City survey shows Hill’s economy is based on walkers, bikers, transit (and happy hour)

When we reported last week that the city had no plans to study the economic impact of paid parking changes on Capitol Hill, we were only partly right. Turns out, the City of Seattle already commissioned an “intercept survey” on the Hill and in five other “Neighborhood Business Districts” across the city. Below are the results of that survey that reveal why Capitol Hill residents and people from across Seattle visit Broadway and Pike/Pine, why they don’t and what they want when they get there.


The result is an analytics-based snapshot of the strengths and weaknesses of some of the key business communities in the city. “Visitors to Admiral are looking for a wider variety of restaurants,” the marketing firm who put together the research for the Seattle Department of Transportation and the Office of Economic Development writes. “In Othello, it’s variety across the board – shops, restaurants, services and activities. Improved transit access is the top mention in Ballard. In Columbia City, visitors mention a cinema and grocery/Trader Joes. Capitol Hill is looking for smaller/better variety shops and transit. Fremont visitors are looking for more grocery options and a Mexican restaurant.”

Science! Below, we’ve pulled out the Capitol Hill highlights from the results including some illuminating datapoints on just how pedestrian and bike-friendly we are (very) and that, yes, lack of parking does come up as a ding against our ‘hood by visitors from off the Hill. First, a few notes on the survey’s collection methods:

  • A total of 1,447 interviews were completed in six Seattle neighborhood business districts (NBDs).
  • Interviewing took place from September 29th to October 16th, 2011 at 2 to 4 specified intersections in each NBD at between 9am and 10pm, Thursday through Sunday.
  • The questionnaire was a single page (front & back), letter-sized, self-administered handout. Two interviewers were on-site for each shift to distribute and collect surveys. They were also available to assist respondents with visual or physical impairments.
  • To minimize selection bias, interviewers approached every 5th visitor passing their location to participate in the survey during normal and heavy traffic periods. For extremely slow periods, interviewers approached as many visitors as possible.
  • To ensure that results reflect voluntary visitors to each neighborhood, people who were on their way to or on a break from work were screened out of the survey.
  • The survey was printed in English. A Vietnamese version was offered for visitors in the Othello neighborhood and 3 were completed. Interviewers reported approximately 102 refusals due to general language barriers.

First, the results revealed that Capitol Hill’s business zones do well as year-long destinations — 58% of non-residents said the Hill is a weekly destination for them throughout the year.

We also hold onto our visitors for longer than the other business districts — 64% of non-residents said they regularly come to the Hill for visits of three hours or more.

Why do Capitol Hill people do business on Capitol Hill. The survey says we need to eat — 52% of residents responding said they were on the street to do some grocery shopping.

But the non-residents reveal where the whole Party Mountain thing comes from. 46% of visiting survey respondents said they were here for friends, drinks and happy hour. 

While there are still plenty of drivers — especially among visitors — 89% of Capitol Hill residents reported either walking, biking or taking the bus to do their bidness and 53% of non-residents reported the same. Only Fremont, at 49%, and Othello, 47%, came close.

Across both residents and non-residents, the top reason for choosing to shop or recreate on Capitol Hill after the obvious “because it’s the closest” is our variety, according to the survey.

Why not shop or drink or dine on Capitol Hill? Too expensive, not enough parking, some of the largest groups of respondents said. You’ll note that Capitol Hill was the only business district where lack of parking climbed into the top response tier. Which brings us back to the whole walk/bike/bus thing.

Finally, the survey also provided some tips on how Capitol Hill could improve as a business destination. The largest scoring answer was that the Hill needs “more independent or small business/fewer chains.” Parse that how you will. Same goes for the desire for improved public transportation and more restaurants. Reading between the lines, the suggestions seem to be telling Capitol Hill to keep doing what it’s doing. And, yeah, Fremont needs a Mexican restaurant.

The complete survey results are below. You can learn more about the study here.

SDOT NBDA Overall Presentation

26 thoughts on “City survey shows Hill’s economy is based on walkers, bikers, transit (and happy hour)

  1. What’s the point of this?
    “58% of non-residents said the Hill is a weekly destination for them throughout the year.” Seems like visitors should be inserted after non-residents.58% of the city does not go to Cap Hill weekly as this attempts to suggest.
    “You’ll note that Capitol Hill was the only business district where lack of parking climbed into the top response tier. Which brings us back to the whole walk/bike/bus thing.” How many more people would be visiting Capitol Hill is it were more car friendly? I wonder if the businesses would like the extra money that is currently being denied them.

    Finally, the survey also provided some tips on how Capitol Hill could improve as a business destination. The largest scoring answer was that the Hill needs “more independent or small business/fewer chains.” Parse that how you will. Same goes for the desire for improved public transportation and more restaurants. Reading between the lines, the suggestions seem to be telling Capitol Hill to keep doing what it’s doing. ” This is, of course, for people who already go there. Capitol Hill doing the same old, same old will do nothing to draw in those who currently don’t go there.

    Very biased and unhelpful conclusions drawn here.

  2. The problem with increasing parking is that it shifts the top complaint from “not enough parking” to “the neighborhood is filled with disgusting fat-asses that drove in for the day.”

  3. Why is it good to encourage more energy consumption (in trips between neighborhoods) for shopping and entertainment? Why not focus business on the local area? Is there too much retail, or retail of the wrong kind, if it can’t do well without relying on car trips?

  4. Other than grocery stores, what major chains exist on Capitol Hill for food? Dick’s? Molly Moon’s? I don’t get this improvement idea at all. Who were the asshats that thought of that one.

  5. The data are the data are the data. Jack seems to be drawing biased and unhelpful conclusions.

    “58%…” means, get ready, “58%…”
    Jack’s interpretation seems a bit off to me. My oh-so guarded and deep interpration would be that we tend to get regular and repeat visitors rather one-off visitors. Visiting Capitol Hill is more like getting a regular haircut than enjoying a honeymoon in Hawaii.

