During a time when more people are sheltering at home and practicing social distancing, Seattle is making the closure of some streets permanent to allow residents and families to use them for outdoor health and exercise at a safe distance.
Back in April, Seattle announced a pilot for what it called the Stay Healthy Streets initiative, which closed streets to through-traffic to allow for biking, walking, and running. (Local traffic from residents and deliveries was still permitted.) The Seattle Department of Transportation said at the time it selected the streets based on areas with more limited access to open outdoor spaces, as well as factors like low car ownership and essential services or food delivery routes.
This week, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced that the present 20 miles of streets reserved for this purpose would be made permanent, with expanded routes in additional areas on the way.
“We are in a marathon and not a sprint in our fight against covid-19,” Durkan said in a statement. “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.” Durkan added that the traffic-free streets “will become treasured assets in our neighborhoods.”
The designated street closures will provide a necessary resource for residents of the city—specifically families—to safely enjoy spaces outside their homes as the weather warms up and people seek outdoor activities. In addition to the Stay Healthy Streets, Durkan is prioritizing and accelerating the construction of new bike infrastructure and protected bike lanes.
But the city is and has been stressing its Keep it Moving guidance, which encourages residents in public parks and other designated recreation areas to avoid gathering in groups, barbecuing, or having picnics in these spaces. Beginning Friday, in order to discourage these kinds of activities, parks in the Seattle area will begin closing at 8 p.m. rather than 11:30 p.m. Additionally, Durkan’s office said more than 60 social distancing ambassadors would be on hand to help remind people of the guidance.
“Just like we must each adapt to a new normal going forward, so, too, must our city and the ways in which we get around,” Sam Zimbabwe, Seattle Department of Transportation Director, said in a statement. “That is why we’re announcing a nimble, creative approach towards rapidly investing in a network of places for people walking and people biking of all ages and abilities and thinking differently about our traffic signals that make pedestrians a greater priority.”