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Why Capitol Hill’s Millionaire’s Row isn’t a Stay Healthy Block anymore

A Capitol Hill avenue that became a popular addition to the city’s experimentation with community-created walking and riding streets as part of its efforts to address social distancing needs during the COVID-19 crisis has been removed from the program and looks unlikely to return.

The situation on 14th Ave E is an example of the limits of Seattle City Hall’s urbanist-leaning efforts and, the resident who originally applied for the permit says, a prime example of kowtowing to complaints from homeowners and drivers.

“If SDOT continues to insist on these restrictions (and others) then it seems clear to me that they have no intention of allowing the program to continue in a dense urban neighborhood, no
matter how successful the program was,” applicant and area resident Christopher Hoffman tells CHS.

According to Hoffman, his original approval of the program’s implementation on 11 blocks of 14th Ave E, the city’s legendary Millionaire’s Row extending south out of Volunteer Park, came with the basic requirements allowing the use of signs and small barriers to “temporarily close a street to create more outdoor recreation space for people to enjoy while following social distancing guidelines” while allowing “local access, deliveries, waste pickup and emergency vehicles.”


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14th Ave’s place in the program had its own challenges. The a-frame signs were frequently run over and sometimes ripped down intentionally. Not every problem came from someone trying to sabotage the temporary pedestrianization of the street. Some attempted to augment the sgn barriers by adding rogue “no parking” signs, or adding rental bikes, cinder blocks and even rebar to the a-frame signs to create an even more formidable barrier to cars.

While that back and forth played out, the street stayed busy with walkers and riders spreading out along the blocks in a kind of natural extension of Volunteer Park into the neighborhood.

It didn’t last. Under the program, the Stay Healthy Block permit needed to be renewed in November. That’s when it started to become clear that there were going to be much larger barriers to keeping the street in the program, Hoffman says.

On a recent Saturday, there were more than a thousand people who walked down the
middle of 14th Ave E,” he says. “But in order to grant an extension the city wants me to buy several type three barricades. These are much larger than the barricades that the city installed on Columbia St. Then they want me to find garages to store these large barricades and to remove them every night.”

A Seattle Department of Transportation spokesperson painted a much rosier picture of the 14th Ave E situation. According to SDOT, the street is still being considered for renewal in the program.

“We received a lot of feedback and concerns about the street — positive and negative,” a spokesperson told CHS last week.

The requirements for larger barriers and more active management of the program by the community members who apply for it are a citywide issue, the rep said.

The issues have also been part of the city-run version of the open street program. During COVID-19 restrictions, the city has created miles of Stay Health Streets and in December, beefed up its signage after complaints of destruction and unsafe driving behavior.

CHS reported here on the Central District’s Stay Healthy route which is set to become a permanent addition to the streetscape. Under that program, the city has also opened up a mile of Lake Washington Boulevard through the holidays to “people walking, rolling”  through Sunday, January 3rd.

Back on 14th Ave E, what’s next along the mansions of Millionaire’s Row isn’t necessarily a done deal, but it looks unlikely that the original Stay Healthy Block effort will be continued. That’s a problem for Capitol Hill — and the city as it tries to balance a push for changing the way its streets and public rights of way are used.

“It’s not just about this block,” the SDOT spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, some of that creative energy has returned to the street even without a permit. After the sun came back out this week following Monday’s brief burst of snow, somebody had placed two orange cones in the middle of 14th Ave E at E Prospect where a Stay Healthy Block sign used to stand. Lacking the cinder blocks and rebar of some earlier guerilla efforts and reinforcement, two kids decked out in bright snow pants were busy building up the 14th Ave E barrier, decorating the cones with branches and holly leaves from the nearby park. Down the blocks, a dozen or so people were walking in the street.


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dre
dre
24 days ago

The stay healthy block on 14th was no doubt more popular than the one on 22nd in terms of runners, walkers, and cyclists. I can understand why some people would be against it, but people are going to continue to run in the road at this point anyway so the city might as well introduce more stay healthy streets ESPECIALLY as gyms remain closed.

One benefit of stay healthy streets is that they make the neighborhood feel like more of a community and I think that is a mental health benefit that is overlooked aside from the other health benefits of exercise.

Whatever the fate of 14th street is, it undoubtedly has changed perception as a result of the original stay healthy block. People will continue to use it for recreation so it is currently an informal stay healthy street as a result. Cars continue to share the road with pedestrians unless they choose to drive a parallel street.

Or the governor could open gyms with restrictions again.

Steve McQueen
Steve McQueen
24 days ago
Reply to  dre

I still don’t understand why – even well before the pandemic – people for some reason considered it acceptable to run in the middle of the street when there were perfectly good sidewalks on the side of the street.

I guess they could have been confused by the word “walk” in “sidewalk”.

