City of Olympia - Walkability
Priority: Complete Streets
Streets with sidewalks and trees invite us to experience our city in a different way. We can slow down, and get to know our surroundings and our neighbors better. Streets that are designed and built for people walking, biking, riding the bus, and driving vehicles are called “Complete streets.”
Building complete streets is important, because not everyone can – or wants – to drive a car for every trip. For decades, we designed streets for cars. Today we have the challenge of retrofitting our streets to be more welcoming for people walking, biking, and taking the bus.
Complete streets have many benefits:
• Enhanced safety for all users
• More safe and inviting ways for people to be physically active
• People drive less, resulting in less air and water pollution
• Attractive and comfortable spaces where people want to spend time
We measure our progress toward building complete streets by tracking how many of our major streets have a sidewalk on at least one side and bike lanes on both sides.
Making it easier and safer for people to walk around Olympia has been a community priority for a long time. In 2004, Olympia voters passed a tax on private utilities, such as cell phones and natural gas, to help pay for parks and walkability improvements. The City collects about $3 million each year from this revenue source, and about $1 million goes to sidewalks and pathways.
The updated Comprehensive Plan, adopted in 2014, includes goals and policies for continuing to build complete streets. In 2016, the City solidified its commitment to complete streets by adopting a complete streets ordinance.
Participants in last year’s Community Conversation on Budget Priorities also identified walkability as a top priority to invest in 2019. In response, the City Council added an additional $145,000 for sidewalk and pedestrian crossing improvements. This increase helps respond to neighborhood requests for more safe and efficient ways to walk to neighborhood services, schools, bus stops, and parks.
Performance: Mapping and Tracking our Progress
With a funding source and direction from the community to enhance walkability, the Public Works Transportation Division continues to track the progress toward expanding the number of major streets with sidewalks, as well as neighborhood pathway. Since the utility tax passed in 2004, the City has built almost five miles of sidewalks, and it has built or improved four neighborhood pathways.
Sidewalks and Pathways Constructed Since Passage of 2004 Voted Utility Tax: (zoom in to see details)
There is still a lot of work to be done. Our goal is to have a sidewalk on at least one side of every major street, so that there’s a safe place for someone to walk on every major street. Later, we can go back and put a sidewalk on the other side.
This map shows the Major Streets with Missing Sidewalks on both sides: (zoom in to see details)
Investments: New Sidewalks, Pathways, and Crosswalks
Maps of the current sidewalk and pathway system are critical to determining where we need to invest in future connections. Also important is knowing where the most common and desirable destinations are located, such as neighborhood stores, bus stops, employment hubs, parks and trails, and schools. In 2019, construction was completed on several projects that helped make critical connections for pedestrians.
Ensign Road Pathway. The City built a new pathway to connect the end of Ensign Road to the Chehalis Western Trail. The connection now provides nearby senior residents, including those who use walking aids, a way to get to the Trail. Other people who live and work around Ensign Road also have quicker and easier access to and from the Chehalis Western Trail.
Fern Street. A new sidewalk on Fern Street between 9th Avenue and 14th Ave in west Olympia makes it easier for people living around Fern Street to get to bus stops, a park, a childcare facility, and shopping and jobs around Capital Mall Drive.
Pacific Avenue Crosswalk Improvements. Just as important as feeling safe and secure walking along major streets is being able to cross them at convenient locations. Recently, we improved two crosswalks on Pacific Avenue—one at Devoe Street and the other at Lansdale Road. Both projects will help pedestrians cross Pacific Avenue, making it easier to get to local businesses and bus stops.
Developing a Transportation Master Plan to Guide Future Investments
The City is currently developing its first Transportation Master Plan. The Plan will serve as the guide for developing a transportation system for everyone, with a strong focus on completing infrastructure for people who walk, bike, and ride the bus.
With the public’s help, developing the Plan involves:
• Defining what we need to do to improve our streets
• Developing criteria that help us decide what projects to do first
• Deciding how we will pay for the next 20 years of projects
• Responding to the challenges that new technology and climate change will bring