Here’s our thoughts on some of the most frequently asked questions and concerns that we hear when we talk with our neighbors about Greenways and neighborhood bicycling in Seattle:

What’s a Neighborhood Greenway?

A Neighborhood Greenway is a residential street with low traffic volume and speed, where bicycles, pedestrians and neighbors receive priority. On a Greenway, residents can still drive and park just as before, but gain added traffic calming features and facilities that make it easier and safer for people of all ages to walk, bike…or just enjoy their neighborhood.

If you haven’t ever seen a Greenway before, we strongly recommend watching this short film from Portland, where they’re building 15 miles of Greenways each year:

Closer to home, Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw has also written an excellent FAQ with more Greenways information.

Who would really ride a bicycle in Seattle’s winter weather?

In places where infrastructure makes bicycling fast, safe and practical, people use it year-round. It may be a surprise, but Seattle’s winter weather is as good (or better!) as the top European cycling cities.

Compared to two of the best known cycling cities in Europe – Amsterdam and Copenhagen – our winter weather is warmer, and we have fewer rainy days:

Average low for coldest month of year Average annual precipitation Average days of >.1 mm precipitation
Seattle 36°F (Dec) 36″ 150
Amsterdam 31°F (Feb) 33″ 217
Copenhagen 28°F (Feb) 24″ 171

Bicycling still makes sense for many of our trips in the winter: in miserable weather, would you rather be lugging your groceries home 20 minutes on foot, or making a quick 5 minute bike trip?

Perhaps that’s why in Copenhagen’s winters – the coldest of any of these cities – bicycling only drops off by 30%.

But Seattle has hills everywhere!

It’s true that Seattle has many steep hills, and there are likely many places that will not be conducive (now or ever) for widespread community bicycling.

But the U-District isn’t one of those places. We’re pretty flat. In fact, if we compare the hilliness of two of the U-District’s best Greenways candidates with two of Portland’s most popular Greenway routes, we’re in the same league:

47th St (7th-21st) 12th Ave (Campus Pkwy-Ravenna Blvd) Salmon St Greenway (Portland, OR) Lincoln-Harrison Greenway (Portland, OR)
Slope 1% 2% 2% 2%
Elevation gain (feet) 34 128 121 190

I don’t ride a bike, and I live on a proposed Greenway. What’s in it for me?

A lot. Greenways aren’t about bicycling — they’re about refocusing a street on serving pedestrians, bicyclists and the street’s residents to improve everyone’s quality of life.

The improvements that make Neighborhood Greenways great for bicycles — slower traffic speeds and improved arterial crossings — also make them great for walking. Greenways even help drivers: they concentrate bicyclists onto a smaller number of roads, and take them off the neighboring arterial streets.

And you don’t have to take our word for it. Recently, Portland studied how residents along an early Bike Boulevard (an early type of Neighborhood Greenway built in the 1980s) felt about it. Their study confirmed strong satisfaction among residents at large:

  • 92% felt their home value had been increased or was unchanged
  • 74% of residents felt an improved sense of community (with only 4% negative)
  • 72% felt an improved quality of life (with only 11% seeing a negative impact)
  • …and only 6% of residents would want the Greenway designation removed, if they could

Another city with a comprehensive network of Greenways – Vancouver BC – studied how they affected the marketability of homes along the Greenway route. In a survey of 250 Vancouver realtors conducted in 1999:

  • 65% of realtors would actively use a home’s location on a Greenway as a selling feature
  • 72% of realtors felt that a home’s location on a Greenway would make a home easier to sell or have no effect

[sources: Resident Perceptions of Bicycle Boulevards, Mariah VanZerr
1999 Bicycle Plan, city of Vancouver BC]

I live next to a proposed Greenway…won’t those cars just clog my street instead?

On the contrary: Greenways can actually help prevent cut-through traffic onto your residential street from main arterials. Because Greenways are often placed one block off of an arterial, they make the natural residential cut-through streets unattractive to drivers, and help keep cars on our traffic arterials.

Making a road into a Greenway rarely creates noticeable traffic impacts on adjacent roads. Because Greenways are typically built on low-traffic roads with under 1000 vehicles per day, there’s just isn’t enough traffic to divert to make a noticeable difference.

Let’s do the math. On a worst-case road where half the car traffic from a 1000 vehicle per day road were shifted equally to two adjacent roads (one arterial, one residential), we’d get an average of just 10 additional cars per hour on the residential road.