CD Neighbor
CD Neighbor
24 days ago
Reply to  Steve McQueen

Beats me… it is actually illegal to walk or run in the street if there’s a sidewalk available and I really wish people wouldn’t do it. I get it that right now, it is good etiquette to step off of the sidewalk if someone is coming towards you (especially as many runners choose to forgo a mask…. :( ), but don’t stay out there and for f*’s sake look before you do it, don’t just pop out from in-between parked cars…

One night on my way home from work I encountered no less than 5 runners in about 3 blocks (not on a stay healthy street, but one that is open normally and with no other foot traffic that would cause them to step off of the sidewalk) – every one of them was wearing all black, after dark, on a rainy night, with no lights or reflectors. Even as a cyclist, not going as quickly as some cars, they often become visible at the last minute and are hazardous to both of us… and to make it worse they generally act like they are being wronged when you have to swerve around them.

Fairly Obvious
Fairly Obvious
23 days ago
Reply to  CD Neighbor

<em>Beats me… it is actually illegal to walk or run in the street if there’s a sidewalk available and I really wish people wouldn’t do it.</em>

Ah yes, pedestrian shaming. Car drivers #2 favorite past time behind bike shaming.

In my neighborhood, pedestrians using the streets have vastly reduced the amount of 30+ mph cut-throughs from selfish car drivers.

So I would say that pedestrian use of the streets is a welcome change. Just because some archaic law claims otherwise, doesn’t mean pedestrians should stop. There’s a lot of pavement in this city that’s dedicated to cars. It’s time we grow up as a city.

CD Neighbor
CD Neighbor
23 days ago
Reply to  Fairly Obvious

@Farily Obvious – The thing that’s fairly obvious is that you don’t bother to even read and comprehend before you judge and shoot your mouth off….

I’m a bike commuter and yes – people running in the street are a menace.

Fairly Obvious
Fairly Obvious
22 days ago
Reply to  CD Neighbor

I read your entire comment. It was full of griping about pedestrians using their neighborhood streets because they’re in your way.

Did I miss anything?

Karl Liebknecht
Karl Liebknecht
20 days ago
Reply to  CD Neighbor

@CD Neighbor – you fail to realize that @Fairly Obvious has the right to choose which laws to obey and which, by the power of virtuous fiat, to ignore. Consider an extant law “archaic?” No need to follow it! It’s like magic.

kathy
kathy
21 days ago
Reply to  CD Neighbor

Seattle is notoriously unfriendly to bicycles (don ‘t get outraged, it is statistically true) and has some of the worst drivers anywhere as well as streets that are barely maintained. Speaking of which I’ve never understood how 14th St. from Prospect Ave to Volunteer Park is one of the worst maintained in the city. The potholes are so deep and wide you can see the bricks and cobblestones that were laid 100 years ago! As a bike commuter I’ve always known I’m taking my life in my hands when I ride and I’m extremely careful but opening the streets to anyone and everyone is the nail in the coffin. These people wandering around in the middle of the streets apparently feel very entitled to pay no attention to anyone but themselves regardless of laws or consideration for others. I give up; stay out of my way if I’m riding legally in the street or I’ll run into you.

Disgruntled Seattle resident
Disgruntled Seattle resident
12 days ago
Reply to  Steve McQueen

Thank you. Privilege has a weird way of showing up in gentrified communities.

Concerned Neighbor
Concerned Neighbor
24 days ago

Where is the evidence that the homeowners had anything against this program? And what did they have against it? This feels like a completely one-sided account from the permit applicant.

Bob
Bob
24 days ago

I agree with your comments. Good call out.

Permit Applicant
Permit Applicant
24 days ago

I think that the vast majority of neighbors were supportive. The comments that I got (by phone email and in person) ran about three to one in favor. The city, on the other hand, has been less supportive. They haven’t granted an extension to the permit because they want big barricades that would be stored in garages every night. They also threatened to fine me. My interactions with SDOT made me feel that they didn’t want the program to continue no matter how many positive comments they received.

reddog
reddog
23 days ago

Thank you for your work on this. I know that coordinating with Seattle government is a challenge, but I’m a resident, and I really appreciated the effort – and fewer / slower cars on the street + more pedestrians.

Ryan
Ryan
23 days ago

I live on this street and saw at one point 3-4 signs piled up in my neighbors yard. Not sure if he was removing them because he didn’t like them or because they were destroyed by people running them down.

Disgruntled Seattle resident
Disgruntled Seattle resident
12 days ago

Plenty of people are against the program. You just have to be open yourself up to listen. The fact that we are debating this is proof that people are opposed.

Acid Jackson
Acid Jackson
24 days ago

I live near a stay healthy street. The street is highly trafficked and signs vandalized. If these streets are to be permanent neighborhood access streets, let’s put together a plan to construct medians and forced turns to allow cyclists and runners access while discouraging automobile use.

