The global pandemic provided an opportunity to experience the city in a different way. Last year, Seattle Department of Transportation and Seattle Parks and Recreation opened 3 miles of Lake Washington Blvd all summer to allow for recreation close to home and space to keep 6 feet apart. This real-time experience engaged hundreds of people who shared their thoughts with us through emails, phone calls, surveys, and even videos (like this one from Anna Zivarts with Disability Rights Washington).
“As a city, we’re taking what we experienced during COVID-19, considering how to meet our environmental goals, and striving for safer places to walk and bike. What I’ve witnessed on Lake Washington Boulevard is that when such spaces are opened to people of all ages and abilities, they truly transform into a spaces for people. Children, families, and elders fill these spaces as they go for strolls, picnic on the grass, or go swimming in the lake. These spaces are truly valued and they are something that all communities in Seattle should be able to access.” –Councilmember Tammy Morales
As one would expect, reactions to the change varied. A substantial number of people shared their joy in having an intuitive, flat space, free of traffic safety concerns, and to be outside alongside one of Seattle’s most beautiful parks. We also heard concerns from some residents related to on-street parking pressures (particularly when parking lots were closed last summer), traffic transferring from Lake Washington Blvd to adjacent streets, and missing a treasured scenic drive whether for pleasure, lack of ability to walk or bike, or commuting.
Here’s a sampling of what we heard:
"I've loved seeing families and friends stroll along the boulevard when it's closed to cars, and it's been a joy to cycle through without having to worry about traffic." -Mariko W.
“With the road being closed, it gives a lot more people the opportunity to come to a nice place that’s safe and just a good place to hang out.” -Jawara O.
“As a health care worker, I do not always have the luxury of time and sometimes need to drive. The quickest way to drive is along LWB, and after a long stressful day caring for patients, it is an absolutely lovely and relaxing drive home. Even as an avid biker, I prefer it stay open to cars, especially during the week.” -Ben T.
Striking a balance
This summer’s approach builds on decades of Bicycle Sundays where on a typical day about 5,000 people participate. It expands the lakefront for more use, and supports affordable travel options by making it easier to walk, bike, and roll. It provides space for children under 12 that are not currently eligible for vaccinations to stay active. It’s consistent to help people planning their trips and it maintains vehicle access during typical commute hours.
We’re balancing access for people with mobility challenges who primarily enjoy the lake when driving and considering equity for those that moved out of the city due to affordability issues and often return to visit relatives and friends in the neighborhood. By keeping parking lots open, people driving from other neighborhoods retain access to the parks.
We don’t take these decisions lightly as we work toward creating a safer, more sustainable city.