Pedestrian Chronicles

Enlightened Pedestrian Planning

City planners should use time as a metric as they upgrade downtown's central pedestrian corridor.

By Josh Feit January 18, 2017

Screen shot 2017 01 18 at 9.05.17 am yjkaew

Yesterday after work, the lower-level reception room at ACT Theater on Union and 8th downtown was packed (with white people.)

That's not the point of this post, but urbanists must do a better job engaging the whole city, especially on major lifts like the one the Downtown Seattle Association and the city’s office of the waterfront had on display at ACT on Tuesday: A $20 million pedestrian super upgrade along Pike (that’s the one further south, around the corner from the Showbox Downtown with Ross Dress for Less, the AT&T store, Banana Republic, Nike Town, Meridian 16, and, further east, the Starbucks palace, Victrola, Kaladi Bros., and the QFC) and Pine (that’s the one to the north, with Cupcake Royale, Macy’s, light rail, Nordstrom, Barnes & Noble, the Paramount Theater, and further east, Rudy’s, Hot Mama’s, Linda’s, The Egyptian, and Walgreens.)

The idea, dubbed the “Pike-Pine Renaissance Act 1,” is to use friendlier, expanded sidewalks that slope into shorter intersections, green street canopy, seating (both fixed street furniture and freestanding chairs), pop-up retail along the way, and better lighting to create a ped expanse between the waterfront and Capitol Hill—or at least as far as Melrose, two blocks east of Boren above I-5, before the 20-somethings nightlife strip begins in earnest.

The project, slated to begin construction in in 2019 with a 2022 debut date, is one element of the planned $709 million waterfront redesign, which is supposed to come with a $200 million Local Improvement District, or LID. LIDs, a localized property tax imposed by city council on businesses and residents whose property will benefit from the upgrade, run the risk of being vetoed by the property owners if those representing 60 percent of the total assessed value of the area sign on to a petition against it. Of course, that also means, a few major property owners can push it through over smaller property owners. (The waterfront LID has been a touchy issue for several years now. Marshall Foster, head of the city's office of the waterfront, says after doing outreach to property owners this spring and summer, the council will take up the LID—deciding the exact boundaries and increased tax rates—in early 2018.

I wrote about these place making plans for Pike-Pine two years ago. And as I did then, believe it’s a promising project.

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The crowd, asked to leave sticky notes with comments on the display design boards, seemed encouraged too—or at least inspired by the pedestrian possibilities. “Could we do something like Bell Street? Wider sidewalks? Slow down the traffic?,” someone scrawled on a pink sticky note. “Keep the trees on 1rst. More trees!” said another. People also identified “dead zones,” like on Pine between 9th and Boren along the highway overpass. (The project designers suggest, perhaps, higher railings on the overpass, which could enhance the determined walkway feel.)

The simplest, but perhaps most dramatic change, was the idea of activating the corridor at night. The display below, documenting business hours, presented the issue well:

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The difference between businesses that are open during the day and during the night can have a dramatic effect on the action. While city planners use all sorts of data to determine the vitality of a neighborhood—rents, vacancy, density, parking, peds per hour, crime stats—they should also use time, AM to PM, as a metric to gauge a neighborhood’s success.

“Supplementary light elements like signage, awning lights, storefront lights, and festival lights—along with later business hours—can contribute to a greater sense of a comfort at night,” the presentation slides noted, adding, “features such as highly transparent storefronts, open facades without alcoves, and consistent lighting all contribute to an inviting nighttime experience.”

Thinking about the 24-7 nature of a district is another way of thinking about mixed-use versus single-use districts. While Pike and Pine in downtown Seattle seem like vibrant mixed use districts, they aren't because just like residential neighborhoods, they shut down at night. As the planners move forward on this project, they should grab onto an element they've simply defined as "Lighting" and use it to guide them toward a more enlightened approach about the use of public space.

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