La Rambla on Capitol Hill

I spent the past week in Barcelona, jealous of all their great pedestrian-only streets.  Lots of the streets are so old and narrow that they’re pedestrian-only by default, but some are wide enough that they could easily have been converted into just another auto dominated street, and many were.  But luckily many were not, including the most famous, La Rambla, a 1.4 kilometer long pedestrian boulevard in the heart of the city.  This got me thinking about how much better some of our heaviest used pedestrian streets (North Broadway, Pike/Pine, 15th) could be if they devoted even a little bit more space to pedestrians, instead of the cars that dominate the space today.  Here’s my vision of a La Rambla-ized Pike Street (from Broadway to 11th).

Pike Street as it looks today


Pike Street with two lanes of traffic replaced with a pedestrian walkway complete with outside seating for Cafe Vita and Quinn’s.

Pike Street as it is today

Pike Street La Rambla-ized between Broadway and 11th St.

Unfortunately, in the near future, a change like this to a major street like Pike or Broadway is probably a pipe dream, but there has been talk of closing Nagle Place to cars.  This would be a great use of that barely used street, especially because of the proximity to the coming light rail station and the possibility of relocating the Broadway Farmers Market there.  I was also excited to see that the development on 11th/ Pike included the little retail lined “Mews”, definitely a step in the right direction!

20 thoughts on “La Rambla on Capitol Hill

  1. Nice photo-shopping! I’d love to see something like this actually happen someday. One thing I noticed in Southern Europe was that all the moter scooters were more of menace to bikes and pedestrians than the cars. Scooter riders here seem very nice though!

  2. But then again I’m Spanish, so I’m bound to like this type of idea. The only thing is that cafes and bars would need to follow suit with the little terraces, and I have not noticed a terrace “culture” over here.

    It would be nicer just by making the pdestrian-only areas bigger, but part of what makes Las Ramblas special is all the little terraces, which are always full of people. The fact that they are there also means that when you meet up with friends without a definite plan, the idea is to have a caña (beer) there and then decide what to do; or if you’re just having a walk around, you’ll probably stop there for a drink at some point.

    And said terraces would have to serve not just coffee but also beer, and ideally even little tapas, and just as long as we’re going into fantasy land, said tapas should be complimentary with the beer :-P

  3. That little stretch of Pike has so much possibility for pedestrians. Someday soon hopefully we can do something wonderful to it.

  4. That would be a really great addition to the neighborhood. So many people walk anyway, and now they have to sprint across traffic. And that area could really use a few more trees and bushes.

  5. Are servers from Quinn’s and Cafe Vita supposed to jaywalk across traffic to the seating area?

    Otherwise, I’m all about the idea of taking traffic lanes for more public space. They just announced a big plan to do it on Broadway in NYC.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/27/nyregion/27broadway.html?_

  6. Oh well, it keeps cutting off the url. The point is, they’re going to permanently close sections of Broadway and make them public plazas. It will actually improve traffic at certain intersections because Broadway slices across the city at an awkward angle, making traffic signals complicated with so many legs to deal with.

    “The centerpiece of the mayor’s plan calls for shutting down Broadway to vehicles from 47th Street to 42nd Street in Times Square and from 35th Street to 33rd Street at Herald Square. In those blocks, large new plazas would be created, with a gravelly surface and movable chairs and tables with umbrellas. Crosstown traffic would continue to cross Broadway in both areas, as it does now.”

  7. I think it would be a great idea- it’s so European so cool, so great for the neighborhood…oh yea, we’re in Seattle where good ideas never come to fruition!

    and another thing, technically, it is called “La Rambla” in Barca

  8. Seems crazy to us but yes, the restaurants on Las Ramblas have servers that come out of the restaurant and cross the one lane of traffic to serve people, and it works surprisingly well. I don’t know if that arrangement would work as well here in the US, cars and peds seems to coexist much better in Europe than here. In this street view, the seating on the right of the traffic lane belongs to the little orange restaurant on the left. This arrangement is duplicated many times on La Rambla.

    http://maps.google.com/maps?client=safari&q=la+rambla+barcel,2.173791&spn=0.028305,0.045447&t=h&z=15&iwloc=addr&layer=c&cbll=41.380649,2.173865&panoid=enGT3_cky22vcPFIgxR1aw&cbp=12,145.06243566373632,,0,5

    If this actually were to happen, you’re right, it would make much more sense for a restaurant on the North side of the street to utilize that seating, but there’s not one there at the moment, so in my fantasy land it belongs to Vita and Quinns.

