A 35-person study group from the Detroit Green Task Force recently spent three days in Seattle to learn about that city’s sustainability and climate action efforts. The Detroit group included four city councilmembers (Benson, Calloway, Santiago-Romero, Waters), many departments heads, and advocates, including us.
The City of Seattle was especially gracious in welcoming us and putting together a very thorough agenda. While there are many obvious differences between the two cities (e.g. average household income), there were also many similarities and opportunites to learn from their sustainability practices.
We heard presentations on many topics from energy to waste, water to solar, and our focus area, transportation. As for the latter, they recognize the need to reduce single-occupancy vehicle traffic through investments in public transit, walking, and biking. Electrifying the status quo is not enough to get to carbon neutrality in the transportation sector — and it’s also not an equitable approach, a leading priority across all their efforts.
Every morning we led a group run to see some of those investments in person. One highlight were Healthy Streets, which are similar to their neighborhood greenways but with fewer restrictions on neighborhood activities that would otherwise require street closures (e.g. basketball).
Healthy Streets are closed to pass through traffic, but open to people walking, rolling, biking, and playing. The goal of this program is to open up more space for people rather than cars—improving community and individual health.
Seattle’s Healthy Streets and neighborhood greenways include traffic calming, such as bump outs, speed humps, 20 MPH speed limits, and traffic circles.
These are similar to the Slow Streets described in Detroit’s Streets for People Design Guide, but not yet implemented.
Seattle has also invested in thousands of traffic circles. These are small gardens that fit within a residential intersection to slow vehicles. They are not roundabouts! These are also in the city’s Design Guide. Since returning from Seattle, we’ve submitted a grant application to pilot these in Detroit.
One thing we didn’t see in Seattle: broken and missing bike lane delineators. Theirs seem far more durable that those used in Detroit. We were told they rarely need replacing. We hope to try those as well with out traffic circle pilot.
A major takeaway for us was climate change. They’re feeling the effects of record temperatures, expanding forest fires, and risings seas, whereas Michigan hasn’t. We can’t help but think this is one reason why Seattle and the state of Washington are taking climate action much more seriously than Michigan.
Overall, it was an invaluable experience, not only to learn from Seattle, but to strengthen connections within our Detroit group. We look forward to implementing some of what we saw here at home.
Thanks to the Kresge Foundation, Amazon, and Visit Detroit for making this visit possible. We also would like to thank Washington DOT Traffic Engineer Dongho Chang and Seattle Neighborhood Greenways Executive Director Gordon Padelford for helping us plan our group run routes and meeting with us during the event to share additional information.