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The Home Zone Solution: Making Streets Without Sidewalks More Walkable

A group of people talking around a table with a large map covered in post-it notes.In 2018, Seattle Neighborhood Greenways set out to pilot a quick and cheap way to make Seattle neighborhoods safer to walk, bike, and live in for people of all ages and abilities. Our solution? Neighborhood “home zones” — a low-cost model that’s been implemented with success in other countries.

home zone problemThe Problem

A number of Seattle neighborhoods lack sidewalks, including large areas of North Seattle, which has the highest concentration of older adults in the city. Combined with increasing cut-through traffic, the lack of safe places to walk makes many neighborhood streets dangerous and uncomfortable. Given the current rate of city funding for pedestrian infrastructure, it’s going to take Seattle 300 years (at a minimum) to make every neighborhood safe for walking. We think this timeline is unacceptable and we set about creating a Home Zone demonstration project to show the city that more immediate, low-cost solutions are possible.

home zone solutionThe Home Zone Solution

A Home Zone is an area that is protected from lots of fast-moving cut-through traffic so that streets are safe enough to walk on. Home Zones direct thru-traffic to arterial streets that surround a neighborhood, keeping local access for residents, emergency access. Home Zones can use a variety of design improvements such as diverters, speed humps, and other elements, but focus on improvements that have the best “bang for our buck”, recognizing that Seattle’s pedestrian budget is stretched very thin.

A Pilot Project

Licton Springs is one of a number of neighborhoods that were annexed by the City of Seattle years back without existing sidewalks. We worked with neighbors in the Licton Springs neighborhood to identify a multi-block area to establish the Home Zone demonstration project, and community leaders from within the neighborhood to help coordinate the project. Over the course of the year, volunteers with the “Meridian Project” gathered at community design meetings, did door-to-door outreach, and toured the neighborhood streets to take note of known street hazards as well as opportunities for future traffic-calming.

Results to Date

This project is still underway, but the results have already surpassed our expectations on two fronts—one being the level of enthusiasm and participation from a multi-generational base of neighborhood volunteers; but also, and most notably, the unexpectedly brisk buy-in from the City, whereby Seattle is ready to invest $350,000 in a pilot Home Zone project of its own, based on our persistent vision and promotion of this model.

A young child points to a map while speaking to an adult.The initial community design workshop was a vibrant affair, packed to capacity, with a high level of participation across the room. We had a robust turnout of 60 people, including kids, elders, homeowners, renters, business owners, and members of the local deaf community. Food was provided and short presentations were made, but the bulk of the 2-hour meetup involved maps, markers, and sticky notes—and community members deeply engaged with each other in identifying both the hazards of their local streets and possible solutions. The community identified traffic-calming, art, and wayfinding ideas to be explored further. Building off of this large meeting, we hosted two smaller strategy meetings and a community walking audit to formalize the initial input we gathered.

A home-made wayfinding sign with walking times and distances, decorated for Halloween.Local community volunteers created a delightful wayfinding sign, pointing to popular nearby parks, libraries, and shopping districts, within walking distances noted. Sites have been selected and designs drawn up for self-watering planter box chicanes, now only awaiting official permits before they can be put together and installed on the street through a community work party. A street mural is also in the works: We’ve selected potential locations and are talking with local artists about designs — installation is expected in June when the pavement will be dry and warm enough for the paint to adhere properly.

Going Forward: A Model to Replicate

One of our key goals going in was to inspire the city of Seattle to adopt the Home Zone model as a large-scale, systemic solution that’s affordable, and immediately within reach. In November 2019, Seattle City Council approved a budget of $350,000 for the city to create its own Home Zone pilot project, building on ideas we developed.

 

For more details about the Home Zone model, see our handy Home Zone FAQ.