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Originally published Monday, February 24, 2014 at 4:29 PM

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Editorial: A good step to make Pike-Pine more walkable

The Downtown Seattle Association’s vision for the Pike-Pine corridor rightly aims to put pedestrians first.

Seattle Times Editorial

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The downtown association can form a local improvement district (lid) and tax themselves MORE
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THERE’S much to digest — and much that still needs to be fleshed out — in the Downtown Seattle Association’s ambitious vision for improving the Pike-Pine corridor, the city’s retail and tourism hub.

But, by prioritizing pedestrians and how they experience the corridor from the Pike Place Market to Capitol Hill, the association and its consultants are on the right track.

Downtown is for walking, perhaps more now than ever. Greater downtown’s residential population has increased by one-third since 2000, to nearly 60,000, with thousands more on the way.

Nonresidents come to Pike-Pine to work, shop and play by car, cab, rail and bus. But once they arrive, they walk. Making the corridor more appealing to pedestrians would help downtown compete with both suburban shopping malls and other big-city downtowns.

So the association proposes to give the disjointed, sometimes unattractive Pike-Pine streetscape a face-lift, with new, standardized sidewalks, plantings, lighting and benches.

The boldest idea: Raise intersections — crosswalks and the squares they encompass — to the same elevation as sidewalks. Supporters say that would slow vehicle traffic (imagine long, low speed bumps) and effectively make crosswalks extensions of sidewalks, enhancing pedestrians’ sense of safety.

Raised intersections have been built in New York, New Haven, Conn., and Cambridge, Mass. Seattle transportation planners should explore how they work in those and other cities, and carefully consider the cost and any adverse ramifications for transit, especially along bus-heavy Third Avenue.

The association proposes the city sell bonds to cover part of the cost of the Pike-Pine improvements, estimated at $27 million to $54 million. That may make sense if the investment helps generate more property- and sales-tax revenue.

But there are plenty of other worthy projects competing for city dollars. A thorough cost-benefit analysis is needed.

If investment is made, the private sector should pick up part of the tab as well: The association wisely has proposed that Pike-Pine property-owners pay some of the bill through a local-improvement district.

Another idea: A higher surcharge on downtown hotel stays to raise money to help combat the drug-dealing and aggressive panhandling that make parts of Pike-Pine feel unsafe.

Despite its problems, Pike-Pine is no blighted neighborhood. The recent opening of the region’s first Zara clothing store at Westlake Center is one sign of its vitality. The 40-story apartment tower now rising at Ninth Avenue and Pine is another.

But the corridor could be more inviting, and a more powerful economic engine. While the association’s proposals still need much vetting, they have kicked off a conversation Seattle needs to have.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

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