Category Archive: Research

What’s the most important acronym on Seattle streets?

click here for ROWIM community comments

click here for ROWIM community comments

The Seattle ROWIM or Right Of Way Improvement Manual may be the most important acronym guiding the development of Seattle streets today.

How wide are sidewalks required to be? Where can driveways go? What sorts of street lighting do developers need to provide around new condo buildings? These questions are always important, but they are of critical importance now.

You might be forgiven for not knowing that more than 10,000 housing units are in the works in Seattle and $2.8 billion worth of projects are under construction, but you have been sleeping if you have missed the 40+ big cranes massively  transforming our city in Ballard, U-District, South Lake Union, First Hill, and downtown.

Fortuitously, Seattle is also mandated to do a 10-year update of its Right of Way Improvement Manual.

The current ROWIM was written before there was much attention paid to bikes as transportation, parklets, street furnishings, or safe and healthy street architecture for people who walk. Note that SDOT will also be updating its Complete Streets Ordinance as it updates the ROWIM.

The City of Seattle hired the Toole Design Group as a consultant on the project and expects to complete the ROWIM update as a web-based on-line document by the end of 2015. Expect the new and improved Seattle ROWIM to have some of the same flavor of Boston Complete Streets Guidelines that Toole worked on last year. We hope to see lots of new street typology — greenways, historic boulevards, festival streets, play streets, home zones and maybe even the elusive woonerf.

A group of Seattle people who are passionate about the wonky aspects of streets began meeting in December of 2013 to discuss the ROWIM. The group represented people in Seattle who serve on City Boards & Commissions, people who staff active transportation advocacy groups, students, and interested community members. They met because they all believe the ROWIM has the potential to reflect the aspirations of a Vision Zero, carbon neutral, equitable, healthy city that prioritizes people who walk, bike and use transit.

The ROWIM community comments are summarized in a 9-page document, with highlights below. Some comments are about policy, some are really digging into the weeds. We hope you find them all helpful. Read the complete community comments here.

  1. Mode hierarchy. Choices about mode hierarchy will happen from now on with every project. SDOT has uncompromising standards for level of service and safety for the movement of motorized vehicles. We need to invest in equally rigorous standards for all modes and a have clear expectations for level of service for all modes of travel. Our recommendation is to place the comfort and safety of people walking and biking at the top of our mode hierarchy.
  2. Build to Vision Zero standards. Safe streets are SDOT’s number one concern. The ROWIM needs to include information on traffic control devices, traffic calming on arterials, and traffic calming on residential streets.  In order to reach Vision Zero by 2030, every project — especially every major capital project — needs to be designed to achieve zero deaths and serious injuries in the ROW, not just “improve” safety conditions.
  3. Reflect anticipated land use strategies on a 20-year timeframe. Seattle will be denser and greener. We will thrive without prioritizing the use of single occupancy vehicles in the allocation and design of our limited right of way resources.
  4. Be context sensitive. Make street improvements be context specific. There is a huge difference in residential, commercial, industrial property, yet many street uses have a one-size-fits-all approach for street trees, curb ramps, sidewalks, driveways, lighting and so on.
  5. Demand excellence. Allow SDOT to innovate and encourage pilot projects.  Seattle is known as an innovative city.  We’ve embraced NACTO, and we’re one of the most highly educated cities in the nation. Our ROWIM should allow us to continually experiment and learn.
  6. Make safe streets legal. We want to see new concepts and ideas in this version of the ROWIM. There are a variety of street classifications, safety tools, livable street elements, and intersection treatments that need to be defined and permitted for future use.
  7. Collaborate interdepartmentally, with other agencies, and with the public on right-of-way improvements. From a community perspective, public land is public land. We don’t much care if it is managed by Parks, SDOT, SPU, Schools, Libraries, Metro  etc. It belongs to all of us. Let’s start making plans and rules for our public spaces collectively. This approach will be needed if we are to build a new connected, citywide grid of low-stress biking and walking routes.
  8. Format the ROWIM for easy use.

