Despite widespread perception that crime at the corner of Third and Pine downtown is getting worse, the number of 911 calls related to that corner has actually plummeted this year compared to the previous three years, dropping 47 percent on average. Emergency calls also dropped in adjacent neighborhoods, including Belltown (down 72 percent), Chinatown (down 45 percent) and Pioneer Square (down 51 percent).

Council public safety committee chair Bruce Harrell hesitated to assign any explanation to the dropoff in 911 calls, which he said he just learned about at yesterday's transportation committee hearing (where members were briefed on progress improving the transit and pedestrian landscape along Third Ave. downtown).[pullquote]"People have a right to congregate. You can’t just walk down the corridor and say, I don’t like the way these people look, and they don’t have the right to be here because they're not buying products from Macy's."—Bruce Harrell[/pullquote]

But he added that he and his staff had spent part of an afternoon around lunch hour recently surveying the area around the intersection, and didn't see any overt illegal activity. Instead, Harrell said, he mostly saw groups of people hanging out without any apparent purpose---blocking foot traffic, sure, but not in a way that violated any particular law.

"What I saw was people standing around for periods of time, just blocking the right of way ... without any specific purpose," Harrell says. "People have a right to congregate. You can’t just walk down the corridor and say, I don’t like the way these people look, and they don’t have the right to be here because they're not buying products from Macy's."

Harrell says one solution might be to activate Third Ave., with vendors, artists, and events that turn the street into a destination, rather than a place to hang out all day, looking for trouble.

One thing that might help matters is the pending elimination of the Belltown-to-ID ride-free area, which goes away in September. Yesterday, Metro said it had received a $4.1 million grant to make improvements---including new bus shelters, sidewalk improvements, real-time arrival signs, and lighting---along Third. Of that total, $500,000 will go toward new ticket vending machines, allowing people to pay their fare before they board the bus (and, ideally, speeding up boarding times once downtown riders have to pay as they board.)