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Dispatch from the SPC: Life Along the Fast Lanes

2012 June 14
by Diana Canzoneri

Note: This post is part of an ongoing series of dispatches from the Seattle Planning Commission.


In our Dispatch posted on May 15, 2012, Affordable Living: What’s transportation got to do with it?, we highlighted an important point from our recently released Housing Seattle report: mobility options and close proximity to jobs and activities may help offset higher housing costs. Lower-income households, especially, can gain the most from the livability benefits and transportation cost-savings possible in a transit community.  Improving access to affordable transportation and developing a citywide Transit Communities policy that includes an aggressive housing affordability component are important steps toward making living in Seattle affordable to a greater number of people.

< Photo courtesy of America Walks >

Our report also found that the lion’s share of Seattle’s affordable market-rate units are located on or near arterials. The good news is that even outside of transit communities, many of Seattle’s arterials are served by at least one transit route providing frequent service.  Yet, arterials often have big quality-of-life negatives for the individuals and families who live next to them (as well as for the transit commuters who traverse and wait along them).  Depending on their design, arterials can be downright dangerous for people to walk along or cross. Fast driving speeds, high traffic volumes, long intervals between signalized crossings, wide roadways, and inadequate sidewalks contribute to risks beyond the general unpleasantness associated with traveling in these areas. Conditions along arterial corridors are especially perilous for children and the elderly.

As a city, we can’t lose sight of the need to reduce the risks to life itself along the city’s long arterial stretches where many of Seattle’s young families and low-income households now live.  Streets of all types are vital public spaces in our neighborhoods, and we need to invest to make them multifunctional, safe, and inviting.

< Greenlake area townhouse owners Joshua Hockett and Michelle Zeidman support efforts to calm and slow down cars in their neighborhood. Click image to read more about their spotlight story. >

Seattle’s Pedestrian Master Plan specifies priority locations for improvements (along and across) roadways. Awe-inspiringly extensive analysis went into identifying these priority locations based on 1) where people most need to walk and 2) where opportunities for improvement are greatest. Many of these are locations on Seattle’s major arterials where ped-safety upgrades are badly needed.

By design or default, our arterial corridors will continue to play an important role in providing the combination of affordable housing and transit that many households require in order to live in Seattle. As we create our terrific transit communities, let’s prioritize ped-safety improvements with an eye towards equity.



Diana Canzoneri is the staff Demographer for the Seattle Planning Commission and was the primary researcher and analyst for the Commission Housing Seattle report.  She analyzes census and market data and provides demographic analysis related to  comprehensive planning, community development and long-range planning for the Commission as well as City officials and departments.