Illegal Tree Cutting? Contact hotlines to find out!

by Peter Steinbrueck October 2014

Have you witnessed the cutting down of mature trees in your neighborhood and wondered if it was legally permitted? It’s pretty shocking to watch, and see outside your windows, where there was once a beautiful living mature tree canopy. You can help!10635709_10204139440979541_1701764516291994666_n

The City of Seattle has numbers you can call to report any potentially unlawful tree cutting, either on public or private property. This occurred next to my home in Ravenna, on a nearby vacant lot where once stood a fine old Victorian house, demolished a year ago for future townhouse style development. Over the weekend a tree service company, working into the night, surreptitously removed 4 or 5 mature trees from private lot, including a beautiful 36 inch red cedar. The tree service said the city told them the large trees could fall on power lines or street in storm.

I was dubious, and called the City this morning. Sure enough, no permit had been issued. Unfortunately, it was too late.

Don’t let this happen in your neighborhood! Here are the numbers to call:


During non-business hours call the policy non-emergency number 206-525-5011 to report illegal cutting

Illegal cutting on Seattle Parks Department property should be reported to (206) 684-4113 during regular business hours (8:00 am – 4:00 pm – Monday through Friday.)

Illegal cutting on other public property should be reported to (206) 684-TREE (8733) during regular business hours ( 8:00 am – 4:00 pm – Monday through Friday).

Illegal cutting on private property should be reported to DPD at 615-0808 ( 8:00 am – 4:30pm – Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays & 10:00 am – 4:30 pm – Wednesdays).

And consider joining the Tree PAC in Seattle

Contact Seattle hotlines to report suspected illegal tree cutting. We need more trees not less for #climate @petesteinbrueck thanks!

Upgrades needed on another deadly Seattle street

Originally published September 2, 2014
By Andres Salomon

It is completely unacceptable a street known to be as dangerous as Roosevelt Way NE is not being aggressively examined for traffic calming and other improvements during its 2015 reconstruction. Read the complete report here.

Join a Walking Audit co-hosted by Feet First Tuesday, Sept 2 at 5:30pm. A Bicycle Brainstorming Session co-hosted by Cascade Bicycle Club is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept 3 at 6pm.

Screen Shot 2014-09-02 at 1.28.40 AM

By focusing on quick, cheap, paint-only solutions, the 2015 construction has the potential to create non-protected “mixing zones” at intersections. Mixing zones are where bikes share a lane with buses and cars that are turning right. As funding becomes available, later work could focus on traffic signal upgrades that allowed bikes to safely traverse intersections without needing to mix with cars or buses.

We can and should be asking much more from our multi-million dollar maintenance projects. Concerned neighbors are organizing community efforts to help identify needed walking and biking improvements along Roosevelt Way.  I look forward to our community successfully engaging with the city to push forward on additional solutions that will Roosevelt a safer, more humane street.

The repaving project includes the University Bridge (Eastlake Ave NE), Roosevelt Way NE between the University Bridge and NE 65th St, and small portions of 11th Ave NE and NE 42nd St.

Rackathon: Bringing the Best of Bike Parking to Seattle

If you regularly ride your bike in Seattle, you’ve likely had trouble parking your bike. Often, there just aren’t enough bike racks to go around. Sometimes they’re far away or in an odd location—like behind a dumpster, or right up next to a building. And sometimes the racks are just poorly designed and hard to use, particularly if you ride something like an extracycle or a family bike.

On July 9th, over 90 people gathered to help solve these problems at Rackathon: A Regional Summit to Hack the Bike Parking Code. The event, organized by Brock Howell of Cascade Bicycle Club and Bob Edmiston of Madison Greenways, brought together bike advocates, developers, policymakers, city employees from several municipalities, and design firms to work on standards for where bike racks need to go, and to test out a variety of different bike rack designs.

Rackathon participants evaluate a bike rack design.

Rackathon participants evaluate a bike rack design.

