Its hard to keep six feet of distance on 6-foot sidewalks.
It's hard to keep six feet of distance safely when only the newest sidewalks are 6-feet wide. GRANT FAINT / GETTY IMAGES

After weeks of dealing with overcrowded sidewalks and trails, the mayor's office is finally letting pedestrians take back the streets!

Well, at least nearly 2.5 miles of neighborhood greenways in the Central District and in West Seattle, with an eventual goal of going car-free on a total of 15 miles of greenways across the city "in the coming weeks," according to the Seattle Department of Transportation's blog.

It's all part of the city's new Stay Healthy Streets pilot program, which aims to give walkers, rollers, and runners a little more literal breathing room as they venture out to the grocery store, or to their taco place, or on their exercise route.

Would be cool if the next stay healthy streets are shaped like a C and a U.
Would be cool if the next "stay healthy streets" are shaped like a "C" and a "U" I am a child. SDOT

In the CD, a portion of the greenway along 25th Ave S between E Columbia and S Dearborn will be carless, and in West Seattle a P-shaped portion along 34th Ave SW, SW Graham St, and HighPoint Dr SW will be open.

"These car free streets were selected to amplify outdoor exercise opportunities for areas with limited open space options, low car ownership and routes connecting people to essential services and food take out," SDOT's Sara Davis writes on the blog.

Seattle has 250 miles of greenways, so, if all goes well, that means Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan may eventually dedicate up to 6% of our slower streets to human-powered movement. But that depends on staffing, and on the number of signs the city can create.

"We will continue to re-evaluate after this weekend’s pilot and work with community and stakeholders on additional suggestions and recommendations," Davis continues in the post. "Additional closures will be subject to change based on additional orders, construction, and availability of our crews and signs."

The program falls well short of plans proposed by Seattle Neighborhood Greenways and others, and pales in comparison to a similar program in Oakland, but the urbanists seem to be generally supportive, and they're optimistic about expansion.

"Am I happy about it? Yes. Is it way too little? Yes," said Cathy Tuttle, Livable Streets consultant. "Knowing that no matter what she does, Mayor Durkan’s office would have gotten pushback from people who worry about any changes, I’d have used this opportunity to open a much larger citywide network to people instead of two small pilots. The pushback will be the same but the benefits would have been so much greater."

Tuttle argues that open streets are "cheap to install and maintain, effective as outdoor living space, and absolutely necessary in most neighborhoods for commuting."

"Maintaining six feet of distance is impossible on nearly every sidewalk, nearly 30% of Seattle streets have no sidewalks, and even more than 30% of our sidewalks are impassable for mobility-challenged people," Tuttle added. "As more of us are walking around, I hope we’re starting to notice how much of our public right-of-way is given to just a small part of the public."