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Where should Seattle create a pedestrian plaza next?

Screenshot from StreetFilms (watch below)
Screenshot from StreetFilms (watch below)

Mayor Ed Murray and new SDOT Director Scott Kubly have their eyes out for bold pedestrian plaza opportunities in the city’s right-of-way, Publicola reports. With New York’s extremely successful Times Square plaza project as their inspiration, Murray and Kubly would love to create a powerful Seattle public space:

We definitely LIKE the story we heard from a city hall insider that Mayor Ed Murray, evidently set on being Seattle’s version of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, reportedly tasked his new SDOT director Scott Kubly with copying New York City’s pedestrian innovation in Times Square.

What did New York do in Times Square? Essentially, they had an area where so many people want to walk and hang out that they actually could not all fit on the sidewalks. Children were a rare sight, and people in wheelchairs and walkers had a particularly awful time trying to get around. Yet there was a ton of space reserved for cars, which spent most their time barely moving in the city’s iconic gridlock. So half a decade ago, the city did something unimaginable: They closed a part of Broadway to cars and reimagined it as an expanded public space. The result has been a success by essentially every measure, including traffic flow.

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Here’s a great StreetFilms video about it:

And while Times Square is exceptional in the scale of its popularity and fame, the need for more public space at desirable intersections exists to varying degrees in every city including Seattle. The city has some good pedestrian plazas, like at 1st and Yesler or McGraw Square, but there are many areas that could use them as well.

So let’s brainstorm: Where in Seattle might a public plaza have the biggest impact on street life and comfort?

There are many spots in Seattle where the existing demand for space to walk and hang out is thwarted by overly-huge or complicated street intersections or where the demand for public space outweighs the traffic flow on a nearby street.

Below are some options we here at Seattle Bike Blog can think of off the top of our heads. Some would be big and bold projects, while others could be small and simple. This is by no means meant to be exhaustive, and all these might not actually be worth pursuing after further investigation. But it’s a start to get ideas flowing. Which ideas do you like best? Any locations we missed? Let us know the comments.

  • Downtown: Westlake, 3rd/Pine, Occidental/Railroad Way at Century Link, Yesler/2nd at Smith Tower, Pike Place Market (at least make it deliveries-only), 2nd Ext/Jackson
  • Central Seattle: Pike/14th/Madison, 12th/Union/Madison, Olive Way/Bellevue, Olive Way/Denny (Four Car Park), Broadway/Roy, 14th/Thomas (example of a plaza in a residential area), Madison/MLK, Jackson/Boren/14th
  • Lower Queen Anne: Roy/Queen Anne Ave, 5th/Thomas/Broad
  • South Seattle: Rainier/Charlestown/33rd Ave, Rainier/MLK/Mt Baker Boulevard, Rainier/McClellan, Beacon Ave/Columbian Way, Beacon Ave/15th Ave, MLK/Webster, MLK/Henderson
  • West Seattle: California/Edmunds/Erskine, Fauntleroy/Alaska, Delridge/16th/Roxbury
  • North Seattle: Center of the Universe, Lenin, Leary Ave/20th, 50th/Green Lake Way, 45th/Roosevelt, Lake City Way/125th, 15th Ave NW/NW 65th

Here’s a map of our locations:

View Seattle Public Plaza Ideas in a larger map

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51 responses to “Where should Seattle create a pedestrian plaza next?”

  1. Cheif

    The pike place market is an obvious choice, but shouldn’t be The option for this matter because it should so obviously be closed to non delivery traffic in the first place by default. Every time I’m down there there are people driving their cars, creeping along, actually honking at pedestrians to get out of the way. Totally inappropriate and should have been closed to private motor vehicles a long time ago.

    1. Matt

      Completely agree. I love how they allow anyone to drive thru the Market yet they were adamant about not allowing the Bikeshare to have a station there…

      1. Josh

        Maybe a bike-based Pike Place lunch delivery service could help swing that attitude.

    2. AJL

      Exactly my thought too! Before I even read the comments the Market was immediately my answer…and has been for years. No motor vehicles but for delivery and put in some bike racks or a bike corral or two while they are at it!