Four vendors showed up with their bike racks, and participants got to test them out with a variety of different bicycles. Participants also heard a presentation from the Scott Cohen of the Portland Bureau of Transportation. One big takeaway? Portland has not one, but TWO full time employees devoted to bike parking—amazing! Seattle, with several employees intermittently working on bike parking, has a little catching up to do. If you want to encourage people to bike for everyday transportation, it makes sense to have dedicated professional bike parking staff.

While we may have some catching up to do, Rackathon was a big step forward, with enthusiastic participation from concerned citizens and public officials alike who are passionate about bringing Seattle’s bike parking up to speed. More photos of the event on Facebook. We also learned from Kyle at SDOT just how simple it is to request a bike rack. Check out the video, How to request a bike rack in 30 seconds, and get started on making Seattle a more bike-friendly place to be!

Want more details? See How Seattle can build more and better bike racks from the Seattle Bike Blog.

Wendy, the Willing But Wary Cyclist

Read more about Wendy, the Willing But Wary Cyclist by clicking on the image below.
Wendy, Willing But Wary

Three Lessons from Riding Every Greenway in Seattle

Originally published April 18, 2014
By Jacob Ostrowsky

Jefferson Park entrance from Beacon Hill Greenway

Jefferson Park entrance from Beacon Hill Greenway

What happens when you ride every greenway in Seattle?  Over the course of several weeks, I did exactly that and came away with a deeper understanding of how far we have come…and what the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) needs to do to realize the full potential of greenways.

First of all, I didn’t just ride every greenway.  I rode them, I walked them, and in some cases I drove them.  I went from one end to the other and back again.  I observed every sign, every speed hump, every pavement marking, and every piece of physical infrastructure, and I took notes along the way.

I took my wife and 11 year old son along for the ride and recorded their impressions, as well.

What did I find?  First of all, it’s clear SDOT knows how to build greenways now.  After a rough start that gave us the Wallingford Greenway — an embarrassment by any measure — SDOT is building greenways roughly on par with current practice in other cities.  Early on, it seemed like Seattle was going to fully recapitulate Portland’s entire painful evolutionary process.  Instead of simply picking up where Portland left off, SDOT apparently needed to re-live their mistakes.  It was maddening to those of us who understood how greenways work.  Fortunately, though, we’re past that and we have nothing but love for our friends at SDOT.  Bygones.

That doesn’t mean we don’t still have things to learn here in Seattle.  So here are three lessons for SDOT that become readily apparent when you ride every greenway.

1.  Break the Silos

Many greenways pass alongside beautiful parks seemingly oblivious to their proximity.  No curb cuts, no park entrances welcoming people along the greenway.  A greenway has the potential to link and extend the reach of Seattle’s park system.  A park should be an extension of the greenway network and vice versa.  Similarly, many greenways pass through creek protection and Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) reduction opportunity areas without addressing green stormwater infrastructure.  SDOT needs to do a much better job collaborating with Seattle Parks & Recreation and Seattle Public Utilities to truly green our greenways.  The portal from the Beacon Hill greenway to Jefferson Park (shown above) is a rare and welcome exception.  It needs to become the rule.

2.  Focus on User Experience

SDOT can be ham-handed when it comes to roadway design.  There is no doubt Seattle’s streets are built to engineering spec but they are not always intuitive to end users.  Many places end up being awkward or puzzling to people like you and me.  A few examples on greenways:

  • The offset arterial crossing at 32nd Avenue NW along the Ballard Greenway forces cyclists to merge into a standard 5’ bike lane at a 90 degree angle.  It may look fine on a schematic but, as a user, it’s puzzling.
  • There are numerous instances of 20 mph signs placed right at the corner of an arterial entrance to a greenway.  Motorists focused on making the turn will likely pass the sign unnoticed.
  • At various locations, you will see pedestrian half-signals installed without beg buttons accessible to cyclists or beg buttons located on the left side of the street only.  I witnessed a woman on a cargo bike fully loaded with groceries struggle awkwardly to activate one of these signals.  It wasn’t pretty.  Do we make drivers park and get out of their cars to activate signals?  We do not.
  • We seem to like diverters made from paint instead of concrete.  A diverter is intended to prevent motor vehicles from turning onto a greenway.  It is possible SDOT is focused on compliance rates but there is a big difference in the perception of safety provided by an actual physical concrete curb versus a painted (and soon to be faded) indicator.

