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Why Seattle is permanently closing 20 miles of streets to through-traffic

Seattle plans to keep 20 miles of Stay Healthy Streets post-coronavirus permanently closed to cars. (Photo courtesy of SDOT Blog)

Some will call this another shot on the “war on cars” in Seattle. Others will say it makes the city safer. No matter what you think of it, Seattle is closing 20 miles of city streets permanently.

Since Gov. Inslee’s stay-at-home order went into effect, Seattle has slowly been closing some neighborhood streets to traffic to give people a safe place to walk or ride their bikes while staying close to home. It started in West Seattle with one street, before eventually expanding to 20 miles of pavement closed to cars across the city.

The city picked the spots based on how far they were from easy access to open spaces, and whether there were arterial roads nearby to provide enough access for cars. Seattle transportation director Sam Zimbabwe has now made those 20 miles off-limits to through-traffic permanently.

“The 20 miles of ‘Healthy Streets’ we’ve implemented to date will become permanent, and we’ll continue building on that network,” he said.

The plan is to keep declaring Seattle streets off-limits to through-traffic. If you live on the street, you can still drive on it to get home. If you are cutting through the neighborhood, you cannot. Delivery drivers, garbage and recycling trucks, and emergency vehicles are still allowed to use the streets.

20 miles of Seattle streets will remain permanently closed to cars

Mayor Jenny Durkan is using the pandemic as an opportunity to push for more no-car zones and bike facilities across the city.

“We’re going to find new and creative ways to maintain some of those traffic reductions as we return to the new normal,” she said.

The mayor believes closing these streets is a win for everyone.

“We want people to know that Seattle, as we rebuild, we rebuild a better Seattle,” she said.

Better, unless you have a car.

There have been some plans that would convert 130 miles of Seattle pavement to what the city calls “Healthy Streets,” where no through traffic would be allowed. Some of the spots under consideration include Lake Washington Boulevard, which is a popular route for commuters from Madison Park to 520, and Magnolia Boulevard, which is a primary commuting route from the neighborhood into Interbay and then downtown Seattle.

Three more miles are already being added to the list of Stay Healthy Streets today, including the entire stretch of Beach Drive in West Seattle, which is how most people get to the beach just south of Alki Point. I’m not sure where those visitors will park, but it will likely be on other neighborhood streets, which have not been closed.

These spots have not be made permanent, yet.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.

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