As summer approaches, the city is ready to release a comprehensive report of its analysis of the Pike/Pine pedestrian zone pilot project. And, while we don’t know yet what official tack the city is taking on the project, it’s looking like there probably won’t be another street closure in 2016.
“We asked that they not do a street closure this year,” Sierra Hansen, the new director of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, told CHS.
City Hall is mum on the contents of the report for the time being. But real estate and business interests critical of the street closure have told the city they don’t want to see a street closure in 2016 until local concerns about the pilot can be addressed.
Since 2015’s string of street closures as part of the city-sponsored and EcoDistrict-lead Pike/Pine project — a tactical urbanist attempt to address concerns of public safety and civility on weekend nights in the Pike/Pine nightlife core through crowd management, as well as raise LGBT visibility with in-the-streets community programming due to last summer’s increase in hate crimes — the Office of Economic Development and the Seattle Department of Transportation have been studying the trial-run using survey results, stakeholder feedback, video footage of the street closure, as well as crime stats and local business data. This report, along with city’s final word on the future of the project, is expected this week.
The pilot project run by the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict was designed to test a three-block pedestrian zone between Broadway and 12th on E Pike as part of a month-long trial of the concept hoped to alleviate street violence and make the area easier to patrol for police. In the first phase, the E Pike pedestrian zone between Broadway and 12th Ave focused on simple crowd management and releasing sidewalk pressure. Things got more festive on August 22nd with street yoga, a drag show, and late-night street performers, while dancing in the streets got a rain check on August 29th. The pedestrian zone project was funded through $30,000 of a $160,000 city grant the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce received earlier in 2015.
The project faced criticism from local businesses and property owners who said the nighttime street closure perpetuated the public image of Pike/Pine as a nightlife-only party district, that day-time oriented retail businesses weren’t benefiting equally, and that the project didn’t achieve its goal of increasing public safety in the area, criticism which was conveyed to city in the midst of the street closure implementation and during the post-pilot input gathering process.
According to both Hansen and Jill Cronauer—a broker at Hunters Capital (a major Capitol Hill property owner, including properties along Pike/Pine), co-chair of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, and previous critic of the street closure—OED director Brian Surratt solicited input from them and other members of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce board (including the manager of Elliott Bay Book Company, Tracy Taylor, voiced concerns about the project last year), regarding the street closure and if they would be open to implementing another one this year the end of a meeting two weeks ago regarding the city’s Only in Seattle Grant program of which the Chamber is a recipient ($30,000 of a $160,000 Only in Seattle grant funded the street closure pilot). (UPDATE: We have corrected this paragraph — Taylor attended the meeting on behalf of Elliott Bay, not owner Peter Aaron. Sorry for the error.)
“We sent a loud and clear message that another street closure this year might be done in a way that doesn’t benefit everybody,” said Hansen. “We made an in-person request to OED staff asking them to work with us on any future street closure plans to engage the various stakeholders, and we asked that they look at 2017 to give us that time.”
“I haven’t been contacted by anyone who is clamoring for the street closure again,” Hansen said.
Cronauer with Hunters Capital gave a similar line to the city. “My call would be that [a 2016 closure] feels a little rushed,” she said.
Cronauer added that while she’s open to doing another street closure in the future, it would need to look different than the 2015 pilot, possibly during the day time and paired with other events and public space activations. “We don’t think doing the same street closure is a good idea.” Michael Malone, head of Hunters Capital, told Seattle Met last year that the street closure created an “open environment that can lead to panhandling and aggressive behavior” due to increased loitering.
“We’re known as a nightlife destination but we as a company are trying to make it a good balance by making our buildings a mix of nightlife and retail,” said Cronauer. “If it [a future street closure] felt like it was promoting the vibrancy of the neighborhood in the day and the night and wasn’t just a targeted response to nightlife.”
“I think doing something like that as a community building event that is all ages during the day would be great,” Hansen said, imagining a potential street closure linking with Cal Anderson park and widespread public space activations.
There’s no guarantee a daytime event would do any better from a business relations standpoint. Planners originally wanted to try a Sunday daytime closure during the 2015 trial but said retail businesses were hesitant because they didn’t want to mess with a reliable, good summer day of revenue.
Even the proponents of the street closure aren’t banking on another street closure happening this year, though it seems by design. Alex Brennan, senior planner with the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict, the main collaborator with the city on implementing the pilot project, said that a 2016 street closure “isn’t in their work plan” for this year, and that they expected the city to take the lead after the pilot.
“We had a major role in the pilot, but ultimately the decision as to whether to continue to do this is a city decision and a neighborhood decision,” said Brennan. “Obviously we put a lot of work last year into the pilot and I’d really like to see something come out of that that has broad support in the neighborhood.”