Dear fellow islanders, normally I lead people in choirs, but today I’m talking infrastructure. We need to change our town this year. Here’s why:
1. Public safety
Problem: Physical distancing for safety is extremely important right now. Sidewalks in town are too narrow for physical distancing, and indoor spaces at restaurants and stores have become dangerous for customers and staff.
Solution: Many towns are transforming main streets into car-free areas and routing traffic around the edges right now, creating a main street where tables can be set up for outdoor dining, physically distanced public gathering can more safely occur, and pedestrians are able to spread out instead of crowding onto narrow sidewalks. The air is clean and fresh, and the sound of birds, quiet conversation and laughter greets the ears, all from a safe distance. Vashon enjoys a car-free area every year during festivals, we all know how pleasant it is. Visit bikevashon.blogspot.com to see how we can do this while still allowing traffic to pass through town.
2. Support our local businesses
Problem: We are in a recession, and local businesses have already seen their customer base decrease drastically as people stay away from a risky town center, where physical distancing is almost impossible on narrow sidewalks and inside small shops and restaurants.
Solution: A car-free town center that allows for physical distancing lets people safely support our town businesses, order from restaurants while sitting outdoors, pick up purchases from shops without having to crowd onto narrow sidewalks, and enjoy a safer public area. A 2017 study of 22 pedestrian-friendly town centers concluded they “improved business activity, increased investment on the street, improved traffic distribution (more choices on how to get around), helped create a more pedestrian-friendly environment, and produced a general feeling of improved livability, quaintness and sense of community.” (Victoria Transport Policy Institute, 2017).
3. Support our children’s future
Problem: Climate Change is our next global emergency, with a death toll in human life estimated at many, many times more than the global pandemic we are currently facing. Vehicle emissions are the largest source of CO2 in WA state. Yet, when islanders try to ride e-bikes or bicycles instead, most report feeling unsafe on roads filled with roaring car traffic. Almost no children bike to Vashon schools as a result, despite the small size of our island.
Solution: A car-free town center which is pleasant to walk and bike in is a good first step towards creating island-wide paved bicycle paths, and would encourage more people to travel to town on e-bikes and bicycles for shopping and dining. A two-lane bike path paralleling Vashon Highway, North end to South end, would provide safe routes to schools for children, to town, the VCA, Burton, both ferry terminals for commuters, and would be possible to construct within existing county right-of-ways set aside for the Vashon Hwy. Studies have shown that when bike paths are installed, people find riding bicycles a safe and fun way to get around instead of driving, and car traffic and CO-2 emissions drop by a large percentage. Visit the blog above to see the Vashon bike path plan.
4. Support our community’s health
Problem: The #1 leading cause of death worldwide (pre-pandemic) is heart disease. Many studies and health experts link this directly to a lack of exercise. Keeping exercise in our daily life has become more and more challenging as we sit in front of computer screens and in the seats of cars. Now with shelter-in-place becoming a way of life, getting exercise has become even more of a challenge.
Solution: A car-free town center encourages people to park the car and walk around town, or ride a bicycle or e-bike to town for shopping, to hear music, or meet friends outdoors. Exercise can lead to a stronger heart, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, stronger lungs, and numerous other health benefits, including increased resistance to viral infections. Many studies have found that spending time outdoors exercising every week increases the average lifespan by many years, no matter what your age or weight.
In conclusion, Vashon needs a Car-Free area in the heart of town at this moment more than ever. See more plan details at Bike.Vashon.blogspot.com.
Shane Jewell has lived off the grid for almost 20 years with his wife, Emily, in a yurt on a small organic farm on Vashon. He studied at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and with traditional fiddlers in Ireland, as well as folk musicians in many places around the US. On Vashon, he also conducts the 60-member Free Range Folk Choir and offers music lessons on many different instruments.