Melrose Promenade report — and its magic tables — illustrates plan to transform Capitol Hill’s western edge

Screen Shot 2013-11-09 at 3.00.19 PMBy Margery Cercado reporting for the UW News Lab

Screen Shot 2013-11-09 at 3.11.10 PMMargery Cercado is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory. We are proud to collaborate with the Lab and feature student reporters. This is Cercado’s first report for CHS.

The plan for a promenade on Melrose Avenue is one step closer to reality through a completed report that illustrates how the area could potentially look and work — complete with unique transforming features — as a new neighborhood greenway on Capitol Hill’s western flank.

The Melrose Promenade’s Visioning Project Report — you can read the full 88-page report, below — brings the ideas of the proposed public space to life through detailed illustrations, maps, graphs and charts and is the product of an ongoing community process to shape priorities for the project.

Capitol Hill resident and Melrose Promenade volunteer Maggie Santolla is excited for others to see the completed report as it “really gives [a] concrete vision to what this project can be, [since it may be] hard for people to grasp when you just talk about it.

“Being able to show some concepts… and just to see it all realized in a tangible format is really cool [too],” Santolla said.

The promenade concept is comprised of three major zones: the Active Urban zone, which would run from East Pike Street to East Denny Way; the Overlook zone, which would be between East Denny Way and East Roy Street; and the Park zone, from East Roy Street to East Belmont Avenue. All three zones would be pedestrian and bicyclist friendly.

According to the report, the linear design of the promenade — true to its French roots as a public place for walking — could provide gathering spaces for events such as farmers markets, music and arts festivals, street fairs and picnics.

Also envisioned in the report are unique seating, table and bench solutions that would easily transition between one event to another, such as a picnic table that can “rotate into Melrose Avenue similar to a gate and activate the vehicular realm, allow freer flow of pedestrians across the street and send the subtle message that the street has been closed for an event,” as described under the Active Urban Vision section of the report.image00 image01

Funding for the report was made possible through a $20,000 Neighborhood Matching Fund grant awarded by the city’s Department of Neighborhoods.

The report was completed this past summer by architecture and design firm consultants from the Berger Partnership, Schemata Workshop and Weinstein | AU. In addition to the consultants, community members played a significant role in the process.

“We conducted a series of three public meetings where we invited members of the community to come out and talk about their ideas, their dreams, their vision for what Melrose Avenue could become as the Melrose Promenade,” said Mike Kent, an urban planner and the Capitol Hill resident behind the project’s conception.

Volunteer Mike Archambault said the vision report was a culmination of work done by the community and really stressed the movement as being by the people, for the people. “These sort of projects are grassroots,” he said. “And there’s really no way for them to happen except for people like [Kent] and other community members who care enough to dedicate time to make something happen where no one else would.”

The community’s contributions to the project are well documented in the report with images from various meetings and several pie charts with outcomes from online surveys.

Of course, the work is far from over. What’s next for the project is to “start small with some easy wins [with] park improvements,” Santolla said. “[And also] seeking funding and support from various government agencies.”

Archambault echoed his fellow volunteer, saying the group has “a long road ahead in terms of getting funding” but “what’s cool about the report is that little pieces can be done at a time.”

Even with so much still left to do in order to complete the vision of the Melrose Promenade, the report has helped give new energy to make the concept become reality.

“I think anytime you have some green space in a growing city it’s a jewel and you should treat it as such,” Santolla said.

The full visioning report is below. You can learn more at


Subscribe and support CHS Contributors -- $1/$5/$10 per month

13 thoughts on “Melrose Promenade report — and its magic tables — illustrates plan to transform Capitol Hill’s western edge

  1. If somebody is so eager to spend money on Melrose Avenue, I’d suggest they do something to prevent it from falling off the side of the hill before they worry about providing picnic tables to the drug traffickers down there. I travel the length of Melrose from Mercer to Denny every couple weeks and find that everytime I go down there the street has sunk more. As late as 4 years ago, you didn’t notice from one month to the next any shift. Now you notice it on an almost weekly basis.

  2. I have had a chance to review the report, and I have been following the promenade group since inception. This is a wonderful idea in a city filled with wonderful ideas that all cannot be implemented. I really like this area and go through there frequently, in daylight only. There are three primary issues with the Melrose Promenade project.

    First, the City can’t support the parks it has now without continuing reliance on special levies. Why do we need another park?

    Second, the noise, as is acknowledged in the report, is deafening. Who will want to spend time there? Their solutions are expensive to implement and the barrier solutions block the views that are the areas main attractions.

    Third, security. This is a classic Catch-22 issue. Undesirable elements will sometimes drift away from popular areas, but who will make popular a place that is noted for undesirable elements? Not enough time is devoted to this issue in the report. More lights? See this blog a few days ago about the failure of Cal Anderson lights to reduce crime and discourage camping. More security? The jury is still out on the Cal Anderson park rangers, but even if they are successful, how will this be paid for? Seattle Center is a prime example of a heavily patrolled park that is often nearly deserted. How many of these can we support?

    So I wish the Promenade people great luck in their quest, but I truly have to question the entire project. It is a wonderful and impractical project that has little chance of success. Maybe with major private money donations this could be partly built, but would it ever be popular?

