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Lacking open space, First Hill looks to create space for people in the streets

Image of Terry Ave from the First Hill Public Realm Action Plan.
Image of Terry Ave from the First Hill Public Realm Action Plan.
Overview map of potential public space projects.
Overview map of potential public space projects.

The First Hill neighborhood is densely packed with jobs, homes and vital city services. But other than Freeway Park, it’s largely lacking in quality public open space where folks can gather or just take a load off. The First Hill Public Realm Action Plan is a bold way to change that, and at relatively low cost compared to buying lots and building traditional parks.

If you like these ideas or want to learn more about the plan, swing by Town Hall between 5 and 7 p.m. Wednesday for an open house. Details here.

Being such a dense neighborhood so close to downtown, nearly all First Hill residents walk, bike or take transit most often to get around. This presents a great opportunity for providing public open space at a low cost: Redesign some of the street space.


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Sometimes, this might mean designing people-focused streets, like the Terry Ave image at the top of this post. In that concept, car access and some parking would remain, but more space would be allotted for people on foot, and traffic would be calmed to a slower and safer speed. Slower traffic and space for some benches and planters and such would go a long way to making living or taking a work break near Terry a more pleasant experience.

In other cases, street ends and low-priority intersections could be closed off and turned into small plazas or parks. The most developed example in the action plan is at the intersection of University, Union and Boylston:

p2179629-univThis is not a vital intersection for traffic flow, and it’s overly complex for a mostly residential area. So the plan suggests closing it off to motor vehicles and creating space to gather with neighbors or just sit down. It would also have space for bikes to pass through and would likely reduce traffic volumes, making the streets more comfortable for all users. Here’s what a public plaza could look like there:

p2179629-univconceptBest yet, the city is already eying this location for a pilot using low-budget materials like plastic bollards and paint to create the public space and test it out, reports Gordon Werner at the Urbanist (who is also a member of the First Hill Improvement Association):

Four concepts are currently being studied. DPR is planning a prototype park to be located at the intersection of Union St, University St, and Boylston Ave in order to test concepts and gauge the neighborhood reaction/opinion. A Street Scrabble tournament was held at this location, to much success, this past summer. SDOT would develop this plan with allocated funds in conjunction with DPD and DPR, as soon as this spring.


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7 responses to “Lacking open space, First Hill looks to create space for people in the streets”

  1. Cheif

    Forget about how the residents here get around, this whole area is treated as a huge, poorly thought out highway on/offramp by people just passing through. There is going to have to be a lot of automobile traffic diversion for this to remotely make sense.

    1. Gary

      No kidding. That intersection is no fun to ride through now, I have a hard time imagining that I would want to hang out at a table there even on a nice day.

  2. Don Mueller

    How much special attention/additional maintenance is required for the “Tuuci” umbrellas and other removable light-weight fixtures? Would this be an additional city employee or a volunteer from the local neighborhood or business?
    Who pays and ?
    Would additional security may be necessary?
    Yes, is there adequate budget already in place or does that need adjusting?
    The idea, concept is attractive.

  3. Brad cooper

    Where are the residents who walk, bike, ride, going to store their cars for free for 72 hours at a time?

    1. dave

      The park wouldn’t take away any parking — it’s just closing part of an intersection. I love the idea.

  4. southender

    Store our cars? What are the previous commenters on? Virtually all of the properties built in First Hill had parking. Too much, most likely, as lots near my house are largely empty.

    Makes me think of something someone once said to me, “Just because you can’t envision the future, doesn’t mean it’s not coming. “

  5. Ruth

    I’m envious of Europeans and their ability to stroll on certain vehicle-free streets. Perhaps this effort will yield a similar outcome for First Hill residents? I certainly hope so.

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