Support Stay Healthy Streets on Queen Anne

(We often forget that the history we collect and learn informs how we address the present. This op-ed demonstrates the value of learning history and in collecting the  materials that preserve it. The Queen Anne Magnolia News published this piece  on May 5 , 2020 as the City responded  to COVID-19 with  Stay Healthy  Streets. It reflects the author’s work with the Queen Anne Historical Society and Queen Anne Greenways, advocates of safe streets for people of all ages and abilities.)

Social distancing is an important way for us to stay safe, requiring a six-foot perimeter around us when we go for a walk or a bike ride  While it looks like people are going to need it for some time to come, Queen Anne Greenways wants to encourage everyone to get out and exercise.  Seattle has introduced a Stay Healthy Streets initiative designed to give people a safe way to walk and bike and maintain that six-foot perimeter. The initiative has already found great success in portions of West Seattle and Capitol Hill.

Queen Anne is lucky to have a long stretch of public right-of-way that’s ready to become one of Seattle’s Stay Healthy Streets.  I’m speaking about our historic Queen Anne Boulevard which wraps around the crown of the hill. The last month or so it has been filled with bicyclists and pedestrians as never before. I rode portions of it with my six-year-old granddaughter the other day.

The city completed our beautiful street between 1911 and 1916 in response to angry protests about the omission of Queen Anne from the Olmsted Brothers’ 1903 report to the City calling for parks and connecting boulevards.  Progressive landscape architects, the Olmsted Brothers rejected Queen Anne because they couldn’t link its streets to the parks or playgrounds in their plan, and there was no way Queen Anne could meet their 150-foot-wide standard.  Striving for equity, the Olmsteds wanted wide streets winding through the city that would make access to parks easy for everyone whatever their socio-economic status.  Yet in apparent contradiction to this idea, Seattle’s boulevards, including ours, were built more for people seeking great views from their motor cars than for folks on foot or bicycles.  The onset of COVID-19 has seen automobiles almost disappear from our boulevards.

Queen Anne Greenways is a group advocating safe streets for walking and biking everywhere in our neighborhood.  It has worked to make intersections safer and has produced Play Streets at the Farmers Market for the last four years.  Now, it is proposing the conversion of portions of Queen Anne Boulevard and some ancillary streets as temporary Stay Healthy Streets which would be closed to all vehicles except those of residents and those delivering goods to residents.

Imagine safely walking or biking as you head south from W. McGraw Street and 7th W. all the way around to Queen Anne Avenue.  You’ll pass phenomenal views to Puget Sound and the Olympics, understand the importance of the Seattle School of artists at the Betty Bowen Viewpoint, take in some of the most impressive houses on W. Highland Drive and, if the mountain’s out, contemplate Mt. Rainier from Kerry Park.  Downtown and the Space Needle are other visual treats as you walk or ride by the park.

Continuing eastward on Highland, you cross Queen Anne Ave. at the new signal for which Queen Anne Greenways successfully lobbied and loop all the way around the boulevard.  As you stay six feet from your neighbor, take in glimpses of Bhy Kracke Park, Lake Union, Capitol Hill, St. Mark’s Cathedral and the Cascades in the distance.  Queen Anne Boulevard, an idea overlaying many different street names, is the longest of Seattle’s 400+ designated historic landmarks.

Our plan has a bonus. I’m calling it an Olmsted bonus.  Remember, John Charles Olmsted and his stepbrother/cousin Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. designed parks connected by streets that would allow everyone, no matter their social class, to move easily from one park to another. Our Olmsted bonus runs north-south between Rodgers Park on the north and Kerry Park on the south.  The connection we hope to see as part of our Stay Healthy Streets runs past McClure Middle School, alongside Big Howe, the Queen Anne Community Center, and the pool.  I can’t imagine a more historically correct link.