Seattle May Be Slow, but We Are Catching Up



20isplentyIn 2011 my friend Rep. Cindy Ryu drafted a bill to give cities authority to reduce city street speeds. The bill was based on research coming out of the UK and our own local friends in Portland among others, confirming why a “20 is Plenty” plan reduces injuries and accidents for all modes of traffic and brings comfort and safety to neighborhoods.

Seemed like a simple idea, but the bill failed to pass the state senate.

We tried again the following year to make our neighborhoods more neighborly. Again, no soap.

Then, in 2013 with seconds to go on the final day of the session, thanks to Sen. Andy Billig from Spokane and Sen. Joe Fein from Auburn, our bill reached the state senate floor for a vote and voila! Seattle and other cities in our state had authority to reduce speed limits to 20 mph on side streets without having to do expensive traffic engineering studies.

I celebrated with many of my friends dedicated to urban vitality and promoting better chances for all of us to live longer.

I’m proud of Seattle in many ways, yet in this regard we are just catching up to what other cities have recognized for years. The “20 is Plenty” movement has improved conditions in cities from York, UK, to NYC, to Portland.  It’s now our turn.

I am a huge fan of making our city a place where safe and enjoyable neighborhoods are the norm across our city.  Whether you’re a parent with kids in a stroller, an 8 year old who is independent enough to ride  her own bike to school, or someone who needs a little more time to cross a street, this program is for all of us.

If you have any doubts about “20 is Plenty”, spend a few minutes listening to some friends from the UK who 6 years ago started successful campaigns in their cities: http://www.streetfilms.org/no-need-for-speed-20s-plenty-for-us/.  

The campaign became popular because the advocates, their neighbors and their kids began to get out and walk or ride their bike when they wanted to do so. What started with a few visionaries became a “big and good idea for all” and the mindset changed in their communities.

Judging by the number of emails flooding my in-box, Seattle is ready for this big and good idea too.

As a direct offshoot, we can promote “walking school buses” and “bike trains” across the city.  These offer alternative grass-root ways for kids to get to school under adult supervision, but without the need to get into the family van.

The benefits: kids show up at school energized and exercised; parents and caregivers get to know each other; and fewer cars are needed to get our kids to school, thereby reducing the number of cars congesting our roads.

If you are interested in learning more about the “walking school bus” movement, check this out:

http://guide.saferoutesinfo.org/walking_school_bus/deciding_if_a_walking_school_bus_is_the_right_fit.cfm

If you want to see a “bike train” in action at a Portland elementary school, see one of my favorite Streetfilm videos here, start at the 2:48 mark: http://www.streetfilms.org/portlands-bike-boulevards-become-neighborhood-greenways/

I will be voting for the legislation.  I know it won’t make everyone happy immediately.  A good friend of mine told me he really really  likes to drive his car fast and he earnestly asked to keep the speeds up across the city.

I’m afraid I didn’t respond as he would have liked. I thought about this quote from the UK video: “Speed really becomes greed when it stops people from walking or cycling on streets they call home.”

So to my friend I say this: please drive fast and safely on the freeways, and slow down just a little for the rest of us across the city.

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