The City of Seattle has released its comprehensive report on last summer’s experiment with a Pike/Pine pedestrian zone. In a decision that’s unlikely to please supporters or opponents of the project, the city is reccomending more community discussions before any more street closures take place.
The report released Wednesday touts the promising impacts of the project and the predominantly positive neighborhood feedback it received, but also notes the vocal opposition lodged by some local businesses and property owners. Ultimately, the Seattle Department of Transportation recommended that a “diverse group of neighborhood stakeholders” be convened by the city this spring to discuss the report’s findings and determine the “best way to move forward” in the aftermath of the pilot.
“That’s exactly what we had been calling for,” said Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce director Sierra Hansen, who previously asked the city hold off on doing another street closure in 2016. “One of the things that we recommended is that we get all the diverse perspectives at the same table. We want to foster a conversation between critics and supporters.”
While the report indicates that the city—SDOT and the Office of Economic Development in this case—is not shelving the project for good, the agencies are definitely pumping the brakes. “Further conversation is needed with leadership in Capitol Hill about what a pedestrian street concept can become in Pike/ Pine,” the report says.
The three-block pedestrian zone on E Pike between Broadway and 12th Ave originated as an attempt by the city and the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict to address issues of pedestrian congestion, aggressive crowd behavior, and LGBTQ visibility and inclusivity in the nightlife core of Capitol Hill. Funded by $30,000 of a $160,000 Only in Seattle grant awarded to the CHCC, the street closure was held over four separate saturday nights in August of last year. The first two nights were dedicated to a car-free street and the last two featured festive programming like a drag show, late night musical performances and queer-friendly partner dancing.
It appears the city landed on its talk-it-out recommendation primarily through analyzing its mixed feedback. Overall, 66% of 272 post-pilot survey respondents said they would like to see more weekend street closures, but favorability varied greatly when broken down among different groups.
Only 48% of business and property owners said they would like to see more weekend street closures (44% were opposed), compared to 70% of residents, underlining the mixed feelings in the Pike/Pine business community. When asked if they would prefer to see a street closure at other times of day, 44% of businesses and property owners said they would (37% were opposed), as did 60% of residents.
The most common response to the question “what did you dislike most about the project” was that it catered too heavily to “bars and partiers” and “encouraged bad behavior.” Conversely, the most common response to the question “what did you like most” was that the street closure “made the project safer for pedestrians,” followed by “less street congestion.”
SDOT found the project did in fact ease congestion. A comparison of on-the-street headcounts of pedestrians on a regular Saturday night and during a street closure night showed a substantial decrease in sidewalk congestion.
Others were not:
Opposition to the pilot echoed the sentiments of some business and property owners, who claimed that the project perpetuated the image of Pike/Pine as a nightlife-only district and that daytime retail businesses didn’t equally benefit. SDOT was clearly aware of the concerns.
There are notable concerns among some business and property owners – evidenced by the split in survey results in support of further development of a Pike Pedestrian Street program, as well as issues heard during individual meetings. These concerns will need to be accounted for in any future actions … If the program is further developed, we heard some specific ideas to more directly benefit businesses such as allowing outdoor seating/service for restaurants and cafes, bringing retail businesses into the street, and directly promoting businesses as part of the program.
For the pilot projects original financiers and organizers—the CHCC and the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict—the discussion-oriented course of action is the right one.
“I think that’s the next step we’ve been advocating for,” said EcoDistrict director Alex Brennan.
The report says that SDOT and OED will soon announce the date and time of the upcoming stakeholder community meetings on the pilot project. As for whether another street closure will happen in 2016, that depends on what the stakeholders hammer out in the coming months. Hansen said the CHCC does not have the staff and financial resources to plan and orchestrate another street closure (the pilot was funded through a one-time grant). And the EcoDistrict, having planned for the city to take the reigns on the project, has not allocated any resources for a potential 2016 street closure.
“Obviously it’s very controversial. If there is a solution that people can agree on, potentially there might still be a window of time,” Brennan said.
Brennan noted that while some may not want to see the street closure implemented again, the problems that inspired it still need to be addressed nonetheless. “Issues (in Pike/Pine) with sexual harassment, gay bashing, a lack of visibility for the queer community and the arts community, those issues aren’t going away,” he said.