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‘We are here’ — $3M Melrose Promenade project takes shape

Community leaders, neighbors, and advocates at last week’s Melrose Promenade open house (Image: CHS)

By Dagmawit Kemal, UW News Lab/Special to CHS

There’s a $3 million plan to reimagine and reengineer Melrose Ave as a safer, more active street and center of community on the western slope of Capitol Hill. Dozens of community members interested in the re-construction of Melrose gathered last week below the Melrose Market for an open house to shape the plan. If we can’t completely reconnect Capitol Hill with downtown and Eastlake, at least we can have a new promenade with an excellent view of our neighbors.

For the past eight years, community members have been meeting and conceptualizing the idea of making the avenue safer, vibrant and accessible for bikers and pedestrians. They’ve created a visual design book of different outcomes for the street which include things like implementation strategies, as well as public outreach.

Claire Corley, owner of Butter Home located inside of the Melrose Market, said transforming Melrose is a dynamic idea and something that Seattle could use especially because there are so many more people and we need more outside spaces.

“It’s like a pseudo park-like setting and the only thing I could compare it to is like the High Line in New York, you know something where people want to be outside and a general and comfortable place for people to be,” Corley said, describing the 1.45-mile-long elevated linear park, greenway and rail trail located in New York City.

One of the questions asked on the survey was about the narrowness of the street.

“We have two lanes of vehicular traffic, parking and then a narrow sidewalk so it makes it real difficult to even get trees in, and even some other things proposed,” Morley said.

From the results of the survey, organizers said support for a one-way Melrose was evident. The follow-up question was whether that one-way street should run north or south. The results were split evenly.

As the night continued, people were making notes on the posters and giving presenters feedback.

Camryn Williams, a New York City native, but current resident in Beacon Hill said this is a great opportunity.

“Coming from New York City where you don’t have much of a say in the neighborhood, this is fun because it’s open to the public and gives you an idea of what’s happening and you have direct contact,” she said.

Williams and friend and Capitol Hill resident Matt Lowe came to the event because they were interested in getting involved.

Lowe said Seattle can afford to take cars out of the street and make Melrose a promenade.

“We need to take back the streets for the people,” Lowe said.

Lowe wasn’t alone, as another attendee said the vision could be expanded.

“It’s not enough quite honestly,” said Natalie Bicknell, a Central District resident. “It’s moving in the right direction, but there ultimately needs to be no cars. The section of Melrose between Pike and Pine is feasible to do that.”

Bicknell wants to see pedestrian dedicated zones in the city.

Another attendee, Brie Gyncild, who lives in the Capitol Hill area and is a transit and safe streets advocate, said there is a lot of community involvement in this block but she’s more concerned about how the street is designed throughout the corridor.

“I’m all about pedestrian and bike safety as well as comfort throughout,” Gynchild said.

“This is a hand off point, where people from the community-led vision are here and we’re here from SDOT showing people that we’re working together,” Anderson said. “The City of Seattle is now involved and can manage this project looking forward and even build on the vision.”

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Mike Kent, who spearheaded this project, said that he first started thinking of a new Melrose while on his morning jog after he moved from New York City in 2009.

“I was an unemployed urban planner … and as I was running up and down Melrose, I would look at the views and think, golly, these are the best views in the City of Seattle,” Kent said.

He looked down at the street and said he remembers thinking there was just too much empty concrete.

Kent said the framework of this ongoing plan has been the same since the start: wider sidewalks, benches, trees and better lighting. People who had a background in planning, or  design, or community organizing, or even an interest in social justice all came together to create conversation about how the street could better serve them.

“What we’re doing at this stage is planning. We’re asking the people that know Melrose the best what kinds of things we should be building and where. We don’t want to just bring assumptions that we know exactly where this money should be spent,” said Dan Anderson, Community Engagement Liaison for the Seattle Department of Transportation.

After the community spent eight years planning and gathering funding with public grants awarded through the Neighborhood Match Fund, the City of Seattle decided to independently apply for a grant that supports non-vehicle modes of transportation and got $3 million from it. The community and a consultant team developed a plan to reconstruct Melrose and then proposed it to the city.

“The reason why the city has prioritized this project is because there’s already a lot of great work done by residents here to forward this vision to the city,” said Anderson.

The corridor of the proposed Melrose Promenade runs from Pike all the way north to Lakeview Boulevard.

“We broke up that stretch into three distinct zones. One being an active urban area, the second area near I-5 and overlooking South Lake Union, and lastly more of a park area,” said Jonathan Morley, principal and landscape architect at Berger Partnership.

Anderson said these changes would help people and goods move throughout the city in a safe and efficient way.

“Another element that streets can do is provide public space, whether that’s for people to express themselves, people to get around their neighborhood, access retail shopping, restaurants to eat and places they can be entertained,” Anderson said.

As people trickled into the open house, many were staring at the various poster boards of designs and different pie charts of surveys taken by the community.

A new survey seeking feedback on the latest ideas will be open through April 29th.

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4 thoughts on “‘We are here’ — $3M Melrose Promenade project takes shape

  1. I cycle Melrose between Belmont and Thomas most evenings.
    The (concrete) road-bed is cracked and heaving and sinking in many places and needs fixing, to make cycling less hazardous. The traffic noise is typically very nasty.
    The real downside to the project is that the wonderful evening views of the Olympic Mountains, which were surely a motivation when the project started, are rapidly being obscured by all the new buildings in the Cascade neighborhood and beyond.
    By the time the project is completed, I fear the only views will be of apartment buildings, and maybe the very tip-top of the Space Needle.