Story from the Sole: Jeffrey Linn’s personal claim on the public realm puts children first
For Jeffrey Linn, Campus Planner at the University of Washington, “nothing was walkable or barely walkable where I grew up in a suburb outside of San Francisco.” It wasn’t until Linn moved to San Francisco for college that he sold his car and got around by public transit and foot. Everything in the City was within walking distance or just a stop away on Muni Metro or BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit). “I walked a few blocks to the subway—I took it one direction for school, the other direction for work. Having great public transportation allowed me to integrate walking into my life much more than I would have if I traveled by car.” Calling his new found freedom, “a wonderful way to live,“ he notes, “walking you don’t go as far, but you see so much more.”
Dense cities with neighborhood businesses create good walkable areas. Linn’s experience in San Francisco made him realize how public transportation, urbanism, and walking go hand in hand. This might be why he lives with his wife and daughter in Wallingford a Seattle neighborhood that boasts an 86 Walk Score. Unfortunately, in 2010, his tranquil walking world came to a crashing halt. Vivian, his four year old daughter, was being walked to preschool with a neighbor in a double stroller, when the stroller was hit by a distracted driver at NW 50th Street and Meridian Avenue. The stroller was destroyed; luckily, Vivian and her friend were not hurt. As Linn shares, “things could have gone a lot differently.”
The collision did not force Linn to stop walking with his daughter and retreat to the sheltered environment of his car. Instead, he continued to walk, and became determined to make Seattle streets safer for his daughter and her friends. As he puts it, “know what the danger is, do what you can personally and make a personal claim on the public realm.” His daughter’s collision also inspired him to build on his background in landscape architecture and planning and take up new coursework at the University of Washington, where he recently completed the first year of study in the Master of Sustainable Transportation program. “I’m extending my background in design and urban planning with more in-depth knowledge of transportation issues,” he says. His final project last year was the Safe Routes to School Plan for the McDonald International School.
Linn continues to make a personal claim on the public realm by putting children and other vulnerable users above cars. He is involved in the Safe Routes to School movement to the newly refurbished McDonald International School, where Vivian is now entering first grade. As a part of International Walk to School Day this October, Linn and other parents are organizing Walking School Buses, which includes painting route markers indicating the safest way for children to walk to school. They will also be leading walking audits of the streets leading to the school. “Walking audits will help us to understand the everyday obstacles that our kids will face when they walk to school, and from this we can know in detail what we need to do to create safer routes.” Vivian’s school draws children from Wallingford and east of I-5. This area is especially challenging for children walking to school due to the on and off ramps and the busy NW 50th Street arterial. Given the built environment barrier, the entire school’s safe walk route plan is on the Wallingford side, while there is not one safe route indicated from the eastside.
He is also actively working with the Green Lake Greenways group to make sure the proposed route supports the designated safe route to school. As he puts it, “it’s really practical to have any proposed traffic-calming strategies working together. There has already been work done on walking plans for Seattle schools; in the case of McDonald, these plans can work as a starting point for routing greenways. Where they can work together the greenways and safe routes to school should be one and the same.“
He acknowledges it is going to take a long time to build effective infrastructure that will create safer walking environment for McDonald International School kids and other people in the neighborhood. Right now, in a lot of places people have no other choice but to drive, which makes it difficult for all users and unsafe for people to walk. Linn is inspired to be a part of the movement that is reclaiming public right of way. As more people embrace urbanism, and the millennial generation asks for walkable areas, the built environment will change. Years from now this generation will be able to benefit from Linn’s work; some of these people will become parents and will have the opportunity to walk their children safely to school.