Courtesy of Seattle City Council

Looking at opening Ballard Ave., elsewhere to pedestrians

By Sally Clark, Seattle City Council

As brief as this summer was, I had a lot of fun attending community events, parades and festivals.

I had the opportunity to walk in the Rainier Valley Heritage Parade, part of the Celebrate Seattle Summer Streets program, which also included events in Ballard and Phinney/Greenwood.

In partnership with community groups, the Seattle Department of Transportation closes down a section of a major arterial for a few hours on a given day to allow people to enjoy the space without any motor vehicles to dodge. People walk, bike, stroll, shop and just hang out.

In the case of Rainier Avenue South, after the parade, people listened to music, chatted with neighbors, checked out the Austin Foundation’s work-out challenge and enjoyed Columbia City on a sunny day.

Greenwood Avenue closed down between North 87th Street and North 65th Street and became a community Art Walk. A section of 22nd Avenue Northwest in Ballard opened up to synch with Bike to Work Day.

Don’t get me wrong. We’re not ready to shut down Rainier and Greenwood weekly during the workday. Our city’s roadways are essential to moving people, freight and services through our city and, at this stage of our development as a city, for the small businesses we love.

However, we can push ourselves to think of the street network more creatively.

This is the motivation behind my idea of closing a stretch of a street to traffic regularly in the evening in an area already popular with pedestrians. Maybe Pike Street? Maybe 10th Avenue East? Maybe Ballard Avenue?

It’s still a very fluid concept, but would it be attractive to “reclaim the street for feet” and use the opportunity to hang out, shop, connect and reinforce the identity of a neighborhood as a great people place?

New York City has had terrific success with redefining areas formerly dominated by car traffic into pedestrian space.

Austin is probably the best-known example of a city that invests in a pedestrian-only strategy linked to entertainment. Austin does it along Sixth Street in its downtown in order to better accommodate (and attract) crowds attending live music shows.

Both of these examples come with concerns, too, about the character of neighborhoods and costs.

To be clear, this isn’t about serving alcohol from street bars or setting up stages for bands. And, there are indeed costs involved – litter pick-up, bus re-routing and extra police foot patrols are just a couple of concerns brought up so far.

If we pursue a pilot project, it has to be with the support of the community and with decent funding (probably private, maybe through a local improvement district) attached.

I’ve been talking with the Capitol Hill Community Council, the Capitol Hill Chamber, and I’ve now begun connecting with business owners on the hill to talk about how an evening closure might work.

But, maybe Capitol Hill isn’t the best venue. Maybe University Way. Maybe Ballard Avenue.

Mayor Mike McGinn’s staff has been warmly receptive to exploring this idea. We’ll likely work together through the winter with the hopes of a possible test next spring or summer.

This piece originally appeared in Sally Clark's newsletter, "Seattle View." Sally Clark can be contacted at 206.684.8802 or sally.clark@seattle.gov.

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