This April, the city of Seattle launched the Stay Healthy Streets initiative as a way to provide more space for residents to exercise as they abided by social distancing orders. The program has kept most car traffic (excluding essential services) from using 20 miles of streets throughout the city so that residents could use those spaces to walk, bike, and exercise.
Now, after the initial success of this initiative, Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan has announced the program will be permanent. These streets will now be closed to most car traffic forever. The city will also accelerate the development of bike lanes.
“Safe and healthy streets are an important tool for families in our neighborhoods to get outside, get some exercise and enjoy the nice weather,” she said, adding: “Over the long term, these streets will become treasured assets in our neighborhoods.”
In addition to providing much-needed outdoor space for residents among shelter-in-place orders, the new initiative also advances the city’s climate goals. By transitioning many streets away from car traffic, the city encourages people to use alternative, more climate-friendly forms of transportation, including bicycles and buses.
COVID-19 is forcing us to rethink and reimagine many aspects of our society. As many of us now lack our usual recreational and outdoor resources, it’s easier to see what assets our roads are and how just how much of our space we give us to gas-guzzling cars and trucks. In some ways these roads obviously enhance our mobility and freedom. But in others, they restrict and confine us. The new initiative from Seattle is a powerful call-to-action showing us all the possibilities for how we can use those spaces not just to make us healthier and more active, but to make our planet healthier as well.
What other spaces in our cities might we be able to reimagine and reinvent as we begin to think about our recovery from COVID-19?