NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, November 17th, 2021

Seattleites enthusiastic about making city’s streets more people-centric, NPI poll finds

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:
VerySome­whatNot TooNot At All1%
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:
VerySome­whatNot TooNot At All2%
73%21%3%1%———

Afford­abil­i­ty: Peo­ple should have afford­able trans­porta­tion options to get around.

Impor­tant: 92%Not Impor­tant: 6%Not sure:
VerySome­whatNot TooNot At All1%
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:
VerySome­whatNot TooNot At All2%
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:
VerySome­whatNot TooNot At All2%
61%28%6%3%———

Racial equi­ty: Com­mu­ni­ties of col­or deserve safe streets.

Impor­tant: 88%Not Impor­tant: 9%Not sure:
VerySome­whatNot TooNot At All3%
75%13%3%6%———

Clean envi­ron­ment: We must reduce cli­mate-dam­ag­ing emis­sions and air pollution.

Impor­tant: 88%Not Impor­tant: 10%Not sure:
VerySome­whatNot TooNot At All2%
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:
VerySome­whatNot TooNot At All3%
54%29%11%4%———

Hap­pi­ness: Peo­ple should have options to get around town that bring them joy.

Impor­tant: 73%Not Impor­tant: 23%Not sure:
VerySome­whatNot TooNot At All4%
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:
Strong­lySome­whatSome­whatStrong­ly2%
56%28%9%4%———

More space for out­door din­ing and retail to sup­port small businesses

Sup­port: 84%Oppose: 14%Not sure:
Strong­lySome­whatSome­whatStrong­ly2%
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:
Strong­lySome­whatSome­whatStrong­ly3%
47%31%10%9%———

Giv­ing bus­es their own lanes to speed up bus trips

Sup­port: 74%Oppose: 23%Not sure:
Strong­lySome­whatSome­whatStrong­ly3%
41%33%15%8%———

Bike lanes that are phys­i­cal­ly sep­a­rat­ed from cars to make every­body safer

Sup­port: 71%Oppose: 26%Not sure:
Strong­lySome­whatSome­whatStrong­ly3%
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:
Strong­lySome­whatSome­whatStrong­ly5%
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:
Strong­lySome­whatSome­whatStrong­ly4%
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:
Strong­lySome­whatSome­whatStrong­ly10%
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:
Strong­lySome­whatSome­whatStrong­ly5%
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:
Strong­lySome­whatSome­whatStrong­ly8%
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:
Strong­lySome­whatSome­whatStrong­ly8%
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.

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