If a city is like a body, then streets could well be described as its arteries, capillaries, and veins… vessels that are essential for circulation, but a hazard to good health when problems like clots, plaque, or faulty valves materialize.
Like metropolises all around the globe, Seattle is considering what kind of city it wants to be during the next few decades, which will be an era of climate reckoning like none other in modern history. Decisions about land use, growth, and street design in Seattle have been made on an car-centric basis for decades, with grave implications for freedom of mobility, safety, and sustainability.
But we do not have to continue on that trajectory.
Indeed, in recent years, there has been a welcome and growing movement to rethink how we design and move around in our built environment, challenging and even discarding old assumptions. At the heart of this movement is the idea that our cities — and the streets that connect homes, businesses, and civic gathering places to each other — are and ought to be for people, not cars.
When streets become people-centric as opposed to car-centric, amazing things can happen, as other cities’ experience has demonstrated.
Seattle has an opportunity both to make climate progress and to strengthen people’s health and well-being by improving its streets.
To find out what voters think about that opportunity, we teamed up with our friends at Seattle Neighborhood Greenways (SNG) to ask respondents of our most recent citywide research survey in Seattle what values they think should guide the funding and allocation of space on our streets — and what ideas they are interested in implementing to speed our recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and get us closer to our equity, livability, climate action, and safety goals.
Today, we’re very happy to be able to share our findings with the public.
Let’s dive in to the questions we asked and the responses. Our first question was a values-question that asked Seattleites to respond to a series of statements espousing principles for how the city funds and allocates space on its streets.
QUESTION: Seattle has important decisions to make about its transportation future over the next few years. Thinking about how Seattle could fund and allocate space on our streets, please indicate how important each of the following values are to you.
VALUES & ANSWERS:
Safety: Everyone should be safe no matter how they get around on our streets.
Important: 96% Not Important: 4% Not sure: Very Somewhat Not Too Not At All 1% 81% 14% 3% 1% ———
Accessibility: Seniors, people with disabilities, and others who are unable to drive should be able to get around comfortably and with dignity.
Important: 94% Not Important: 4% Not sure: Very Somewhat Not Too Not At All 2% 73% 21% 3% 1% ———
Affordability: People should have affordable transportation options to get around.
Important: 92% Not Important: 6% Not sure: Very Somewhat Not Too Not At All 1% 72% 20% 4% 2% ———
Convenience: People should have convenient transportation options that get them out of traffic and save time.
Important: 91% Not Important: 7% Not sure: Very Somewhat Not Too Not At All 2% 63% 28% 4% 3% ———
Kid-friendly streets: Kids who are old enough should be able to safely and independently walk or bike to school, parks, and friends’ houses.
Important: 89% Not Important: 9% Not sure: Very Somewhat Not Too Not At All 2% 61% 28% 6% 3% ———
Racial equity: Communities of color deserve safe streets.
Important: 88% Not Important: 9% Not sure: Very Somewhat Not Too Not At All 3% 75% 13% 3% 6% ———
Clean environment: We must reduce climate-damaging emissions and air pollution.
Important: 88% Not Important: 10% Not sure: Very Somewhat Not Too Not At All 2% 74% 14% 6% 4% ———
Health: It should be easy for people to build exercise into their daily routine and lead healthier lives.
Important: 82% Not Important: 15% Not sure: Very Somewhat Not Too Not At All 3% 54% 29% 11% 4% ———
Happiness: People should have options to get around town that bring them joy.
Important: 73% Not Important: 23% Not sure: Very Somewhat Not Too Not At All 4% 44% 28% 16% 7% ———
As we can see, all these values were characterized by more than seven out of ten respondents as important. Safety and and accessibility topped the list, but affordability, convenience, kid-friendly streets, racial equity, clean environment, health, and happiness were also deemed important by most respondents.
Next, we asked about a set of ideas for creating more space on our streets for people as we recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
QUESTION: During the pandemic, many cities across the country, including Seattle, made changes to their streets to create more space for walking, biking, and outdoor dining. Please indicate whether you would support or oppose making each of the following changes in your neighborhood as the state recovers from COVID-19, even if it means removing a lane of traffic or parking spaces.
IDEAS & ANSWERS:
Safe walking and biking routes for kids, parents, and teachers to get to schools
Support: 84% Oppose: 14% Not sure: Strongly Somewhat Somewhat Strongly 2% 56% 28% 9% 4% ———
More space for outdoor dining and retail to support small businesses
Support: 84% Oppose: 14% Not sure: Strongly Somewhat Somewhat Strongly 2% 55% 29% 7% 7% ———
Wider sidewalks and planting strips to give people more room to walk and plant more street trees
Support: 78% Oppose: 19% Not sure: Strongly Somewhat Somewhat Strongly 3% 47% 31% 10% 9% ———
Giving buses their own lanes to speed up bus trips
Support: 74% Oppose: 23% Not sure: Strongly Somewhat Somewhat Strongly 3% 41% 33% 15% 8% ———
Bike lanes that are physically separated from cars to make everybody safer
Support: 71% Oppose: 26% Not sure: Strongly Somewhat Somewhat Strongly 3% 46% 24% 13% 13% ———
Safe routes to school got the biggest response, followed by more space for outdoor dining and retail. Wider sidewalks and planting strips were also extremely popular, as were creating more dedicated bus lanes and bike lanes protected from auto traffic. As we can see, no idea polled under 70%.