    3. Kimberly Kinchen

      Seriously. We were around the market 3 or 4 times on our trip a few weeks ago. There’s that steep hill coming up from Pine, and every time we were there, only one car could get through the light cycle (going east, that is) at a time because there were always so many people crossing 1st Ave on foot. This was at various times, weekdays and weekends. Not to mention the crowds on foot in the market itself making driving impractical and ill-considered. Make market access strictly for commercial vehicles doing business at the market — I imagine most of the deliveries happen during non-peak hours for the crowds anyway.

  2. DB

    I think they should close down Pike to east/west traffic between 1st and 4th (through traffic could remain on 1st, 2nd, 3rd & 4 but peds would get priority at crossings) and turn the entire right-of-way into a linear park. It would be more like the park blocks in portland than times square. Rather than keeping traffic open like they did on bell street, this corridor could be 100% car free (except emergency vehicles). People could walk from westlake park through the market and down to the new waterfront park when its completed in a few years.

    1. LWC

      That’s the one that leapt out to me too. Add-in a handful of permitted street vendors (food trucks, etc.) through the right-of-way, and I think this could completely change the character of the neighborhood.

    2. JB

      I do love Bell Street though, as far as I’m concerned, that should be the prototype for about every street in downtown Seattle (where traffic is still allowed).

  3. Charles B

    Let’s be careful not to cut off existing bus routes.

    I like the idea of bicycle and pedestrian only streets… or transit/bike/pedestrian streets.

    Since 1st is more of a parking lot than a street anyway, let’s close the whole section to regular auto traffic between: 2nd and western ave and Union and Lenora streets. Those four border streets would still stay open to general traffic.

    The only access allowed would be: by streetcar (once built), by foot, by bicycle and for delivery/service/emergency vehicles.

  4. T.W. Angus

    I’d suggest E Pike between Broadway and Madison. That is a hugely popular pedestrian/bike destination, especially at night, and driving in the stretch is already useless.

  5. Matthew Snyder

    University Way NE (“the Ave”). It’s right next to an arterial for easy re-routing of traffic, has alley access for businesses on the main retail strip, has an active street life, and represents the main retail and restaurant outlet for the bulk of the UW walkshed. Plus it will soon be very easily accessible by light rail and greenways/trails.

    Yes, there are bus routes on the Ave, but it naively, it seems like they could be re-routed onto 15th Ave NE, which is already a bus corridor.

    1. Andres Salomon

      I spoke with DPD about making The Ave a pedestrian plaza. #1 reason they’re not interested: because Metro put a bunch of money into it (with widened sidewalks, improved bus stops, overhead electrified lines) back in the 90s or so. #2 reason: they tried some time ago and got pushback from the businesses.

      Both of these can be overcome.

      1. Stuart

        I don’t see how automated bollards wouldn’t solve Metro’s issue.

      2. Skylar

        15th Ave NE is already pretty saturated at peak times. Brooklyn is one block away to the west and tends to be wide open. Moving busses off the Ave has the added advantaged of getting busses onto a street not popular with bicyclist. I bike more often than I ride the bus, but the dance busses and bikes have to do on the Ave is aggrevating.

      3. LWC

        Plus, when North Link opens in a few years, the vast majority of Ave buses will be obsolete. Maybe planning can start now to make this happen by 2021?

      4. I’m pretty sure there are no trolley wires on University Way today.

      5. Ben P

        No wires, but the pavement is real new and nice and clearly designed to hold buses. I think the best solution would be to make it car free, still run the buses, and make some lights into stop signs for the cross streets. That way the buses still serve the stops the city paid so much for, the buses can get through at a reasonable speed, and peds have less vehicles to worry about. Maybe we could put dinging bells on the buses like they have on train crossings to alert the peds.

      6. Andres Salomon

        As people have mentioned, there are plenty of options. It’s also worth noting that there are multiple plans out there to run a streetcar on The Ave (ie, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seattle_Streetcar_Network ). I personally think buses belong on 15th, but having a 10-year transition period of buses-only on The Ave would be perfectly acceptable.

      7. Drew Dresman

        I completely agree with the Ave idea, Closing the Ave from 42nd to 45th as well as 43rd from the new light rail station to the University campus would create an amazing opportunity for a great public space. This is one if the most pedestrian reliant business districts in Seattle and these streets are simply not needed for general auto traffic with 15th and 45th in the vicinity.

