A Greenwood neighborhood just duked it out with the U.S. Postal Service.
A Greenwood neighborhood just duked it out with the U.S. Postal Service. Courtesy of SDOT

Greenwood residents said the mail stopped on Monday.

The stretch of 1st Ave NW in Greenwood from NW 73rd Street to N 100th Street has been off-limits for vehicles since the end of March as a part of Seattle's "Stay Healthy Streets" program. Local vehicle access and deliveries are still allowed. The program is meant to give Seattleites more recreation space across the city during the pandemic.

None of the residents I talked to for this story said they had been contacted by the city about the change coming to their street. Instead they found out about it through the news or when the barricades went up on either end of the block. People were split on their feelings around the "Stay Healthy Streets." But the mail stoppage firmed up any negative feelings.

Last Friday, residents were mailed a flyer from the United States Postal Service notifying them that mail "could no longer be delivered" because of the "Stay Healthy Streets" program. "Due to the increase in pedestrian traffic," the notice read, "it has become a safety hazard for your mail carrier and the community." Residents would have to pick up their mail at the Ballard Carrier Annex, three miles away from their neighborhood.

Corey Morris

Vicki Todero, 77, a retired Spanish and French teacher said she was happy to live on a "Stay Healthy Street," but "wasn't just going to sit on [her] fanny" when she found out the mail service was stopped. She was worried about how this would impact the other "more mature" people on her block.

"Hmm, well there are five of us who are 60 or older," Todero said, thinking out loud. "Well, Allen might be older—that's six." She chewed it over more. "Just on our one street, a block, there are six or seven people who are over 60 and—one, two, three—of us are over 70 and we try to be conscientious citizens who wear masks and other things."

Todero was concerned about how she and all these people were going to get down to Ballard to get their mail in the middle of a pandemic.

"Older people stay in or around the area," Todero said, "It seems to be [USPS] is not looking at the point of view of the older person who then has to drive or have some sort of transportation or rely on neighbors to get down to Ballard."

Corey Morris, 36, said he didn't mind the pedestrian street. Sometimes sitting in his front yard felt like "living in a fishbowl" but "it's whatever," he said. What's not whatever is that his and his neighborhood's mail was messed up right near election time.

"I’m really concerned because we’re vote by mail," Morris said. "This makes me really nervous that it’s going to gum up that system. That’s certainly something that’s on my mind if [USPS] is messing around with my mail around election time."

One of Todero's neighbors, Tina Webster, a retiree in her 60s, had the same fear. How would she and her elderly neighbors vote in the November election in the midst of the pandemic if they had to wade into a small post office building to get their ballots?

While vote by mail voter suppression is a real concern nationwide, that doesn't seem to be at play in this sliver of a neighborhood in north Seattle.

Webster said she was already fed up with the "Stay Healthy Streets" program and the mail cancellation sent her over the edge.

It was crowded, Webster said. Kids ran through her yard maskless, no one was socially distancing, and "we haven't even talked about the dog piss," Webster laughed. But this was about their lives, she said. She and her partner Peter didn't feel safe going into their own yard because of the crowding.

Plus, one man let his three Malamutes drag their leash through her garden. ("Tina has a lovely garden," Peter said, hopping on the call from another receiver in the house. "They all come up to her while working and want to ask her questions about it and I can see her backing up as they approach her without masks on. She's scared.")

According to Webster, it was this crowding and disregard for public health guidelines that got their mail canceled.

"Suddenly, to have our fears justified by the post office and USPS deciding the neighborhood is too dangerous for postal carriers to go through kind of brings the issue into stark relief," Peter said.

However, Bob Hoverhus, 76, who Todero affectionately called "the mayor" of the block since his family has lived there since 1915, has a different opinion for why mail service stopped: There are no sidewalks.

That's part of the reason why the city selected their stretch of street to be a "Stay Healthy Street," Hoverhus figured, because there's already no space for pedestrians. The lack of sidewalks changes how their mail is delivered, Hoverhus said. The mail carriers use vehicles only to transport mail and packages.

With so many pedestrians in the street, "they're afraid someone might be injured," Hoverhus mused. Without sidewalks and without vehicles, USPS stopped service completely.

"South of 85th street they have regular mailmen walking and delivering their mail," Hoverhus said. But north of there, mail carriers aren't supposed to be walking.

Ernie Swanson, a spokesperson for USPS confirmed that "there needs to be a sidewalk for carriers to deliver on foot."

According to Swanson: "This is a safety issue. A lot of people were using the new 'Stay Healthy Street' during the afternoon hours when the carrier used to be in the area, not always paying attention to the vehicle."

So, "neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds" but no sidewalks and a pedestrian-occupied street will.

According to a Seattle Department of Transportation spokesperson, it seems like a combination of both Webster's and Hoverhus's suspicions are true:

"USPS told us that people are frequently parking too close to the mounted mailboxes, and mail carriers have to back up after delivering mail. USPS guidelines discourage this movement for safety considerations. Challenges also arise when people walking, rolling, or biking in the street move aside to let them through, but move in front of the mailbox carriers are trying to access. Residents should see some educational signs pop up in the neighborhood by the end of the week."

As of Tuesday, mail service resumed because USPS and the city started conferring on how to fix the problem. It appears that that boiled down to changing the time the neighborhood received its mail from the afternoon to between 8:30 a.m. and 10:00 a.m.

Todero called me after her semi-regular Tuesday morning walk around Woodland Park Zoo to tell me she had received her mail. "It was yesterday's and today's," she said excitedly. She had signed up to track her mail through USPS so she knew which mail she was meant to get yesterday. She's confident she got her mail back because of all the fuss residents raised.

Morris had also gotten mail and some packages.

Webster said this morning she sprinted over to her mail carrier, a different person from Webster's usual carrier, "to get more information" but "the poor mail person knew nothing about this."

"You'll never guess what happened," Hoverhus told me. Like the rest of the neighborhood, he had gotten his mail. "I guess enough people tickled in their ear to make a difference."