8 Solutions for Safe Streets for Social Distancing

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Governor Inslee’s newly extended stay-at-home order currently allows walking and biking for exercise and essential transportation as long as you stay six feet away from everyone else. Getting fresh air and activity are important not only for our physical and mental health, but walking and biking to our essential jobs and services can also help save money when finances are feeling tight (transportation is a major household cost in Seattle, second only to housing).

With warmer weather ahead, and the possibility of even more-crowded parks and sidewalks, Seattle Neighborhood Greenways has been looking at ways to expand our options for safe, affordable, and sustainable transportation and recreation. With the input and collaboration of community members across the city, we’ve come up with eight solutions for healthy streets during the COVID-19 crisis.

#1 Expand Stay Healthy Streets

Have you had the chance to experience one of the city’s Stay Healthy Streets yet? They’re a little bit of sparkling magic in these dark times. At first glance they don’t look like much, because all it takes to make one is a few cones and signs to restrict vehicles to local access-only and open up the street for people.
Stay Healthy Street sign

But linger for any period of time and you’ll see an elder walking, a couple running, a family walking their dogs, or kids biking in the street.


People using the Beacon Hill Stay Healthy Street

This morning, Mayor Durkan announced another 11 miles of Stay Healthy Streets, and we’re so excited! This initiative opens up valuable public space, our streets, for people to move around while maintaining a safe physical distance from each other. If widely implemented, these streets will help to ease pressure on some of our overcrowded city parks, sidewalks, and trails. Stay Healthy Streets will become increasingly important as the summer heats up, and Seattleites are eager to get outside while being able to keep a safe distance from others.

That’s why we’re proposing the city implement our community-sourced, 130-mile network of Stay Healthy Streets.

Click here to open the interactive map in a new window. The plan includes iconic recreational walking and biking routes in Seattle such as along Lake Washington Blvd, Green Lake Drive, Beach Drive, Alaskan Way, and much more!

In recognition of the current staffing and budget crunch, this proposal does not require any new major infrastructure — only cones and signs. The map relies heavily on existing neighborhood greenways and quiet neighborhood streets where possible, but incorporates pathways on some major streets where needed. For additional information, see our FAQ.

This unique, community-sourced plan incorporates suggestions from city residents citywide. SNG’s community survey, shared widely in pieces by KUOW, the Seattle Times, The Stranger, Seattle Bike Blog, and other media outlets, received 250 suggestions.

We also utilized our network of local groups and relationships with other organizations to solicit recommendations and vet maps from each district. In District 2, leadership from community and neighborhood-based groups such as the African American Leadership Forum, Bethany UCC, and El Comité offered support and insight on routes. Through these conversations and more, we emerged with a map that is at once pragmatic, community-supported, and inspiring.

If you want to see 130 miles of Stay Healthy Streets implemented in Seattle this summer please click here to send a note showing your support.


temporarily close lanes to widen sidewalks

#2 Emergency Sidewalk Extensions

97% of Seattle’s sidewalks are too narrow for people to safely pass each other while social distancing guidelines are in effect. Where possible, the city should temporarily expand sidewalks by using cones or other barricades. We’ve already heard major concerns from the Belltown Community Council for instance, and no neighborhood will be immune to this issue.


paris graphic for emergency bike routes

#3 Emergency Bike Routes

For the immediate foreseeable future, people are going to want to have physical distance between them as they start to get back to commuting and other travel around the city. Cities around the world have begun to implement temporary bikeways to reduce crowding on transit during this time of social distancing. This could be accomplished through temporary installation of cones and construction barriers, and/or by speeding up existing projects such as those along East Marginal Way and Eastlake Ave. Creating a network of safe places to bike will give people options to get to where they need to go.


Seating in the street

#4 Next-Level Play Streets and Streeteries

Expanding our city’s Play Streets and Streeteries programs and making the permitting process easier and more streamlined will allow residents and businesses to use street space more easily once public health restrictions on activities are eased. Local businesses can create additional space for physical distance between patrons by using parking spaces or perhaps entire streets for seating, and people in both low and high density neighborhoods can create their own community spaces.


Walk Signal Is automatic sign in Redmond, WA

#5 Automatic Traffic Signals for People

All people deserve traffic signals that allow them to walk and roll across the street safely and with dignity. We encourage the Seattle Dept. of Transportation (SDOT) to reconfigure traffic signals to automatically give people the walk signal without them having to touch a button (other than for vibration and sound signals for blind or deaf-blind pedestrians). The City should also develop a policy that limits how low people have to wait for a walk light and gives people enough time to cross the street. 


Man holding slow down sign. Graph showing 9/10 pedestrians survive at 20 MPH

#6 Pursue Vision Zero

The significant decrease in vehicle traffic during this time has also meant a significant increase in speeding. It’s critical that we keep people safe as they travel to where they need to go. That’s why we must follow through with the Mayor’s Vision Zero commitments to implement safer speed limits citywide and build the Rainier Ave Safety Corridor Project.


racial disparity in ticketing

#7 Decriminalize Walking

Many people may already feel comfortable walking on non arterial streets to avoid other people, but we know from experience that laws like this are not equitably enforced and are often used to place blame on victims of traffic violence. Let’s legalize or decriminalize walking in the street, just like used to be the case before the automobile industry lobbied to kick people off of streets.


jobs created by type of transportation project


#8 A Green and Just Rebound

What comes next? What comes after the worst pandemic and possibly the worst economic crisis in modern times? With Seattle as an early pandemic epicenter, can we lead the way for a different future— by rebounding as a greener, more equitable, and thriving city? It won’t be easy, but we should start by implementing a Green New Deal at every level of government to transform our streets and our economy. Just in Seattle, there are billions of dollars worth of needed walking, biking, and transit projects that would create more good-paying green jobs than highway megaprojects.

Excited by these ideas? We need your help to bring them to reality. The Mayor and city staff are already implementing the first steps of many of these initiatives, and we are grateful for their hard work. Now is the time to join together, roll up our sleeves, and problem-solve to bring these critical ideas to fruition as soon as possible so that we  emerge from this crisis a more safe, affordable, and sustainable city.

Act Now! button

Click here to send a note to elected leaders supporting Stay Healthy Streets and other COVID-19 Responses.

Can you chip in financially to help make this happen? Make a contribution today!