among frontliners and essential travelers as people find ways to cope with the shutdown of public transport during the enhanced community quarantine. Even with the eventual shift to general community quarantine, however, public transport vehicles like trains, buses, jeepneys will only be allowed to operate at 50% passenger capacity or less to ensure social distancing. Walking and the use of two-wheelers will then continue to be the only option for many commuters for the time being, but with the lack of pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure they pose considerable safety and healthy risks.
Do you think Seattle’s Stay Healthy Streets initiative is something we can adopt in the local setting? Let us know in the comments.