In our third question, we gave respondents even more ideas to respond to.
QUESTION: Seattle has ambitious climate, health, equity, livability, economic, and safety goals. Do you support or oppose making the following changes to get us closer to these goals?
IDEAS & ANSWERS:
Providing for more homes, retail, and neighborhood amenities in order to create a city where people can walk to all their daily needs in fifteen minutes or less.
Support: 81% Oppose: 14% Not sure: Strongly Somewhat Somewhat Strongly 5% 49% 32% 6% 8% ———
Allowing shopping streets such as the street next to Pike Place Market to limit vehicle traffic to loading and unloading so that people can walk comfortably and safely.
Support: 81% Oppose: 15% Not sure: Strongly Somewhat Somewhat Strongly 4% 53% 28% 7% 8% ———
Shifting the enforcement of traffic laws from the Seattle Police Department to the Seattle Department of Transportation to allow police to focus on other priorities.
Support: 73% Oppose: 17% Not sure: Strongly Somewhat Somewhat Strongly 10% 51% 22% 7% 10% ———
Creating low-traffic, low-speed neighborhood streets where people can safely walk, bike, run, and play in the street — and car traffic is limited to deliveries and local access only.
Support: 67% Oppose: 28% Not sure: Strongly Somewhat Somewhat Strongly 5% 37% 30% 15% 13% ———
Allowing schools to close their adjacent streets during the school year to create a safer environment for kids to get to and from school.
Support: 55% Oppose: 38% Not sure: Strongly Somewhat Somewhat Strongly 8% 27% 28% 22% 15% ———
Requiring property owners to repair sidewalks when they sell their property to make the sidewalks safer and more accessible for people with disabilities and the elderly.
Support: 45% Oppose: 47% Not sure: Strongly Somewhat Somewhat Strongly 8% 23% 22% 19% 28% ———
As with the previous question, we saw lot of enthusiasm.
Providing for more amenities topped the list in response to this question, followed by allowing shopping streets such as Pike Place to limit vehicle traffic and shifting the enforcement of traffic laws to SDOT from SPD.
There was less interest in allowing schools to close adjacent streets during the school year, but a majority still expressed support.
The only idea that was not popular out of all the ideas we tested was requiring property owners to repair sidewalks when they sell their property.
Seattle Neighborhood Greenways’ Executive Director Gordon Padelford noted that these findings demonstrate that there is already a strong consensus among voters that Seattle should be making decisions about its streets that put people first.
“Despite the emerging narrative that Seattle is deeply fractured, at least when it comes to transportation issues Seattlites are surprisingly united,” he said.
“Even when it comes to seemingly contentious transportation projects that require converting a lane or traffic or parking spaces, Seattle voters were overwhelmingly supportive,” he added, pointing to the high percentages. “They are willing to convert travel lanes and parking lanes into more space for kids to get to school, outdoor dining, wider sidewalks, safe bike lanes, and bus lanes. This scientific polling finds that Seattle voters are in fact more united around an inclusive transportation vision than parts of the public discourse would lead us to believe.”
While change can be hard, change is also necessary. We have chosen for years here in Cascadia to build what are essentially traffic sewers instead of proper streets in our urban centers and suburbs alike. When streets only serve cars, more people drive, because driving is the encouraged and sanctioned default.
Not long after NPI was founded nearly two decades ago, I had the opportunity to listen to a talk by one of the leaders of the Project for Public Spaces, which has championed ideas like placemaking for almost fifty years. The highlight of that talk was a presentation that depicted amazing spaces like Pike Place Market and described the characteristics of what makes them great.
Our streets can be more than just conveyer belts for cars. They can be attractive places themselves: places where people can walk in safety, bike in comfort, or sit down at a cafe to read a book or watch the world go by.
Seattle has taken steps towards embracing this future in the last few years. Now the city must accelerate its transformation to a people-centric metropolis. Our data demonstrates that voters are ready and enthusiastic to move forward.
We thank our friends at Seattle Neighborhood Greenways for the opportunity to team up on exploring voters’ support for ideas that can improve our streets and raise our quality of life. These were fun questions to ask!
The poll these questions were a part of, which was conducted for the Northwest Progressive Institute by Change Research, has a modeled margin of error of 4.1% at the 95% confidence interval. All 617 respondents participated online. The poll was in the field from Tuesday, October 12th, 2021 through Friday, October 15th, 2021. Follow this link if you’re interested in a detailed primer on the survey’s methodology along with information about who took the poll.
We urge Seattle’s incoming elected leadership, including Mayor-elect Harrell, Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, and Councilmember-elect Sara Nelson to study these findings and join with their colleagues in acting on them.