        I think allowing delivery vehicles, transit (and bikes!) through would be the best way to make sure this idea works for the neighborhood as a whole.

        The light rail station opens in 7 years and when it does these already packed sidewalks will explode so there is some real urgency to this idea.

  6. Stuart S

    I really want 15th Ave E between Group Health and the new development on Mercer to be a shared space. The intersection at 15th and Republican alone represents an enormous opportunity to turn an inefficient signal into a pedestrian priority space. Already most people walk against the light there because the timing is terrible, and there is very little traffic turning from Republican onto 15th.

    But really the opportunity for outdoor cafe seating exists up and down the street.

    Shared space and “to not through” streets should be implemented in almost every neighborhood center. Ballard Ave and Pike and Pine near broadway are two other locations off of the top of my head.

    If the city simply put up smart bollards like they have in the Netherlands, delivery trucks and buses could get through while leaving the majority of the streets dedicated to pedestrians and bicycles.

    1. JB

      I have seen pedestrian streets elsewhere in Europe (Spain) where deliveries are allowed for a couple of hours in the morning while foot traffic is light, basically before the majority of shops and restaurants open. Seems like a good strategy for some of these streets where delivery access will still be required, but full-time domination by motor vehicles is not …

  7. David Amiton

    All of South Lake Union would be a good start.

    1. J

      Just the Amazon part, except for access to parking garages. It’s sorely needed, especially around lunchtime when streets are impassable due to pedestrians anyway.

  8. Michelle

    It would be great to see Market St. between 24th & 20th in Ballard become bike/ped/transit only. It’s a tempting route for driving, because it’s the only straight shot from Wallingford, but in reality traffic barely moves through that section because of all the pedestrians, and peds are constantly darting in front of and between cars.

    1. T.W. Angus

      Ballard Ave (some or all) would be interesting to consider…

      Closing any portion of Market St. seems tricky to me, if only because there don’t seem to be viable alternative routes for motorized traffic (including the 44).

  9. poncho

    Times Square in Seattle, that wedge of land in front of the Times Square Building next to Macys. Also the triangle at Olive Way/Denny Way/Summit Ave

  10. I have been discussing with some business owners, a trial closing of some of the streets on Capitol Hill to motor vehicles. The candidates for the closure would be Pike Street from Broadway to 12th Avenue and 10th and 11th Avenues from E. Union Street to E. Pine St. on Friday and Saturday evenings when they are most crowded with pedestrians. Interest has been expressed by business and property owners.

    I will be suggesting to the Mayor that the Seattle Department of Transportation assess the possiblity of closing one or more of those streets on a trial basis. Of course, there are transit, freight, emergency access and other issues that would have to be considered.

    There may be other locations that would be more appropriate but, we should begin to identify the best location now.

    1. Andres Salomon

      Doing these closures on a trial basis, and/or picking streets that are already closed on a regular basis is the obvious way forward. Looking at The Ave for example, we close it yearly for Street Fair. On top of that, NE 50th to NE 52nd is closed every Saturday for the farmer’s market. Metro deals with it, as do businesses*. The regular closures, along with the sheer amount of foot traffic seem to make it an obvious candidate for a pedestrian plaza.

      * Businesses actually do more than deal with it; I suspect that they thrive in the face of the closures.

      1. Robert Elleman

        Unless Tom has an impostor, it is exciting that a council member would not only comment on the seattlebikeblog but comment with great news.

        Since moving to Seattle 14 years ago, I have been amazed at how little public plaza space we have compared to just about every other city with a walkable core. Making PP Market deliveries-only is so obvious I still can’t believe it has not happened already. So far in these comments I haven’t read a bad idea. I particularly support Pike between 1st and 4th (provided Metro buses are allowed) and Tom’s idea of Pike/Pine in Capitol Hill on Friday and Saturday nights. Let’s start with these three as trials.

    2. Aaron

      If you really are Tom, thanks for posting this here. That’s great news! I visited Tokyo recently and was impressed with them closing to motor vehicles the main drag through Akihabara on Sundays. I’m sure those businesses get a huge jump in business every Sunday.

      I’d love to see more streets opened to pedestrians in Seattle, whether on weekends or permanently. Keep pushing these changes!

