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The needle and thread story behind Broadway’s new bikeway bollards, streetcar poles

(Image: SDOT)

(Image: SDOT)

With the Broadway bikeway now fully open, this stretch of Capitol Hill streetscape might just be the most festooned roadway in Seattle. You can thank artist Claudia Fitch and her play with the theme of the opening-soon First Hill streetcar as a connective thread through the city’s neighborhoods.

“The whole public art concept — that single wire that powers the streetcar as a thread connecting the city resulted in a lot of different images related to idea of sewing, and the fabric of the street,” Fitch tells CHS.

Her eye-of-the-needle style streetcar power poles and bright blue loop bollards line the streetcar and bikeway route connecting the International District to Capitol Hill via First Hill.

Fitch said the bollard ideas especially took a variety of forms including the teeth of a zipper at one point. She settled on the idea of “big fat threads, big stitches” after playing with some modeling clay. SDOT officials liked the idea for its simplicity — and its bulk.

There are 21 bollards along the 1.2 mile bikeway within a two-foot buffer separating bikes from parked cars along the route. The bollards were manufactured of molded plastic by Landscape Forms in Kalamazoo, Michigan and are filled with hundreds of pounds of sand. Members of the Seattle Conservation Corps assisted with their installation, SDOT writes in a blog post on the functional art.

Fitch said she hasn’t seen the effort the Capitol Hill tagging community has already put into customizing her creations but that she expected the bollards to be tagged just as the chartreuse balls on the poles marking streetcar stops have been marked up. The issue was discussed with the manufacturer, Fitch said, and the materials were designed to be “refreshed” and can stand up to repeated cleanings.Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 1.19.03 PM

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17 thoughts on “The needle and thread story behind Broadway’s new bikeway bollards, streetcar poles

  1. And of course the graffiti taggers have not been shy about defacing the blue pig tails either.

  2. Honestly, none of these elements reads anything like how they’re intended, to me. If I hadn’t been told those are needle eyes, threads, and… whatever those green balls are, none of it would seem like it’s part of the same thought. The blue bollards are fun in their own right, like Japanese construction barriers, and I assumed they were simply selected from a range of options in the bollard catalogue. They do something, at least, which is more than I can say for the needle eyes and… ball things. I’m in favor of public art, but if the budget is so thin that nothing executed as such can successfully represent a coherent idea, maybe it’s better to find a different outlet. I’m sure this wasn’t terribly expensive, but it feels like it was for nought in any case.

  3. To call those who put spray paint and stickers all over our streets a “tagging community” is being too charitable. More accurate would be “tagging vandals.”

  4. I like them (and the poles too, although now I didn’t even know they were up there — I’ll need to look up more often)

  5. Oh man, I drove by there the other day and was shocked by the sheer ugliness of this entire project. 8 billion paint stripes in every direction. Some sort of flexible sticks shooting up out of the pavement followed by those blue pig tails or whatever. Cars parked all over the place. A canopy of wires. Just ugly as hell.

    And then we cut bus service. Enough of the dumb shit already.

    • You’re exactly right. Broadway south of John is now an unsightly mess, thanks to the bike lanes and associated crap. And things will only get worse once the streetcars run. What a great example of really terrible urban planning!

      • OK, since you think it’s so bad you haven’t offered anything up that would be better. It’s easy to say ” this doesn’t work” when you’ve probably never used the bikeway. It’s easy to bad-mouth a project and not make any real better suggestions on how it could have been improved. You’re just complaining and aren’t helping the situation at all. If you think the blue curly queues are ugly suggest something better. It’s totally counter-productive to complain about something and not have something better to offer.

      • So here’s a suggestion – tear out the bike lanes, tear out the streetcar, have two lanes of traffic and a center turn lane, and curbside parking for cars. This allows visiting customers (not just locals who live in the apt above) to frequent the shop owners and small businesses, spending money and fostering a growing economy, which the city should embrace.

        Blocking off the store fronts inhibits businesses and stymies the economy. And asking customers to drive to some place 3 miles short of their shopping desire, then take 2 different modes of public transportation to get there – well, it ain’t gonna happen.

      • There’s at least a couple things wrong with your suggestion other than regressing to what we had previously. You evidently decided to leave out the street car completely.

        The other is that no parking is sacrificed it’s just not up against the curb and you have to walk an extra six feet to get into a car.

      • This project has just been completed. Don’t you think it’s a little late to suggest ways it should have been done?

        Pointing out problems with any development is one way to get the ball rolling as far as making improvements, but it’s too late for the mess that is Broadway south of E John St.

      • The point is you’re all too willing to bellyache about your perception that it’s a bad project yet you have nothing to add to fix it or make it better. It does absolutely no good for anyone to bitch and moan about something and not offer something even if it’s after the fact. Anything else just makes a person who does this a whiner and nothing more.

    • You’re right. We should just take everything off the street, cars, buses, streetcars, people, dogs and not have anyone use it at all. That would fix everything. Just put razor wire at both ends of Broadway with guards equipped with AK-47s who will shoot anyone who steps in the street.