Tag Archive for 'downtown'

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Westlake Streetcar Plaza Closed to Pedestrians

Westlake Streetcar Plaza under construction

Westlake Streetcar Plaza (also known as McGraw Square) is currently under construction at the southern terminus of the Seattle Streetcar. This project will provide a new public space downtown and should be a welcome improvement to people on foot in the area. However, it appears that six crosswalks will remain closed during the construction period through Thanksgiving.

The area in red below is closed to pedestrians:

View Westlake Streetcar Plaza in a larger map

Like much of downtown, this is an area of high pedestrian traffic, however the area under construction is completely closed to pedestrians. SDOT spokesperson Rick Sheridan says that safety is the reason:

The southeast corner of Stewart and Fifth is closed because buses, trucks and larger vehicles have difficulty making the corner in turning left from Stewart and often cut it. Until it is reconfigured as part of the work, it is not safe for pedestrians to stand there. The closing the sidewalk and crosswalk are due to this corner not being available for use.

The northeast corner of Olive and Fifth Ave is closed because it is now under construction. There is a deep excavation of approximately 20 feet in depth at that location. As it is now a construction zone it is no longer an area where we should have pedestrians walking.

We apologize for the inconvenience but safety is a key priority as we undertake construction. We encourage walkers to respect the closures as they exist to keep pedestrians safe.

I’m appreciative that SDOT is concerned for the safety of people walking in the area. However, sometimes obstacles can create unsafe situations as people walk around them. While passing by earlier in the week, I saw a man on crutches walking in the roadway of 5th Avenue along the fence. While that kind of behavior is not legal, it’s not surprising either.

This makes me wonder – does the closure of these crosswalks really improve safety in the area, or does it just invite people to make dangerous decisions? It seems like parts of this area could be made available to pedestrians during parts of the construction process. Should SDOT be doing more to make the area passable for pedestrians while under construction?


Most walkable convention centers

Following up on the ranking of most walkable football stadiums, Walkscore.com has ranked the Walk Score for the biggest convention centers. They only considered convention centers with over 650,000 square feet, which excludes Seattle’s Washington State Convention & Trade Center. However, had they included it in this list, it would be among the most walkable convention centers with a Walk Score of 95. A convention held within walking distance from your hotel, restaurants, and nightlife sounds like a much better convention to go to than one that you have to drive to.


Walking Pioneer Square

This exploration of Pioneer Square takes you through one of the most walkable neighborhoods in the city, full of character and history.

View Walking Pioneer Square in a larger map

Pioneer Square is ranked by WalkScore as the most walkable neighborhood in Seattle. This route meanders a bit to get around to the most interesting parts of the area. Street parking may be difficult, but the area is well served by buses and light rail.

Pioneer Square can get rowdy at night and is also a hub for social services, so this route will probably be most enjoyable to walk during daylight hours. The narrow vehicle lanes and rows of trees make Pioneer Square good for walking. You’ll pass by a few bars and some interesting shops in these historic buildings.

Start at 1st and James, near the historic pergola at Pioneer Place Park. The pergola was destroyed by a delivery truck in 2001. This was actually potentially a good thing, as the trucker’s insurance covered the repair, and the Nisqually Earthquake, which hit shortly afterward and would’ve surely destroyed the uninsured pergola.

Go south across Yesler Way along 1st Ave as it changes names to 1st Ave S. The traffic signals in Pioneer Square are interesting as there are no separate pedestrian signals. I’m not sure if the lack of pedestrian signals is a good thing because it treats people and traffic equally, or if it endangers pedestrians because the traffic lights change more quickly than pedestrian signals, leaving people in the intersection on a red light.

This section of 1st Ave S has old buildings like other parts of Pioneer Square, but the few tourist-oriented chain stores and fast food places give this section of Pioneer Square a different feel. As you walk along, note the old signs, including the neon “Rooms 75¢” sign – an interesting leftover from the past.

At Main St, you’ll pass the former location of the Elliot Bay Bookstore, which had been a great anchor for the neighborhood. After passing Jackson Street, the area seems a little quieter. Turn left at King St and pass by the largest surface parking lot downtown on you right – covering four full blocks – as well as a couple bars on your left.

Turn left on 2nd Street, passing the Kingdome Deli, named after the Kingdome, which would have stood in this area until 2000. Now turn around and have a good look at Qwest field, which was made from a lot of recycled concrete from the Kingdome.

After crossing back over Jackson Street, the streetscape picks up again with more mixed-use space and retail. Just after crossing the intersection, you’ll pass by the Klondike Gold Rush Museum, a no-entrance-fee National Historical Park dedicated to the gold rush that was one of the major milestones in Seattle’s growth as a city.

Continue across S Main St and turn left. On your right is the Waterfall Garden on the site of the United Parcel Service’s first office. The garden is well shaded and has several chairs for relaxing in this urban oasis, but it’s only open during limited hours during the middle of the day.

Continuing along Main St and look to your right to take note of the old advertisement for the Washington State Ferries to “Have Lunch Over Seas”. From here you can also see two buildings in Seattle that were once the tallest buildings on the west coast – Smith Tower, which at a height ranging from 462 feet to 522 feet (depending on where you look on the internet) and built in 1914 was the tallest until the Space Needle was built in 1962, and the Columbia Center, built to 943 feet, which was the tallest until 1989.

