Our new Modal Integration Policy Framework addresses needs across all modes of travel where street space is in high demand.

Biking and walking along the Westlake Ave N protected bike lane in pre-pandemic days. Photo Credit: SDOT Flickr.

Streets are fundamental to Seattle’s quality of life. They define how we move, connect people and places, give us access to important destinations, frame our urban landscapes and greenery, and ultimately enable vibrant public life to unfold. It’s part of our job to make sure streets work well for everyone. 

We think of this as optimizing our streets. Our Modal Integration Policy Framework is helping us get there. 

Traveling on the sidewalk. Photo Credit: SDOT Flickr. 

Streets Illustrated (Seattle’s Right-of-Way Improvements Manual) outlines six core functions of the right-of-way: access for commerce; access for people; activation; greening; mobility; and storage and maintenance. Functions are not specific to any one mode, and we can achieve these functions through a variety of different uses and treatments for different modes in different places along a corridor. 

However, guidance doesn’t currently exist that would help us understand and analyze tradeoffs when the right-of-way (ROW) is not wide enough to meet the needs of each mode. This is where our Modal Integration Policy Framework will come in. 

In Seattle, our modal master plans help to support the “mobility” function of ROW. These plans identify key networks in our transportation infrastructure. You can read more in our Bicycle Master Plan (2014)Freight Master Plan (2016)Transit Master Plan (2012; amended 2016); and Pedestrian Master Plan (2017). All four plans are supplemented frequently with implementation plans and work toward the same outcome of creating safe, affordable, accessible, and dependable transportation options for people of all ages and abilities. However, sometimes tension exists between plans because our streets are not wide enough to accommodate all the ways we want to use them. 

The Modal Integration Policy Framework will guide how we address these tensions and help us plan and design streets so they best align with Seattle’s values and goals.  

Boarding the bus. Photo Credit: SDOT Flickr. 

To develop this framework – which is still in process – we first looked at specific street segments where the ROW is too narrow to fit the four modal plan networks. We identified insufficient width on 7% of all arterial street segments in Seattle. These are the areas we could apply the policy framework. 

In areas with narrow ROW, we need to look at how we might reconfigure or relocate other functions, such as curb lane uses, or how we might relocate segments of a modal networks. In all cases, we want to ensure we meet our design standards to ensure a safe system. 

For example, let’s say the Transit Master Plan says a street should have a transit-only lane and the Bicycle Master Plan says that same stretch of road should have a protected bike lane, but there isn’t enough room to accommodate both of those elements on the existing street space. This is the type of scenario where we’d use the Modal Integration Policy Framework to determine appropriate locations and designs for a transit lane and a bike lane.  

We’re creating the framework with the help of our community.  

We recently shared and discussed key findings, draft policy recommendations, and draft actions with the Policy & Operations Advisory Group (POAG) — a group of representatives from City commissions, boards, the Transportation Equity Workgroup, and other advisory groups that we convened to serve as a sounding board for our modal integration efforts. In parallel, we worked with a staff Core Team (a group of subject matter experts within the Seattle Department of Transportation) to do the same. 

We heard enthusiasm for thinking creatively about the future of modal planning to address shortcomings outlined through this process. We heard support for a new approach that integrates our four modal master plans. This includes new ways of reaching out to you – our community – to weigh the tradeoffs of different individual projects.  If resources allow, an integrated citywide transportation plan will allow us to further the work of the Modal Integration Policy Framework by bringing together the modal plan networks into one plan that considers options where the street space is constrained.  

We look forward to engaging the community to learn more about needs and aspirations for their streets across all modes as we work toward a socially just transportation system that contributes to addressing the climate crisis. This framework is a step in that direction.  

We will share it with you when we have had an opportunity to fully incorporate feedback from the POAG. In the meantime, you can reach staff working on the policy framework at POAG@seattle.gov.