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A little tactical urbanism puts parks in streets of First Hill, test pedestrian zone on E Pike

Finding ways to make the city streets work best for residents, businesses, and the community in increasingly dense areas like First Hill and Capitol Hill requires a little bit of strategy and tactical urbanism. The summer of 2015 will see the deployment of a few early test missions on our streets.

Screen-Shot-2015-06-03-at-5.23.28-PM-600x401Organizers from the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict behind a plan to create a pedestrian-only zone in Pike/Pine have set a target for their test mission:

The pilot will close three blocks of Pike Street to car traffic on four Saturday nights in August. The first two nights, August 8 and 15, will be shorter and focus on crowd management and public safety. The second two nights, August 22 and 29, will expand on this concept with community based programming. Volunteers needed for data collection!

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WHERE: Pike Street from Broadway to 12th Ave

WHEN: August 8th and 15th (10pm to 3am) & August 22nd and 29th (8pm to 3am)

See the traffic control plan and map

Vehicular Traffic: 

  • E Pike Street between Broadway and 12th Avenue will be closed to car traffic.
  • The Pike and 10th Avenue and Pike and 11th Ave intersections will be closed as well, but 10th and 11th Avenues will remain open for local access.

Parking and Loading: 

  • On-street parking will be restricted on Pike Street and on the east side of 11th Avenue between Pike and Pine.  All other on-street parking on 10th and 11th will be preserved.
  • Off-street parking garages and lots and loading docks on 10th and 11th Avenue will be fully accessible.
  • Off-street parking garages and lots and loading docks on Pike Street will be accessible based on specific arrangements with those facilities.

The pilot closures will block off E Pike and 10th and 11th in a footprint not unlike this weekend’s 2015 Capitol Hill Block Party. Like the Block Party, the August pilot nights on E Pike will also feature elements to create activities in the streets — though the intent is a little different. “August 22 and 29 will include a variety of LGBT and community focused activities and small performances earlier in the night,” the planners write. “Later in the night programming will be quiet and focus on promoting a calm atmosphere and directing activity off of the streets at the end of the night.”

CHS first reported on the plan for a summer pilot to test the concept in June. The Seattle Police Department has been supportive of a pilot project as street fights and other crime could be reduced by allowing bar crowds to disperse into the street rather than being crammed together on sidewalks. Spreading crowds over a greater area and keeping out cars could also allow police officers to intervene quicker when incidents occur. A pedestrian-only pilot program on Vancouver, BC’s bar-laden Granville St. has been well received by the city’s police department, which reported public intoxication calls decreased by almost half. Portland also employs a pedestrian zone on weekend nights. A grant from the City of Seattle will help pay for the Pike/Pine pilot. Volunteers are needed to help collect study information.

The District 3 candidates discussed their support for the Pike/Pine pedestrian zone here in the CHS D3 reader survey.

First Hill gets tactical, too
Next week on First Hill at the awkward three-way intersection of University / Union / Boylston, and at University and 9th Ave the City will install “prototype parks.” These temporary parks will be used to determine if these two locations “make sense as [a] public space,” according to Chip Nevins with Seattle Parks and Recreation. If they do, the parks would become permanent in one to three years time, he said.

For the past several years, the City of Seattle has tried to bring parks and open spaces to the dense and highly urban First Hill neighborhood. Both the 2000 Pro Parks Levy and the 2008 Parks and Green Spaces Levy identified the neighborhood as a priority and allocated funding for the acquisition of land. However, city planners have been unable to outbid well-heeled developers who have snatched up every piece of available real estate in the area. To address this problem, Seattle adopted the First Hill Public Realm Action Plan and a tactical strategy to attempt to create park space in the public right of way.

“Over the last decade First Hill has grown by over 3,000 new residents,” Lyle Bicknell, principal urban designer with DPD said at a town hall on the project earlier this year. “These new residents and workers need quality green space, in addition to those who already live here.”

The plan essentially consists of a 1.7 mile loop of pre-existing parks and several streets which could be revamped to create pedestrian and cyclist friendly greenways, public “open space” as well as “active zones” featuring recreational equipment, all for community use. Broadway’s already established bikeway and streetcar line will make up the eastern length of the loop. 

The plan targets four First Hill streets as having potential for being redeveloped for public green space: University Street, 8th avenue, Terrace Street, and Terry Avenue. McLaughlin said they were chosen for their under trafficked and underutilized street space, and potential to provide pedestrian, cyclist, pet, and disabled-persons friendly connectivity within the neighborhood as well as between the neighboring downtown and Capitol Hill areas. The parks will claim street space and change the flow of traffic — at University and Boylston, drivers will no longer be able to access Union.

Residents living near that prototype park were generally pleased about its inclusion into their neighborhood. One resident said he walked past the intersection daily and would be “happy to see some more green.” Another resident said it “sounds great” and was excited to see how the space turns out. An older woman who lives in one of the larger residential complexes overlooking the proposed new park said that while she wasn’t opposed to the plan, she feared such spaces would attract homeless people. “If they have a bench and a table, you can rest assured that people will sleep here,” she said. “Hopefully they’ll increase patrols in the area.”

Six locations in First Hill have been selected as possible candidates for redesign. Long-term funding will come from public-private partnerships where developers build public green space with incentives and the levies. However, levy funds are limited to property purchases and larger park development rather than minor street side installments such as parklets.

You can learn more at

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7 years ago

This is an excellent idea that has worked well in other places. Glad to see it coming to Seattle.

DB McWeebeton
DB McWeebeton
7 years ago

It would be great for the First Hill park to become permanent. There’s no real need for that complicated intersection, and it would reinforce the pedestrian-friendly nature of the immediate neighborhood.

7 years ago

It will be interesting to see how it works. These types of parks tend to do well where there is commercial activity, like a coffee shop or convenience store, animating the place. Have not seen any examples showing that it works without that kind of an anchor between scores of apartment and condo buildings. The existing park 1.5 blocks away, which has nice trees, a little lawn and benches, is underutilized. I’m also curious of the neighborhood will take care of it as intended. I think it is prudent to use it as a pilot to see whether it works before making it permanent.