For more than a decade Seattle Parks & Recreation fielded complaints and safety concerns about the Green Lake’s lakeside path. Concerns include things like cyclists whizzing by nearly colliding with walkers or baby strollers, skateboarders weaving dangerously among pedestrians, roller skaters racing along a walkway packed with ambulating people. When the two-way loop became a one-way pedestrian only path as a COVID-19 safety precaution two years ago, complaints about no bikes on the Green Lake Inner Loop waned.
So, the pedestrian-only inner loop rule at Green Lake is not new.
What is new is the signage.
In early spring the department took down temporary COVID-related path restriction placards. In their place, they installed long-term green, black and white metal signs establishing the Green Lake Inner Loop as a two-way pedestrian-only, no wheels walkway for the foreseeable future.
No recreational wheels allowed on inner loop
That means, no toddlers with training wheels, no family bike rides around the lake, no skateboarders, no dogs pulling longboarders. Green Lake is not long an option for the elderly man in a Speedo swimsuit who roller skated backwards arond the lake for more than a decade, boombox hoisted to shoulder. Despite his talent on wheels, he was often unaware of the crowds of walkers in front of him.
The no-wheels rule on the Green Lake inner loop applies to all recreational wheels, including those adapted for people with disabilities but intended for recreation not mobility. Wheeled devices needed for non-recreational mobility are welcome as are strollers.
The inner loop feet-only decision has been an ongoing discussion for many years within Seattle Parks and Recreation, spurred by regular complaints about how crowded and unsafe the loop can feel on the park’s busy days. The Board of Park Commissioners collected public input regarding keeping the inner loop for foot traffic only at its meeting last October. The board has continued to collect it via email since then. And, more than 4,500 people responded to a survey sent out last November by the Seattle Department of Transportation regarding Green Lake path changes. The results show wide support of a peds-only inner loop path.
“The majority of input has been in support of or neutral to the change,” says Rachel Schulkin, communications manager for Seattle Parks & Recreation.
Schulkin points out: “This change has been in place since the beginning of the pandemic, and the long term use change has been in effect for a couple of months.”
New signs lead to increased calls to Seattle Parks department
So why a sudden surge in calls from people upset by the pedestrians-only policy? In March, the department took down the COVID-related temporary pedestrian-only signage and installed new, permanent signage in March.
“When the new signs went in some folks had just newly tuned into this change,” says Schulkin. “New signs make it look like a new issue.”
Avid lake user Amy Avnet is one of those angry about the change. She says the pedestrian-only rule is unfair to families, those with disabilities and others and will ultimately make path users less safe.
“Given that wheels users of all stripes will undoubtedly risk being outlaws and continue to use the path anyway, there is now more danger to everyone since there is not a designated place for wheels users to safely ride,” she says.
Wheels allowed on adjacent paths
In fact, there are places for wheels at Green Lake. Wheels are welcome on paths snaking between the street and the inner loop all around the lake and in the wading pools when water is not present. Schulkin points to the broad path behind the Green Lake Community Center as “a great, wide place” to teach toddlers to roll.
And, of course, seasoned bikers with command of cycling etiquette and bike commuters will soon be able to fully circumnavigate the lake using the Green Lake outer loop path which runs alongside the road above the lake. But the city has not yet completed the last crucial leg of an outer loop expansion and safety upgrade – a safe bike lane along Aurora Avenue on the west side of the lake.
Says Schulkin: “People have been saying ‘The outer loop is not done, why are you doing this now?’”
The answer to that is really about continuity, Schulkin says.
Signage timing is an attempt to avoid confusion
Completion of the outer loop project is expected soon, possibly this summer.
Wheels and bikes have been restricted from the inner loop for the past two years, so changing the restriction to allow bikes and wheels for a couple of months (because the previous COVID-era restriction date has passed), and then changing it back again in a couple of months when the outer loop was complete, didn’t make sense.
“For over a decade there was a steady drumbeat of calls from people saying ‘The Green Lake path does not feel safe.’ We knew there would not be a perfect solution that worked for everyone,” says Schulkin. “But the pandemic gave us an opportunity to try something new and people are used to it at this point.”
The parks department considered numerous ways to safely allow some wheeled recreation – for example restricting bikes to kids under a certain age. But Schulkin says the options for parceling restrictions became “too nebulous.”
“Parents told us if my kids can ride, I want to ride with them,” she explained.
Parent concerns over small riders
Parent Nick Lo, who lives near Green Lake says the no wheels on the inner loop decision leaves his kids vulnerable. The outer loop is not designed for young, learning riders, he says.
“I really do not feel safe letting my 3-year-old and 7-year-old ride their scooters around the outer loop bike lane,” Lo says. “It makes no sense that they would be riding in the lanes where there are full-grown adults riding much, much faster than they are. This is absolutely more dangerous for toddlers and young children who are learning how to ride or are simply riding a scooter.”
Moreover, the outer loop offers no place for parent supervision of young riders.
“As a parent supervising my kids while they are riding I am almost always walking alongside them,” Lo says. “Am I to let them ride their bike or scooter on their own in the bike lane while I walk some distance away?”
Lo says the only option for his kids’ riding at Green Lake is to allow them to roll along the street-side sidewalk, an option that leaves them mere “arms length” from passing cars.
Other options for rolling and riding
For more lengthy or group riding, Schulkin suggests pathways throughout the city that are designed for wheels: Centennial Park, Maple Leaf Reservoir Park, Myrtle Edwards Park or the Burke-Gilman trail to name a few. Check out these great bike trails researched by Seattle’s Child.
Seattle Parks & Recreation is still collecting public input about Green Lake path policies via email. Contact PKS_Info@seattle.gov. The Board of Park Commissioners will take up the issue and invite more public comment on Green Lake path updates in June. (See upcoming meeting agendas here).