    3. Miguel Anders

      To your point, Pike is pretty close to becoming a natural pedestrian plaza. The critical mass of people gets to a point that it starts choking traffic. I’ve been a strong advocate of building more pedestrian (transit + bike) areas in Seattle. Somewhere along Pike from Broadway through 13th seems like a great first trial.

      It has to be lively enough with pedestrians and foot traffic such that it doesn’t turn into a tent city like a greater part of pioneer square…

    4. Drew Dresman

      I love this idea. Thank you for posting. Pike on Capitol Hill definitely warrants evening closure with the number of people spilling into the street and traffic grinding to a halt already. I know of at least one small street in America that does this. In Cambridge Mass., restaurants got together and agreed to close a small street to cars with rolling planters after morning deliveries are completed. It is very simple, effective and wonderful. Businesses can easily load in the morning and also have great outdoor seating in the afternoon and evening.

      Whether we are talking about restricting times when folks can drive or simply reducing the speed and footprint of cars, there are a number of streets that are long overdue for a reprioritization from cars and parking to pedestrians and living.

  11. Azimuth

    I live near the Alaska Junction and I’d like to see the 2 outer lanes of California Ave replaced with wide sidewalks. The 3-block stretch between Oregon and Edmunds is the only part of California that is 2 lanes each direction. The rest is 1 lane each direction. As more and more housing goes in there, there is more need for space for pedestrians and more opportunity for restaurant outdoor seating, mobile vendors, seating areas, etc. That stretch of road is completely shut down a few times a year for festivals (including Fridays) and we survive, so losing 2 lanes for 3 blocks won’t kill us either.

  12. Alkibkr

    Exclude POVs from the 2 blocks on California Avenue SW between Oregon and Edmunds and keep Alaska open for POVs only up to the alleys for parking access. Preserve one lane each direction on California for buses/deliveries/emergency vehicles and give West Seattle a real transit mall on California instead of the skinny bus stops on the side streets. Use the current parking and outside driving lanes on California for the “Times Square” approach. You can easily navigate the Junction in a car without driving down or parking on those two blocks, and plenty of parking for the businesses is available in the 4 open lots on 44th and 42nd Avenues and in the garage under Jefferson Square. As Azimuth says, traffic revisions work fine when the street is closed for festivals. Right now, most buses have to route around the block and cars get a straight shot down California. This priority should be reversed to speed up transit trips.

  13. SGG

    +1 vote for the market. This is so completely obvious I don’t understand how this hasn’t been done.

    Anyone know the history of why this hasn’t been done in the past? I imagine there’s a business association that fights any change, which may be why they couldn’t get a bikeshare station there.

    It would be hard to argue that general purpose traffic in the market ( not on Western) actually provides meaningful shopping access for customers. It’s a total chokepoint as it is currently. No other city would allow this in what is ostensibly one of the most important tourist attractions in the city. We should have tied this to the relatively recent market infrastructure makeover we all just paid for.

  14. Cheif

    Fuck this, close all of 2nd, no all of downtown to vehicular traffic until they can stop running people over.

    1. Southeasterner

      Horrible news.

      Can’t believe it hasn’t reached the bike blog yet.

    2. Gary Anderson

      Seems like all bike paths protected or not that run parallel to traffic are inherently dangerous and often fatal to cyclists due to turning vehicles. Is the only way to fix this to have separate traffic signals for vehicles and cyclists to eliminate turning conflicts? You would still have the issue of cyclists not obeying the traffic signals.

      1. clark in Vancouver

        No, you wouldn’t have that issue anymore. The experience in Vancouver on Hornby Street is that people cycling pay attention to the traffic lights because it serves them to do so.
        The reason that traffic signals get ignored is that the system excludes them basically forcing them to ignore the signals and signs.

  15. Catherine Hennings

    A big and bold ask, I know, but one of the most obvious is to make Westlake through South Lake Union a pedestrians-bike-street car only corridor. There’s huge pedestrian and bike demand during the day, and this could finally allow a safe place for bikes through South Lake Union that would keep bikes from competing with pedestrians on the sidewalks or trying to navigate the tracks on the street. With bike share about to have a major presence in South Lake Union, we need a real solution for Westlake between Lake Union and downtown.

    1. J

      9th ave is one block over, carries less traffic, and has bike lanes. Why do people get so hung up on Westlake when there is already a viable alternative?

