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Seattle ramps up pandemic street closures

caption: A street is closed off to cars for pedestrian use during the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic in Seattle.
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A street is closed off to cars for pedestrian use during the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic in Seattle.
Seattle Department of Transportation / Jeanne Clark

It’s not just Seattle streets that are being closed to through traffic to make more space for outdoor recreation. Now it’s individual blocks as well.

The city of Seattle has a new program that allows community groups and nonprofits to apply to shut down entire city blocks for a few hours or a few days or, for example, every Saturday.

The goal of the Stay Healthy Blocks program is to make more safe places for kids to play and adults to stretch their legs.

“Maybe the kids want to play hopscotch,” said Brian Hardison, with the Seattle Department of Transportation. Or maybe adults enjoy “just walking or biking down the street without having to worry about traffic coming through.”

Hardison added that “it’s kind of like the Stay Healthy Streets (program), but on a micro-scale.” The Stay Healthy Streets program closes existing neighborhood greenways to most vehicle traffic.

Hardison said the department has focused their outreach on neighborhoods with less access to green space.

The option to apply to close individual blocks may soon be available to all city residents.

“One of the things about the Covid-19 crisis is that it’s fundamentally asking us how we’re using the public right-of-way, which accounts for about 23% of public land in the city of Seattle,” Hardison said. “That’s a huge amount of space that has been largely devoted to cars.”

This new program will allow neighborhoods to decide themselves how they want to use their local street space. Hardison said he hopes the program will continue beyond the pilot phase and even after the pandemic is over.

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