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Build Sidewalks Cheaper, Faster To Stretch Seattle Levy Money, Says Mayor

Monica Sweet says cheaper asphalt sidewalks would be a good thing for neighborhoods that have been waiting decades for sidewalks.
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols
Monica Sweet says cheaper asphalt sidewalks like this would be a good thing for neighborhoods that have been waiting decades for sidewalks.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray wants to loosen up the city’s standards for sidewalks by building them cheaper and faster. That would let money earmarked for sidewalks in the Move Seattle levy stretch much further.


North Seattle doesn’t have enough sidewalks. Just ask Monica Sweet. She’s with a neighborhood group called Lake City Greenways.

"I’m watching kids walk in the darkest part of the wintertime and watching cars swing around and being worried about getting people hit," she said. "Your heart goes out, you want to come up with solutions. And it’s hard when it’s a pricey solution. Sidewalks cost a lot of money."

Sweet shows me a where the city agreed to put in a sidewalk, just off Lake City Way.

It will be a traditional sidewalk – the full shebang made of concrete with gutters and curbs and everything.

"So that’s truly a safe protected, ideal, sidewalk,” she said.

The sidewalk would connect affordable housing with bus stops.

“A sidewalk like this – $110,000 I think is the estimate for two blocks.”

[asset-images[{"caption": "Monica Sweet stands on a typical street near Lake City Way in north Seattle where sidewalks are desperately needed.", "fid": "121635", "style": "placed_full", "uri": "public://201510/where_sidewalks_are_needed.jpg", "attribution": "Credit KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols"}]]But the high standards for sidewalks are preventing enough of them from getting built. So city officials hatched an idea: Build them out of asphalt. It’s about half the price of concrete. If you stamp it and stain it to look like bricks, it almost looks fancy. Mayor Ed Murray says the goal is still to get concrete sidewalks built.

“But you look at the cost of building out 25 percent of the city – it’s a lot of money and the word billion is involved,” he said.

At least this would get people out of traffic.

[asset-images[{"caption": "The city's asphalt sidewalks would be stamped and stained to look like brick or stones. Traditional sidewalks with carefully sloped gutters are less important today, as engineers try to drain storm water runoff into landscaped areas, instead of traditional concrete gutters that lead to Puget Sound.", "fid": "121636", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201510/cheaper_sidewalk.jpg", "attribution": "Credit KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols"}]]There’s a tradeoff, though. Asphalt sidewalks don’t last as long. But the mayor made the announcement on an asphalt sidewalk built in 2007, and it still looks OK.

They're good enough for neighborhood advocate Sweet.

“Faster, cheaper sidewalks are great for the north end,” she said.

Officials say the technique would let them stretch levy money further. They could build 250 blocks of sidewalks instead of 150 for the same amount of money.

How do you feel about asphalt sidewalks? What other low cost pedestrian improvements would you accept in your neighborhood, if it meant spreading improvements further and faster? Where would you like to see them go in? Voice your opinion on these and other topics in a survey about Seattle's Pedestrian Master Plan Update.