Yesterday, a story of mine ran in the DJC about a project in Greenwood called Piper Village that is installing a "woonerf" street. The stranger's blog, the Slog, picked up the story here and it has 23 comments so far! They're entertaining and I would suggest reading them, if you are at all interested in woonerfs.
The project, next to the Top Ten Toys in Greenwood, will have a woonerf street running from First Avenue Northwest to Palatine Avenue North, and will eventually extend to Greenwood Avenue. The first phase of the project has 46 apartments and 12,000 square feet of retail. For more information, read the story here.
If you're wondering what the heck I'm talking about, a woonerf is a street designed to slow car travel so pedestrians can take precedence over vehicles.
I lived in the Netherlands for a while, and the streets (I don't know if any of the ones I frequented were woonerfs... I doubt it) definitely felt different. They seemed less like a space purely for cars, and more like a vehicle (no pun intended) for other modes of transportation, like bikes.
Before working at the DJC, I had no idea that the reasons I felt differently about the street I lived on in The Netherlands and say, Lake City Way, were at least partially psychological.
It turns out long parallel streets that seem to stretch on forever encourage us mentally to drive faster. But when there are distractions, like trees or green partitions between lanes of traffic, we slow down. Don't believe me? Which do you find yourself speeding on more, Aurora Avenue North or your neighborhood winding road?
In 2007, I wrote a story here about John Moffatt's ideas on engineering streets to slow drivers. Moffatt is regional administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In that story, he said, “If you build a wide open freeway and call it a city street, people are going to go 70 or 80 miles per hour. People drive the speed the
Moffatt said "road dieting," or rechanneling streets to slow drivers down and change their perception of the road is one answer. Refuge islands or space in between arterials for pedestrians to walk is another way to make pedestrians safer.
There's been a lot of talk about how Seattle should design its streets in the past two years... from the city's Complete Streets Ordinance to its Pedestrian Master Plan. To read more on these topics, check out these DJC articles: article on keeping the elderly walking, article on national parking day, article on complete streets, article on pedestrian safety.
In October, I also wrote this article on tips from Copenhagen to make Seattle bikers and pedestrians feel safer. I covered the topic on the blog: to read the post, click the tag below for Denmark.
Should Seattle be focusing more on these kinds of street improvements that take street-space back for pedestrians, or at least slow cars like woonerfs and road-dieting? Or do we just need to accept the fact that Seattle is a city based on the car? What do you think?
For more information on Woonerfs, check out this New York Observer article: http://www.observer.com/2008/real-estate/woonerf-deficit or this wiki on streets.