 3.  Err on the Side of Safety

In numerous cases, SDOT appears to err on the side of caution: caution for the need of motor vehicles to flow swiftly.  Just once, they should err on the side of caution for the safety of pedestrians and cyclists ages 8-80.  Examples:

  • The Andover “raised crosswalk” on the Delridge Greenway is intended to protect pedestrians in the crosswalk but the raised portion is barely perceptible.  If we truly want to protect vulnerable users, we can learn a lesson from certain mall parking lots and give people a real raised sidewalk.
  • Arterial crossings along greenways seem to have the minimum acceptable treatment.  Ride the Ballard Greenway and you will wish the crossing at 14th was as good as the one at 32nd.  Similarly, you will wish the crossing at 32nd was as good as the one at 24th and you will wish the crossing at 24th was as good as the one at 15th.  Just once, let’s make err on the side of favoring pedestrians.
  • The same is true for diverters and medians.  At the arterial crossing of Beacon Avenue South at South Hanford Street, a median and pedestrian half-signal were added but the motor vehicle diverter is only sign-based with no physical barrier.  It is unclear why the median wasn’t extended slightly to serve as a physical diverter.  It’s as if SDOT is saying to motorists, “Don’t cross here, but in case you do, we made a nice cut through the median to make it easier to disobey the signs.”

In spite of these gentle observations, SDOT’s trajectory is, without a doubt, solidly upward.  Quality is improving and the results are readily apparent.  These essential greenway corridors, currently scattered across the city, are gradually coalescing into a linked network promising greater safety for those who choose to travel under their own power.  As we continue to work with SDOT, Seattle Neighborhood Greenways is dedicated to making this network a reality, one that sets a standard for quality that other cities will strive to match.


Greenway Wonkathon 2014

Wonkthon evaluation tableEXECUTIVE SUMMARY

On February 22, 70 thought leaders came together representing the City of Seattle, advocacy and community groups, the University of Washington, and design & engineering firms. The Greenway Wonkathon: a half-day collaborative event focused great minds on improving neighborhood greenway design and development. The topics areas we discussed were greenway development, segment design, intersection design, place-making, evaluation, and political strategy.

spokespeople-mar2014-2The Wonkathon was a huge success! Thank you! We left knowing we are a dynamic community dedicated to the idea of creating 250 miles of safe and healthy streets to Seattle in 10 years. We generated excellent strategies and actions to help us accomplish that lofty goal. Initials of people who signed up to help bring each idea to life are shown in the right hand column in the table below. Now is the time to turn your passion and ideas into action!  We invite you to connect and move forward with other people who are passionate about the same ideas and projects via the Greenway Wonkathon Google Group. Contact Gordon @ to join. Actions are already happening!

The ideas from the Wonkathon are organized into four high-level themes that emerged and cut across all six topic areas:

  1. Experiment and cut red tape
  2. Empower local communities
  3. Activate the streets
  4. Measure and communicate our successes
Wonkathon outcomes

Wonkathon panorama

Wonkathon outcomes 2


single bold step

UW students tap wisdom of Greenwood-Phinney Greenways

Greenwood Phinney Greenways meets UW Landscape classFor the second year, students of UW Landscape Architecture Professor Julie Johnson have made Seattle Neighborhood Greenways the focus of their studio work.

This year, the focus on Greenwood-Phinney Greenways centers around safe streets, and, in particular, how to design safer streets in places without sidewalks. We know this 2014 UW class will bring great solutions to Greenwood-Phinney Greenways!