  9. it’s cutting off my link too… But the scene I was talking about is at

    68 Rambla dels Caputxins, Barcelona, CT, España

  10. Yeah, because a rambla is a type of street. But since there’s quite a few of them in Barcelona, we normally just refer to them all collectively with the plural Las Ramblas.

    Madrid has something similar, with little terraces in pedestrin only squares, and also in the bulevares that are along some streets. Kind of like this http://k41.pbase.com/u44/maribel/upload/39761046.elbulevarde), with traffic going on both sides of it, and in the Summer little terraces spring up in them – sometimes the terrace is it’s own little bar, sometimes they belong to a bar / coffee place (in Spain they are pretty much the same thing, Starbucks and other coffee only places being a new phenomenom) on one of the sides of the street.

  11. I’d love to see this thing occur. In Santa Cruz, CA, the downtown “Pacific Garden Mall” is a street with a one way auto lane that weaves a bit from side to side, so that the wider pedestrian areas alternate sides of the street. I don’t know if that has proven as good or better than just a straight auto lane, but it’s a design that allows for restaurants and other public seating on both sides. And, it certainly looks more like a pedestrian square than a throughway for cars, although cars can get “through.”

    Also, I’ve love to see more major streets like Madison lose a parking lane and have a dedicated bus lane, like what’s done on Market Street in San Francisco. 2 lanes for cars, 1 for parking, and 1 for bus. Or even better, 2 lanes, bus only, and the parking lanes become wider sidewalks. (And, of course, a train would be better than a bus . . .)

  12. As was evident on last night’s Rick Steve’s re-run about Barcelona, La Ramblas is a big deal in Barcelona. What he didn’t explain is that there are a variety of ramblas in Barcelona of varying size and degrees of traffic. The one in the Pobleno district for example is much more modest with a wide seating area in the middle of the street, a single lane of one-way (infrequent and slow) traffic on each side. Restaurant seating is both on the sidewalk and in the center; and servers do indeed cross the one lane to serve the tables in the middle. It all seems so effortless, a testament to the idea that everyone compromises a bit for the benefit of everyone else.
    My only suggestion for Capitol Hill would be that the street selected shouldn’t be a major traffic thoroughfare. So maybe not John, Pike or Pine – but how about Denny?

  13. A Woonerf is a Dutch street shared with pedestrians – there are a few in Seattle, most notably down on Terry in South Lake Union near the SLUT – it’s not quite fully realized. Low curbs and paving allow pedestrians and bikers to spill out into the “street” portion.. traffic is reduced as it has to weave through the crowds. Obviously, a certain density of non-vehicular traffic is needed to make it all work.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woonerf

  14. yeah, I just saw this ‘The Southlake’ article on the woonerf that’s part of the coming Yale Street Campus

    http://www.thesouthlake.com/2008/05/whats-woonerf.html

    Looks cool, I just hope these get used enough to make them work. I also hope they don’t actually try to call them woonerfs (or Mews’s). If we want these to be more than a fad or oddity… just call them streets!

  15. Closing a main arterial streets like pike or pike would cause congestion elsewhere (e.g. Madison, Denny, or John). They are just too integral to people commuting from the top of the hill. I would suggest a North/South street, such as Harvard or 10th. These streets have less car traffic and are more pedestrian friendly. The only downside is that storefront may need to be added to make a plan like that work.

  16. “It’s a great idea, but….
    Closing a main arterial streets like pike or pike would cause congestion elsewhere (e.g. Madison, Denny, or John). They are just too integral to people commuting from the top of the hill. I would suggest a North/South street, such as Harvard or 10th. These streets have less car traffic and are more pedestrian friendly. The only downside is that storefront may need to be added to make a plan like that work.
    Comment by oiseau 5 hours ago “

    Way to go negative nelly. Way to perpetuate the notion that our neighborhood retail district needs to facilitate fast movement of cars from other neighborhoods.