Sadly, the pandemic isn't going anywhere. Restrictions in Washington have started to tighten, COVID-19 cases are ticking upward, and people are thirsty for places they can be safe and socially distant that aren't the insides of their sweaty homes.
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Since traffic is down 30 percent citywide, it only makes sense to give people the right of way on big, bustling arterials that gobble up prime lakeview real estate. Seattle is ready to start accomodating those needs.
Starting Friday, the stretch of Lake Washington Boulevard between Mount Baker Park Beach and the Seward Park entrance will be off-limits to cars until September 8. Depending on how the closure goes, the street could stay shut down for vehicles until the end of September. Before you get your hopes up, it's unlikely the change will be permanent.
"The roadway will be open for people to walk, run, and bike," Councilmember Debora Juarez announced yesterday in a Seattle City Council meeting. "And vehicles can use the street for local access."
The coordinated effort between the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) and the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department started as a five-day pilot back in June as part of the Stay Healthy Streets program in the city where 13 city streets have been closed to vehicles.
The public response was so positive to the Lake Washington Boulevard pilot (67 percent of people who provided input to SDOT enjoyed the pilot) that a car-free street is back on the menu. It also demonstrably helped with social distancing in crowded nearby parks by giving people more space to recreate, especially since biking is currently banned in Seward Park in order to aid in social distancing guidelines, according to SDOT.
Respondents gave feedback that one of the positives of the original pilot was the reduction in vehicle noise. Typically, that stretch of street sees vehicle volumes of 53 to 440 cars per hour, according to an SDOT blog post. During the pilot, volumes dropped from zero to 10 cars per hour. On the other hand, pedestrian and bike use climbed.
Starting on Friday, cement "eco blocks" will be placed around Lake Park Dr S, 43 Ave S, 46 Ave S, 50 Ave S, S Genesee Way, S Orcas St, and S Juneau St, SDOT announced. Signs will instruct drivers that the street is closed except for local access and encourage alternate routes through the neighborhood. The biggest concern with this change is that vehicle capacity will increase in nearby neighborhood streets.
Depending on how street use shakes out during this carless period, SDOT and Seattle Parks and Rec will extend the program through September. So grab your bikes and your walking shoes. Maybe even your rollerskates if you're feeling bold.
If you're interested in making any of the Stay Healthy Streets permanent, email SDOT.