The Seattle Department of Transportation briefed the City Council on the Pedestrian Master Plan update today; SDOT Director Kubly & the mayor held a press conference last month to debut the revised PMP.

The main news in the PMP update is that SDOT is prioritizing sidewalk connections to schools and sidewalk connections to transit as its top To Dos. Those premier priorities, identified as the “Priority Investment Network,” are intended to complement the city’s new affordable housing zoning policy that focuses new development in urban villages and along transit corridors, Kubly told the council.

The transit approach follows another principle too. I’d call it “Equity First.” By elevating the commitment to transit corridors, SDOT is simultaneously prioritizing people who are economically dependent on public transit. When you put equity first, your legislation will benefit people who have historically been marginalized by city policy.

Raising the minimum wage is another perfect example of this idea: People in low-income brackets, typically women and people of color, benefited most from the $15 wage increase. It works the very same way when you use public transit as a vantage point to guide public policy.

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City Council Member Sally Bagshaw asked what the new prioritization scheme meant for the original “Complete Streets” concept when the city goal had been to affix every street with every mode. SDOT staffer  Ms.  T___ K____  had a clear description of the new guiding principle: “Complete Networks.”

My sense of this new guiding principle: Like most ideas born of financial constraints, it isn’t only scrappy and innovative, but it’s more enlightened than the original, conventional approach was.

The PMP discussion starts at the 34-minute mark of today’s meeting. And the “Complete Streets” v. “Complete Networks” discussion is at the 45-minute mark.

SDOT staffer Mr.  I___  M___ and Director Kubly both took the first stab at answering Bagshaw’s question. Rather than striving to activate every mode on every street, they explained, SDOT (while still considering every mode as they upgrade each street) will be most mindful of how the entire citywide transportation grid fits together.

This new integrated approach will update different streets with different, appropriate additions (a new traffic light here, a protected bike lane there, a dedicated turn lane here, or a pedestrian safety fix there, like a sidewalk separated from the roadway by landscaping…see the green street below at 17 Ave NE in Maple Leaf.)

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This way, SDOT can do a nimble, less expensive fix on one street, such as pedestrian-only signal, and simply sync it up with existing infrastructure on another street, such as a stop light. This customized street-by-street strategy will simultaneously build out a smart, integrated network rather than a wasteful, infeasible bloated one.

It’s something like putting together a complementary band of super heroes such as the Human Torch, Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch (!), The Thing, Iceman, and Professor X, rather than putting together a team where every hero must have every power; that later incarnation would get bogged down in cross purposes and utter confusion. Taking the holistic approach instead is a more efficient use of infrastructure…and a more efficient use of money.

SDOT staffer Ms. T___ K___ summarized best: “Our definition of complete streets is broadened…It started off [in 2009] where everybody was expecting all modes on a single street. [But] more broadly now, we’re looking at complete networks. Where does it makes sense for those modes to be… and be prioritized.”

One thought on “Complete Networks are the New Complete Streets

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