Seattle must recognize that, every day, people without cars need to be able to use our streets and sidewalks safely. This all comes down to priorities and who our city views as having valid needs for mobility.
The Washington State Department of Transportation spent $4.4 million advertising the SR 99 tunnel. Imagine if we had spent that money on infrastructure for people rolling, walking and biking?
Many of our intersections still lack curb ramps or accessible pedestrian signals (the push-button signals that give an auditory and tactile signal for blind and deaf/blind pedestrians).
According to a 2018 report on sidewalk conditions by the Seattle Department of Transportation, the public right of way on many of our sidewalks is poorly maintained and inaccessible due to gaps, cracks and other sidewalk obstructions.
Seattle also needs to reevaluate how cars get priority in intersections over people, including whether pedestrians get an automatic walk signal, the length of the crossing time and the length of the signal cycle.
Along greenway routes designated for pedestrians and people biking, crossing larger streets often requires us to dodge traffic that doesn’t stop or yield. For low-vision and blind people, as well as people with limited mobility, trying to dodge moving cars isn’t a safe option. Even worse, some greenway routes (and many streets in our city) lack sidewalks entirely.
How little Seattle values mobility needs for those of us who aren’t car owners was clearly demonstrated during our record-breaking snows in February. Many disabled people, elderly people, young people and others who rely on walking and wheeling for transportation found ourselves unable to navigate the snow and ice-covered sidewalks, which remained treacherous for more than a week.
Major snow events in Seattle don’t occur every day, but as our city faces a more uncertain climate future, we need emergency response protocols that serve everyone who uses our transit systems and sidewalks.
While Seattle has designated emerald-and-gold routes for snow clearance from roadways and a real-time map of roads that have been cleared, there is no parallel plan for sidewalk, curb ramp or transit stop snow removal. This leaves those of us who rely on accessible sidewalks, intersections and transit stops without any way of getting to where we need to go.
Because of the difficulties many of us experienced during the snow, Rooted in Rights, a video advocacy program of Disability Rights Washington, began to organize a response, including a video testimonial that got shared by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York).
We also co-authored a letter — with community partners like the Transit Riders Union, Seattle Neighborhood Greenways and the Seattle Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind — to City Council, asking to establish emergency response protocols that include disabled people and other vulnerable users. We believe an inclusive emergency preparedness plan must be a priority as our city strives to become more resilient.
In response, the city of Seattle has acknowledged they must do better and has promised more education and outreach to ensure private property owners are aware of their snow removal and sidewalk maintenance obligations. They have also agreed to hold a community hearing about the city’s response to snow emergencies that will take place during the next scheduled Pedestrian Access Advisory Committee meeting in July.
While we are encouraged by this response, we need to continue to share our stories and to organize to make sure changes are actually implemented.
We encourage you to reach out to us at info (at) rootedinrights (dot) org or by leaving a voicemail at 206.324.1521 x 242. We want to hear from you about how you were impacted by the city’s snow response and what Seattle could do year-round to make our streets and sidewalks more accessible for people walking, rolling and riding bikes.
Anna Letitia Zivarts is the director of Rooted in Rights, a part of Disability Rights Washington dedicated to telling authentic, accessible stories to challenge stigma and redefine narratives around disability, mental health and chronic illness.
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