How three Washington cities are making their streets safer

Communities all throughout Washington are trying to make their streets safer for everyone who walks, cycles, or uses mobility devices. Have you ever wondered how they test if their changes will work?

One way communities do that is by using quick-build projects. These are short-term, low-cost changes that let cities try new ideas. Not only are they low-cost and flexible, quick-build projects also help gather feedback and see how people react before making permanent changes. Being able to test a solution ensures that the solution works best for the people in that neighborhood. These projects give the city a place to practice skills in safer street design, creative placemaking, and community engagement.

In 2021, the Washington Complete Streets Leadership Academy selected three cities to test out new, creative ideas to make their streets safer for everyone. These three cities were Airway Heights, Arlington, and Wenatchee. They each identified an issue and created a quick-build project to address it.

Although these were pilot projects, each of them used proven methods from the Federal Highway Administration to reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities.

Keep on reading to learn more about each communities’ quick-build project and what they learned from it. You can read all the full case studies on the Smart Growth America website.

Airway Heights — King Street demonstration project

Airway Heights quick-build goal was to make the area around the city’s only school and a public park safer and more inviting for everyone.

King Street runs through a residential area near the heart of the city. It provides key connections to stores, Sunset Elementary (the only school within city limits), and Sunset Park. Unfortunately, the intersection next to the park and school is a difficult place to walk, bike, roll, and even drive.

The Airway Heights team only had five people and a limited budget. They thought outside the box to make their project a success. To slow down traffic and encourage different types of transportation they:

  • Created a traffic-slowing pavement mural
  • Established new crosswalks
  • Filled in sidewalk gaps
  • Placed edible landscaping, like fruit trees and berry vines
  • Created a vibrant COVID-safe public gathering space
A girl rides her bike past a mural depicting stars and planets, painted on the asphalt, and between temporary planters with young trees.
The Airway Heights quick-build project used a street mural and landscaping to encourage drivers to slow down.

Read the Airway Heights Complete Streets case study and see how the Airway Heights team tackled challenges, generated excitement in the community, and created new safe spaces for people to gather during the pandemic.

Arlington — Smokey Point Blvd. demonstration project

a pickup truck drives past the temporary crosswalk made of street signs and planters. A person can be seen on the left waiting to cross the street.
The temporary pedestrian crossing is made of reusable materials.

On the far end of the Seattle metro area, Arlington experimented with a temporary pedestrian crossing to connect a neighborhood to a park.

Smokey Point Boulevard is a major north-south road in Arlington with few protected pedestrian crossings. By adding a crosswalk, the Arlington team aimed to improve safety, educate people about the importance of slower speeds, and provide better walking access.

An important aspect of the crossing was that it was temporary so that it could be moved. The crosswalk was built with reusable rubber curb bumpers with reflective paint, street candle sticks, temporary tape, and reflective paint. The Arlington team even included catch basins filled with dirt and plants to try to replicate the feel of a landscaped median.

Read the Arlington Complete Streets case study and hear about the feedback the team received, how the project successfully slowed driving speeds, and sparked important conversations about the future of the community.

Wenatchee — Methow and Orondo demonstration project

an elevated view of a four-way intersection with cars driving through. A pedestrian crossing sign is in the foreground and the crosswalks are painted red.
The four-way intersection of Orondo Avenue, Methow Street, and Okanogan Avenue. The red crosswalks were part of the quick build.

In Wenatchee, community input on changes to an intersection helped make it safer for people who drive, walk, roll, and use mobility devices.

The four-way intersection of Orondo Avenue, Methow Street, and Okanogan Avenue required some complex changes. Lanes become right-turn only lanes before and in the middle of the intersection, causing drivers to have to merge many times. To get across Orondo Avenue, pedestrians must cross four lanes and parking, putting them at harms way for an unnecessarily long time.

To gather the best possible feedback, the Wenatchee team made community engagement a priority. They created a timeline to help them know when to collect and use feedback. For the timeline, they identified:

  1. Who would be affected by the project, like local residents
  2. Who would need to have a say in the project, like the mayor
  3. Who would help design and build the project, like team partners

To make sure they had a lot of feedback, the team held a pop-up market event. Since the local community is 52 percent Spanish-speaking, they distributed bilingual materials. The materials encouraged people to come to the market and share their input. They did their best to include groups that might not think to join a transportation event, including dance groups, cultural performers, Zumba instructors, artisans, food vendors, and local community-based organizations.

Read the Wenatchee Complete Streets case study to for more detail on the changes they tested, their engagement strategy, and the pop-up market they used to attract local residents and get feedback.

If you would like more information on how to get involved or start your own quick-build project, email heal@doh.wa.gov.

The Washington Complete Streets Leadership Academy was conducted by Smart Growth America’s National Complete Streets Coalition, in partnership with the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT), Washington Department of Health (DOH) and Washington Transportation Improvement Board (TIB).

These projects and case studies were carried out in part to support Active People, Healthy NationSM. Active People, Healthy Nation is a national initiative, led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to help 27 million Americans become more physically active by 2027.

More Information

Information in this blog changes rapidly. Sign up to be notified whenever we post new articles. For more information from the Washington State Department of Health, visit doh.wa.gov.

Questions about COVID-19? Visit our COVID-19 website to learn more about vaccines and booster doses, testing, WA Notify, and more. You can also contact the Department of Health call center at 1–800–525–0127 and press # from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday, and 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday — Sunday and observed state holidays. Language assistance is available.

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