  3. If we’re going to have fantasy parks, why don’t we lid I-5 and reconnect Capitol Hill to the Cascade/South Lake Union neighborhoods? I don’t see many folks lingering along the promenade to see Amazon buildings being built, all the while choking on fumes rising from the freeway.

    I admire the people who have the time and energy to contribute to causes such as this, but perhaps they can be rechanneled to more productive causes.

    • I wouldn’t be surprised if people said the same thing about Gas Works Park before it was a park. “Who would want to hang out at a dirty industrial site built on all that toxic soil?” But now Gas Works is a crown jewel of Seattle. The whole point of transforming public spaces is making the undesirable desirable and the unsafe safe. Melrose has so much potential in this regard and your comments confirm this! And plus, these sort of improvements are often the precursor for grander changes you mention like lidding the freeway or more feasible: building a bike/pedestrian bridge over I-5 to connect Capitol Hill (housing) with SLU (employers).

  4. I commute along here by bicycle every weekday.

    • I regret I must agree with the above comments
    • The views are stunning but the noise is horrible
    • The road surface continues to deteriorate before our eyes: many cracks in the concrete slabs, and the slabs are tipping. Is this a symptom of underlying instability in the road/hillside? The underlying problems should be fixed before the icing is put on the cake.

  5. I lived on Melrose for over ten years. It was a quick way to go north and south on Capitol Hill. The promenade idea is absurd. A waste of money. It IS very noisy and filthy. Use our money to maintain the parks we have.

  6. Wow! A park right next to a freeway! I can’t tell where they talk about pollution in the very expensive plan. Let’s go stroll down by the freeway and breathe the sweet fumes of traffic, I guess. Not to mention the noise. If only we could get it a little less, says the report, why, we’d have a place where it was actually tolerable to hang out. Lovely idea to have a walkway but why right over the freeway?

    Oh, and where’s the money for all this planning and building going to come from? The same city that had to start charging for the Volunteer Park Conservatory last year? Oh, yeah, Volunteer park, that old idea, who wants to “imagineer” over that stuff? BTW, as well as charging for the Conservatory, they removed a bunch of the plants, and they downsized away the lead gardener. But, hey, plenty of money for walkways next to freeways, eh? With swinging benches, and high-tech concrete. Wow!

  7. As much as I admire/respect those who are working hard on this project, I too must agree with the skeptical comments. I am especially concerned about the “Park Zone” (the northern third), which now is a no-man’s land with homeless camping, lots of litter, etc. The only way that area would be a successful park is if it got substantial use, and I doubt very much that would be the case. Yes, the city view from Melrose is spectacular, but the negatives outweigh that.

    Why would anyone spend time in this area, when they have much nicer park spaces to choose from? (Cal Anderson, Volunteer, Summit Slope, and the upcoming one on Federal & Republican).

  8. Looking through the renderings of this new project, all I can think is what it will look like in 10 years. There is lot of maintenance required for a space like that and we can’t even maintain those standards in parks we already have.

  9. Even though it seems unlikely this park would ever be built– maybe some of the elements can be incorporated elsewhere. For example, these swing-out tables might be adapted to offer sidewalk seating for existing restaurants, for the few months each year we have weather conducive to it. Remember, a lot of stuff NASA develops gets commercially adapted in the marketplace….. Maybe this is an example of the same idea of urban design. Yeah, in total the project may not be realistic, but elements of it could be.

  10. To the Readers of the Capitol Hill Seattle Blog:

    I am proud of the work that my neighbors and I have done in recent years to build community by taking a proactive approach to making Seattle an even better place to live. When I moved to Capitol Hill in 2009, I thought many of the same things you have mentioned, that Melrose Avenue was dirty, noisy, a largely forgotten back street in Capitol Hill. But I also saw its potential to be something more: a street that neighbors cared about and maintained, and a place that many others would visit to enjoy one of Seattle’s most incredible views. I thought to myself, “This view is amazing, and I want to share it with so many others.” Many others share that vision and see the value in working together to think of creative ways to help ourselves and our neighbors enjoy life in Seattle.

    When a street falls into disrepair, when its pavement is cracked, when its curbs are strewn with litter and debris, that’s when we as neighbors should be positive and proactive in shaping the spaces where we live. We’ve led cleanups, barbecues, “Muffins on Melrose” outreach events, and community visioning meetings where we discussed with our neighbors how we might improve Melrose. We met with and earned the support of numerous individuals and organizations in Capitol Hill who appreciated our efforts and shared our dream.

    In our visioning meetings, we strove to create an environment where it was safe for us to dream and share ideas, no matter how bold or “absurd” those ideas may have seemed to others. Our visioning report provides a place where our community’s priorities may be documented for when the resources do become available to fund the improvements, whether it’s next year or 20 years from now.

    When faced with challenges in our urban environment – in this case a street littered with debris, soot from cars, and weeds up to our knees – we can choose to either do nothing or do something.

    We chose to do something, and I’m filled with pride and gratitude to all my friends and neighbors who volunteered their time, energy, and talents toward making our city even better.

    Mike Kent

    • And proud you should be. Your group has done a wonderful job cleaning up the area. I just can’t see how the whole project can be built. It would be cool to maintain a little viewing area in one small section. Once again I wish you luck.