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Seattle, WA

Walk Friendly Communities - Platinum Level

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Community Highlights

Seattle is designated as a Platinum-level community due to top-notch planning and engineering, outstanding outreach and education, and strong enforcement and evaluation practices. Highlights of Seattle's application include:

  • Seattle is a leading example of positive evaluation practices and has developed an outstanding reputation as a walkable city due, in large part, to the understanding of trends in pedestrian travel. This understanding comes from significant pedestrian counts that have been occurring biannually since 2006. Data is collected during the peak summer and winter periods and analyzed for seasonal and time of day impacts on walking volumes.
  • One of the main reasons Seattle's Pedestrian Master Plan is such a successful document is the clear establishment of goals and measurable performance indicators. With the objective of becoming the country's most walkable city, Seattle established baseline measurements, performance targets, and data collection processes to improve walkability. These indicators fit into the four main goals of the plan: Safety, Equity, Vibrancy, and Health and contain such examples as reaching ten new schools a year with outreach and increasing pedestrian volumes in selected count locations.
  • Managing parking is one of the keys to promoting a safe and enjoyable pedestrian environment. Beginning in 1986, Seattle abolished parking minimum standards for the downtown, opting instead to implement a 1 space per 1,000 square feet of non-residential development. Further, parking must be inside, behind, or beside buildings and any parking requirements can be waived if sited along a designated pedestrian corridor. The City also provides incentives for large development programs, including parking cash out, shared parking, and park-and-ride.
  • There are a many benefits of buffer zones on sidewalks and Seattle's recognition of this through a tree-planting program is noteworthy. In addition to requiring street trees in all new development, the City also recently planted more than 800 trees in rights-of-way and also provided free trees to residents in a number of neighborhoods.
  • Understanding that fostering good walking practices in children is essential, Seattle's Safe Routes to School program sets a high standard. The Seattle School Traffic Safety Committee, composed of representatives from Seattle Public Schools, Seattle Police Department, and Seattle Department of Transportation, creates walking route maps for every public elementary school in Seattle. The DOT also works with Feet First, a local pedestrian advocacy group, to conduct walkability audits at several schools a year. Seattle schools perform regular counts of how children get to school and, in one case, found a 49% increase in walking to school after the completion of a SRTS infrastructure project.
  • The Seattle Parks and Recreation department shows its commitment to walkers of all ages through a volunteer-supported walking program for adults age 50 and up called Sound Steps. Sound Steps is a free, community-based walking program designed to get older adults active and experiencing the benefits of regular exercise. It is a year-round program that provides connection to other walkers, tools to measure progress, a number of weekly walks from various locations, monthly hikes, and training for longer events.
  • In 2008, Seattle piloted Car Free Days to open up streets to bicycling, walking, and playing. The City renamed it Celebrate Seattle Summer Streets in 2009 and made extensive efforts to involve local businesses, farmers markets, parades, art walks, and more. In 2011, there will be Summer Streets events on four different streets through the summer, as well as Bicycle Sundays almost every Sunday from May to September.
  • Seattle's Rights of Way Improvement Manual is a leading example of how good design and accessibility can improve understanding of ordinances and regulations. The interactive online manual presents a standard streetscape with dynamic, clickable elements beneath the image. These elements, like curb radius or street trees, highlight the element in the image and direct the user to the pertinent section of code where the standards are explained. This provides transparency and clarity for regulations and makes it more approachable to citizens.
  • The neighborhood traffic calming program in Seattle is impressive, particularly the neighborhood traffic circle element of the program. These mini-circles have been found to reduce motor vehicle crashes by an average of 90 percent in Seattle. Over the past 30 years, Seattle has installed over 1,030 traffic circles and has now instituted a formal process for proposal, as there is still enormous demand. There are criteria for proposal evaluation and detailed information about the process available through the City's website, allowing access for neighborhoods to explore this option.
  • Studies show that red light cameras are an effective measure in preventing fatal crashes that occur as a result of running red lights. Seattle has 30 red light cameras at 21 different intersections around the city. The City also has mobile speed enforcement cameras that focus on enforcing speed limits in school zones. These effective enforcement measures have led to a vast reduction in fatal crashes involving pedestrians.
  • The US Justice Department's National Institute of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice recognized Seattle's Blockwatch program as an "exemplary project" just seven years after it began in 1972. The program, which includes over 3,800 blocks citywide, represents roughly 30 percent of Seattle neighborhoods, compared to a national average of 8–11 percent.
  • The Seattle DOT uses crash data, including pedestrian collisions, extensively in reviewing safety concerns. In 2007, the City formed a special traffic unit called the Aggressive Driver Response Team to target aggressive and dangerous drivers and protect pedestrian safety. The team is extensively trained and targets areas that are known for aggressive driving and also works chronic community traffic complaints, school zone violations, and conducts pedestrian emphasis operations.