  16. Gary Anderson

    Another vote for Pike Place. I guess we already have one pedestrian only street in the area — Post Alley (gee, wonder how that survived).

    Remember when Pine was closed through Westlake Park? It was nice! Didn’t survive too long before it was returned back to the cars.

  17. Meg

    Ballard Ave! It already has a closure for the Farmer’s Market on Sunday that works well, but ideally the closure would be extended for the entire length. With the street closed, it could become an amazing place for outdoor cafes, shopping, etc. It would have the feel of a European promenade… a cross between a street and a park.

  18. OK, so… there is no place in Seattle that’s like Broadway in NYC. Broadway was both a great public street and disruptive to the rest of the street network. A slam dunk for pedestrianization.

    We have some good public streets that work well with the rest of the arterial and transit network (e.g. Broadway, The Ave, California Ave, certain stretches of Rainier). Many of these need car access and will indefinitely without some far-reaching changes! We have some streets that screw up the pedestrian and arterial networks in different ways, and whose deletion would simplify things for everyone (e.g. Westlake south of Denny, Green Lake Way south of 50th, maybe the 2nd Ave Extension). In most of these cases they really aren’t great public streets in any way, and the better approach would be to sell much of the land — “less street, more city”.

    Notable here that Westlake used to continue all the way to 4th, and while some of the former ROW is now Westlake Park more of it is now Westlake Mall. If we were going to delete Westlake and leave the streetcar and a walk/bike path in we’d probably want the tracks closer together than they are now, the whole space narrowed considerably, and re-aligned so that various intersections could be shrunk. As for the bad part of Green Lake Way, it would make an awkward linear park or pedestrian street for the same reason it makes a disastrous highway: it works against the local street network and not with it. So just sell it to people that want to build houses and use the proceeds to help fund alternative access for the small number of buildings that front the street.

    Occidental Ave is a pedestrian street, and though it’s pretty, commercially it’s hardly proved itself as something to replicate all over town. In a few years there will be a 7-story office/retail building just east of Occidental Park, making it the closest thing this town has to a proper public square (surrounded by buildings, not streets!)… and maybe by then, with some of the other Pioneer Square projects going on, all of Occidental will be a little livelier, and we’ll see organic support for the same thing elsewhere. If we want more pedestrian streets we should make Occidental bloom, and maybe support a greater variety of everyday uses of Seattle Center.

    1. Ben P

      I love the idea of removing Green Lake way N. It takes out a two blocks worth of buildings and completely breaks an otherwise nice neighborhood in two. Removal would also simplify that ludicrously long light at 50th, Stone, and Green Lake. Maybe at the same time it would make sense to get rid of Midvale, have the 45th arterial continue through till Aurora, and then make an S curve to get into the under pass. The on off ramps could intersect in the middle of the S with a short turn cycle as needed. I bet most people on those two streets would see a property price jump once the those noisy eyesores are gone.

  19. […] well: The Seattle Bike Blog offers up some suggestions for Seattle’s next pedestrian plaza. Friday morning saw a tragic cyclist death on Second Avenue, the location of a future protected […]

  20. […] view in Magnolia [SPI]· ‘Keep Clam’ And Build Seattle’s Seawall Already [KUOW]· Where should Seattle create a pedestrian plaza next? […]

  21. I’d like to also throw in my two cents for The Ave in the U-District, perhaps between 41st and 52nd. It’s already packed with people now, and when the Brooklyn/45th light rail station opens it’s going to be even busier. Yes, Metro runs their buses up it, but there’s no reason they can’t shift over to 15th. Some of those routes may be needed less when light rail runs to Northgate anyway.

    Pike Place is the obvious choice. Some of the blocks around Westlake Center would be great. I would support some of the other suggestions for the core of Capitol Hill.

  22. […] with new pavings, trees, water features, and other elements that are typical of urban plazas. Seattle Bike Blog asks where the city’s next pedestrian plaza should go, with many replies including from an […]

  23. […] DOT blocks off sections of roadway and fills them in with planters, chairs, and tables. Seattle, reportedly impressed with the New York program’s success, is looking to do the same thing. Hopefully, it will get some […]

  24. […] DOT blocks off sections of roadway and fills them in with planters, chairs, and tables. Seattle, reportedly impressed with the New York program’s success, is looking to do the same thing. Hopefully, it will get some […]

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