In 2013, Landscape Architecture 402 students worked on a design plan for Lake City Greenways. Several of the student plans for safer, greener streets are already being implemented by the Lake CIty community and Seattle Department of Transportation.


  • Facebook photos of the first community-student meeting at Greenwood Branch Library January 16 2014.
  • Sign up here

    to get updates about future meetings in Greenwood and at the UW on the Greenwood Phinney Greenways project.



Take Action and sign our budget petition!

Every year for the past three years, Seattle Neighborhood Greenways has submitted an annual list of priority routes and intersections to the City of Seattle. You can review our success in funding our priority greenways here. In 2014, we decided to focus solely on intersections.

Our process

We have chosen to focus on intersections because we firmly believe that family-friendly intersections are the foundation of a well-loved and well-used network of safe and comfortable streets. Kids biking home from school, grandparents walking to the park, parents pushing a stroller, and neighbors propelling wheelchairs to the bus all are limited by safe ways to cross busy streets. This is something we hear from people in every corner of Seattle.

We want to help make sure SDOT has the community support, local knowledge, funding, and political support necessary to build world class intersections as part of world class greenways.

By de-emphasizing mile targets for greenways in 2014, and instead focusing this year entirely on intersections, our priorities are clear. Intersections that do not prioritize people who walk or bike are gaps in our family-friendly active transportation network. We value future City investments in safe ways to get across our streets. 

In the past year, 21 Seattle Neighborhood Greenway groups collectively spent hundreds of hours discussing, researching, and documenting priority intersections in their neighborhoods. Every neighborhood group found many intersections where City investments could be made to increase safety for people walking and riding bicycles. Each local group was asked to select just two or three of the many intersections they found problematic. During a series of meetings and online discussions as a coalition from October through December, we collected and evaluated 73 proposed intersections that local groups had submitted as their highest local priorities.

Then we “prioritized the priorities”.  We voted as a group for just 10 intersections. These 10 intersections are what we will advocate for most strongly in 2014 – but again, all 73 intersections submitted by community groups as part of this process have value as top local priorities. Obviously, there are many intersections that need safety improvements in Seattle!

How did we choose just 10 of these intersections for your consideration?  We evaluated and prioritized our collective selection based on several criteria. The questions we asked were:

  1. Does this intersection connect to a larger network of comfortable active transportation corridors?
  2. Does this intersection reach a broad geographic spread in the city and include places of economic and cultural diversity?
  3. Is this intersection very likely to become a part of a greenway system? Is it a part of the Bicycle or Pedestrian Master Plan?
  4. Does this intersection have a record of pedestrian or bicycle collision reports?

Our map

You can review all 73 intersections that our local groups proposed in the attached spreadsheet and online map. Our map includes descriptions and data for every intersection. We divided our intersection list into three categories: 1) intersection improvements on existing greenways; 2) intersection improvements on potential future greenways; and 3) other intersection improvements that our community members simply felt were of vital importance in order to make active transportation links for people of all ages and abilities.

Our on-line map includes all 73 intersections as well as highlights our top 10 citywide priorities.

Our support

We look forward to working with SDOT on intersection improvements throughout Seattle. Every intersection on our map represents significant community support from 21 different neighborhoods. We are happy to help SDOT build additional site-specific support as needed.

To build our collective knowledge base and increase support, Seattle Neighborhood Greenways plans a February workshop with SDOT staff, talented professionals from the private sector, and professors and graduate students from University of Washington to collaboratively find ways to improve and evaluate greenway arterial crossings. We’ll keep you posted on our upcoming “Greenway Hack-a-thon”!

Finally, we will continue to work as a coalition to make sure the public, the City Council and the Mayor’s Office know how important safe and comfortable intersections are to the people of Seattle. We want to continue to provide SDOT with funding and political support to build safe and comfortable streets for all. We hope to work with you to create world class intersections in 2014 that are truly family-friendly.

Children hurry across Rainier at S Myrtle St - a budget priority

Children hurry across Rainier at S Myrtle St – a budget priority

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