TransitRocks
TransitRocks
24 days ago
Reply to  Acid Jackson

The problem is you also need access for emergency vehicles, delivery trucks, contractors, etc not to mention the actual homeowners. Some blocks have decent alleyways but many do not…the neighborhoods unfortunately were not designed with this use in mind.

Acid Jackson
Acid Jackson
23 days ago
Reply to  TransitRocks

Making streets dead-ends and forced turns will not affect accessibility by emergency vehicles, delivery trucks, contractors… It will make the direct cut-thru less convenient and encourage traffic to stay on main thoroughfares.

CD Neighbor
CD Neighbor
24 days ago
Reply to  Acid Jackson

Yes! I live on a stay healthy street – the signs, at this point have become completely ignored and we’re back to pretty typical levels of through traffic and speeders. The new ‘permanent’ sign is a joke… it’s been installed so far over to the side of the street that it doesn’t even make people slow down a little… the A-frames were probably slightly more effective, when they weren’t knocked over or thrown on the sidewalk.

Really – the only thing I think that would actually make people use a different street would be to completely block one end here and make it a dead end.

reddog
reddog
23 days ago

Residents actually seemed to like the idea of having 14th be a “Stay Healthy Block”. The problem seemed to be more with implementation – the signs blew away one evening, and people kept shifting the temporary signs and barriers. I would encourage Christopher Hoffman and the City to persist on this one!

RWK
RWK
23 days ago

It is surprising that a single individual (Christopher Hoffman), acting on his own, can get the City to establish (albeit temporarily) a “healthy street.”

I walk along 14th Ave E often. It has perfectly good sidewalks where people can walk/run, and it is not at all crowded (I seriously doubt Mr. Hoffman’s claim that 1000 people/day use it). So, I truly do not understand why this street should be permanently blocked off from it’s usual use, and hopefully this will not happen.

dre
dre
23 days ago
Reply to  RWK

 So, I truly do not understand why this street should be permanently blocked off from it’s usual use

  1. We are living in unusual times, which calls for unusual solutions.
  2. It’s not permanent because restrictions on indoor gatherings will eventually lift.
  3. The 14th street is directly connected to one of the largest and most important recreational park areas in Capitol Hill and can give thousands of residents safe access on foot. Vehicles can use the arterials on 12th or 15th.
  4. Blocked it is not. All usual vehicular activities such as local resident commute and deliveries are very much allowed. Main thing that changes is that they have to share the road. If they don’t want to share the road with pedestrians and cyclists, they can drive on 15th.
  5. All of the gyms are closed and Seattle is depressing in the winter so many people need intense exercise to get through it. It’s challenging to get socially distanced exercise in a dense urban village.

RWK’s comments seemingly are meant to obstruct the health and well-being of the community for unknown motivations. I really don’t know why RWK comes on here and offers no solutions and seemingly acts like there are no problems to solve here. Clearly, many people support the stay healthy block.

RWK
RWK
22 days ago
Reply to  dre

Hardly. Pedestrians are free to exercise as much as they want, on the sidewalks and within Volunteer Park itself.

Fairly Obvious
Fairly Obvious
23 days ago
Reply to  RWK

<em>It is surprising that a single individual (Christopher Hoffman), acting on his own, can get the City to establish (albeit temporarily) a “healthy street.”</em>

Seattle has a process to apply for Stay Healthy Blocks. He followed the process and nobody objected.

I don’t see why this would trigger someone.

Cheeseslinger John
Cheeseslinger John
23 days ago
Reply to  Fairly Obvious

Rwk doesn’t seem to be triggered. He has only observed that the healthy block is unnecessary. I share his analysis. I am also not “triggered”, though I’m annoyed at how hamstrung this city has become by excessive bicycle lanes that aren’t being used, resulting in single lanes that are blocked by buses, and also entire busy streets blocked off that aren’t being heavily used such as on the south side of green lake.
For essential services people it’s a real nuisance to drive around and see nobody talking advantage of these pedestrian and bicycle spaces provided, yet have to inch along behind buses. Buses that are also nearly empty, incidentally.

JerSeattle
JerSeattle
23 days ago

I was extremely disappointed they removed the stay healthy street. I felt like it was nice to have social distancing and staying away from others while being outside. Selfish people that want to drive their stupid cars on these streets. There are plenty of streets around 14th you can use.

Disgruntled Seattle resident
Disgruntled Seattle resident
12 days ago
Reply to  JerSeattle

There are plenty of sidewalks. Lol. Selfish people who want to drive cars on streets. That is hilarious. But people wanting to use streets made for cars to walk is not selfish. Beautiful.

Disgruntled Seattle resident
Disgruntled Seattle resident
12 days ago

Who approves comments? Just curious.