  6. Starbucks, Kinko’s, UPS Store, Qdoba, Urban Outfitters, Crossroads, Gold’s, QFC, Subway, Rite Aid, Castle, American Apparel, Panera Bread, Yogurtland, Gamestop, Z Pizza, Blick, Walgreen’s, Tully’s, Taco del Mar, another QFC, Bartell’s, Domino’s – that’s just a stretch of Broadway that I can remember off the top of my head.

  7. Also, if you don’t like chains, then don’t go to them.
    While I don’t want a Walmart popping up in the ‘hood, I also don’t see the problem with the chains we do have on the hill. People need places to shop for groceries, fill prescriptions, find art supplies and buy skin tight, hot pink deep v’s. I say this as a person who actually lives here… If a Ballardite is bummed that we have a UPS store, who really cares?

    I think the city has a lot more important issues to tackle that would benefit our neighborhood. Like say, crime, and aggressive panhandling. And uh, no parking. After living here for a decade, I’m still baffled by what constitutes a priority in Seattle.

  8. I forgot about some of these because they are so non intrusive (or so forgettable) or are local businesses that went nationwide, or were bought out by a national company but retained branding.

    But seriously, is our neighborhood worse off because we have a UPS store? How will all those Etsy shop owners and buyers do business?

  9. If you like chain stores, and your biggest concerns are free parking, panhandlers, and crime, why aren’t you in Issaquah or Bellevue, or at least Northgate?

    The most similar neighborhoods in Portland and San Francisco have close to zero chain stores.

    Considering this data, Capitol Hill should emulate the proposal from the Mission District in SF, and enact an outright ban on new national chain stores…

  10. Mission has many chain stores. Or are we not counting Safeway, Buffalo Exchange, Radio Shack, Walgreens, Starbucks, McDonalds etc etc. And if you want the problems of the Mission with crime AND gentrification maybe you should move there.

    That you’re fretting about a Dominoes Pizza that occupies a small storefront boggles the mind. Do you think less of NYC because they have McDonalds everywhere?

  11. Oh, how I love the ol’ “Why don’t you move to Bellevue/Redmond/Issaquah?” argument. Why don’t I? Because I don’t f*****g want to, that’s why. It’s a big jump from not minding having a few chains around to wanting to live in a shitty ‘burb.

    I live here because I like being able to walk to literally everything I need. And local stores can’t give people everything they need. Perhaps someday they will, and that would be great!

    Why not ask local merchants how they feel about the lack of parking? Ask them if they think they’d get more folks in the door if their customers weren’t getting hit up for cash by meth heads? As a Cap Hill resident, I feel like I have a pretty thick skin and don’t get put off by too much, but if Cap Hill businesses want folks outside of the immediate area to show up and spend cash, something needs to be done.

  12. What can’t you get at a local store? I haven’t stepped foot inside a Capitol Hill chain store in years (except Bartell’s, which is kind of local). Electronics are pretty much the only thing you can’t find at a local shop anymore, but there aren’t really any electronics on the hill. Post Options is right there, if you can’t live without a UPS store.

    And seriously, the “lack of parking” on the hill is a giant myth. The only days where it might take a few minutes to find parking are Pride and the Block Party. There’s a lack of FREE parking, which is unsolvable for any dense neighborhood – there’s only so much public space to dedicate to subsidizing cars.

  13. If you look at the actual study, margins of error are listed in the first few pages. None are <5%, so arguably none of the study is statistically significant. When non-residents and residents are separated out, the margins of error rise considerably. The study may be anecdotal at best.

  14. I enjoy visiting Ballard on the weekends primarily for the Farmer’s Market, as well as the shops, and Restaurants that are all in walking distance. It is also a great place to walk to Shillshole beach.

    Please consider adding chanelized roadways from 112th and Greenwood to 130th and Greenwood to encourage the same sort of walkability in the Greenwood Broadview neighborhood. More people walking equals more shops going in and more business taxes generated for the city.

  15. Honestly, I get tired of the barrage of people asking me to sign something, pay for something, give to something, and give them something while I’m waiting for a bus home from work. Once I get to LQA, I’m barraged with more people asking the same. I, now, throw my hand up. It doesn’t matter anymore what their questions, needs, wants, etc. are, I don’t have the time, the money or the want to deal with them. I haven’t signed a petition in the last two years.

    That being said, Intercept Surveys were made to ask people, on the street, for their opinion? I’m sorry, but your data is skewed. Although I don’t live on The Hill, I spend a lot of time there. I don’t own a car, but I am well aware that parking is at a premium (if existent) on The Hill.

  16. Unfortunatly I was not asked about the survey. I live on Capitol Hill north of Broadway. I very little shopping on Broadway,sometimes Bartells and Harvard QFC. We seldom go out to eat there because there is no parking. In the summer we will walk but it is a mile one way. Taking the bus is a joke now that half the bus stops have been eliminated. We are unable to bike. Not everybody is a childless, healthy, 20 or 30 year old. Please consider ALL people when you make decisions about housing, transportation and parking for Capitol Hill and and neighborhoods.

  17. My two cents worth. I live Broadview but I like to go Capitol Hill occasionally when the Northwest Film Forum has something I want to see, or when I see a review in the Seatt Times about a new restaurant, or when I want to eat at Skillet. Obviously there is no direct bus route between the two neighborhoods, so I have to drive. Thats when I find on-street parking almost impossible. I drive ’round and ’round and ’round. Eventually I find a spot but it takes forever and its expensive. Im not complaining, but it does make me go there less often. On the other hand, the businesses seem to be staying in business, so I guess everythings just fine.