Here is our open letter from Feet First Executive Director, Lisa Quinn that was sent to the Seattle City Council.
Dear Seattle City Council:
Feet First would like to share its position about public space as the Seattle City Council considers legislation that would create safe public spaces for temporary encampments for the homeless. Since 2001, Feet First has been working to support the rights of everyone around Washington to be provided safe, accessible, and inviting places to walk. We believe that people of all ages and abilities should feel welcome to walk on sidewalks and to parks throughout Seattle. Universal access is at the core of what we believe.
Lack of sidewalks is one of the most frequently-cited reasons for people choosing not to walk. Another frequent reason cited for not walking is sidewalk obstructions. Sidewalk obstructions come in a wide variety of modes and manners:
- Construction impacts which require closing sidewalks;
- A-frame signs placed inappropriately on sidewalks or at crosswalks;
- Eating or drinking establishment taking too much outdoor seating space from the public right-of-way;
- Ad hoc events blocking right-of-way;
- Individual outdoor vendors taking inappropriate right-of-way space;
- Misplaced vending machines or trash/recycle containers;
- Ad hoc street furniture which is inappropriately placed;
- Occupation of the sidewalk by an individual or individuals pitching tents;
- Trees or other vegetation covering portions or all of the right-of-way and blocking passage or hanging down preventing passage;
- Pavement heaves from tree trunks or pavement subsidence from ground failure; and
- Puddles and ponds from low-lying sidewalks with poor drainage.
Feet First has taken the position that sidewalk use must be maintained for people of all ages and abilities to walk. That could mean people walking with pets or children, people with disabilities who are using mobility aids such as walkers, wheelchairs, and canes, school children walking in a formal ‘walking school bus’ and other escorted walking groups, and, in general, our sidewalks should not be appropriated for purposes other than pedestrian mobility.
Feet First also fully supports Chapter 4 of the Seattle Right-of-Way Improvements Manual, which specifies a minimum of six feet (6′) of unobstructed, linear sidewalk space that is free of street furniture, street trees, planters and other vertical elements. A wider pedestrian passage might be required in some cases consistent with existing land use code, but the minimum six feet of unobstructed linear pathway needs to be maintained throughout the city. Feet First also concurs with the Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities recommendations for sidewalk access, including provisions for lowered counter levels for outdoor vending situations and appropriately located and identified crossing aids such as call buttons for signal lights.
While Feet First supports the Seattle City Council and other agencies efforts to find safe places for people experiencing homelessness, public sidewalks, walking paths, and our city parks cannot be a part of a temporary or permanent solution. Universal access for people of all ages and abilities to walk as well as maintaining safe public places that encourages people to walk must be safe, accessible, and inviting for everyone.