Turn right into Occidental Square, one of the best open spaces downtown. You’ll pass by the Fallen Firefighter’s Memorial, dedicated in 1998. On your left is the Squire Latimer Building, built in 1890 and beautifully covered with green vines.

Turn left at S Washington St and cross 1st Ave S and Washington St to continue westward along the north side of Washington St. This block of Pioneer Square is a little quieter, but still has the old architecture and tree-lined sidewalks that help define the area.

Turn right at the end of the block. You will have to walk for a block through a parking lot near the dated Alaskan Way Viaduct. Turn right again at the next street (Yesler Way). You’ll pass by some bars and restaurants, as well as some more plant-covered buildings down Western Ave and Post Ave to your left. Also, take note of the mural on Post Ave called Friends of Post Alley.

At 1st Ave, turn right to walk back down Pioneer Square’s main street. Based on the number of bars you’ll see, it’s understandable how it can get a little rambunctious in the evenings.

Turn left at S Jackson St and then turn left again at Occidental. The Occidental Mall here has several art galleries and cafes and leads back to Occidental Park. Continue north back to Yesler Way and turn left on Yesler. You’ll pass by Mercants Cafe on your left, which is the oldest continually operating restaurant in Seattle, established when the building was constructed in 1890.

Look back to your right at the Sinking Ship parking garage, which was built after the destruction of a grand hotel and helped to galvanize support for historic preservation in the city.

At 1st Ave, turn right to cross back to our starting point.

If you’d like a more entertaining historical narration of your time in Pioneer Square, take Bill Spiedel’s Underground Tour to see what’s below the streets.

Also, Seattle Architecture: A Walking Guide to Downtown by Maureen R. Elenga has a lot more information on the architectural history of this area.

highlights: history, architecture, tree covering, many bars and art galleries, art, public space
lowlights: other folks around may not be the kind of people you like to hang out with


Sheraton streetscape makeover

The Puget Sound Business Journal reports on a revamp of one of the most bland and uninspired streetscapes in the city:

The Sheraton Seattle will spend $2 million to build a landscaped pedestrian walkway at its downtown hotel location.

Sheraton officials said the “Garden Walk” will be built along Seventh Avenue and will include vine-covered walls, large mirrors, water features and sculptures. Construction will begin Aug. 14 and is expected to be completed by spring 2011.

The building currently affronts the street with a block-long white wall, so this revitalized streetscape sounds like a big improvement. SeattleScape has some cynicism, however, about the sustainability of this garden walk.

Again, actual street-level tenant space, with doors and windows, could last the lifetime of the building with a changing array of establishments naturally responding to their street-level location with appropriate displays and accessibility. Yet the placement of mirrors seems so impermanent. Does the Sheraton Hotel management really intend to maintain and likely replace those mirrors essentially ad perptuum?

Even if the answer is no, doing something to upgrade the streetscape is better than nothing.


McGraw Streetcar Plaza design

SDOT is in the process of developing the McGraw Square area and a portion of Westlake Avenue into a Westlake Transportation Hub at the downtown terminus of the Seattle Streetcar.

McGraw Square Park is currently the site of a historic bronze statue along with a couple park benches, one of which is often occupied overnight for sleeping.

Plans include another streetcar platform to allow boarding on both sides as well as bike parking, natural landscaping, artistic lighting, and a retail kiosk.

Westlake Transportation Hub design

Westlake Transportation Hub design showing uses of McGraw Streetcar Plaza

This was presented at the last meeting of the Seattle Design Commission, however there were some concerns that the design needs to be refined further to be flexible for future uses.

You can download a draft version of the presentation from the Design Commission website. Construction is expected to start this year.


Walking the Central Waterfront

The Central Waterfront is a fun walk on a clear day, though it can become crowded with tourists. It offers good views of the mountains and the city and shops to browse and places to eat.

View Walking the Waterfront in a larger map

Start at the Ferry Terminal at Alaskan Way and Marion St (Pier 52). There is limited parking in the area, but you can get there via the 16, 66, or 99 buses.

Then, walk north along the west side of Alaskan Way. Shortly after you start, you’ll pass Fire Station Number 5, which you can tour (if scheduled in advance).

Continuing, you’ll pass an ice cream shop, Seattle’s beloved Ivar’s Acres of Clams, and Ye Olde Curiosity Shop on Pier 54. It can get crowded, so you’ll probably need to keep a leisurely pace.

At Pier 55, you can catch the Elliott Bay Water Taxi to West Seattle in the summer. Or, Argosy Cruises operates cruises around Elliott Bay year-round.

As you continue, you’ll pass more touristy shops and seafood restaurants. You’ll then get to Waterfront Park, which has fountains, and benches, and telescopes for appreciating the view.

Next is the Seattle Aquarium. Soon on your right will be a large crosswalk, which you can take toward Pike Place Market and downtown.

As you keep walking, soon you’ll reach a large wood pier to your left. Though it’s often underused, this is a public park that you can walk out onto to get a view of Mount Rainier (if it’s out), or at least Safeco Field and Qwest Field.

Seattle Skyline from Pier 62/63

Looking toward the city from Pier 62/63

We’ve passed the main tourism area, so rest of the walk along Alaskan Way will be a little quieter. You’ll pass The Edgewater hotel, which hosted the Beatles in 1964 and Led Zeppelin (who were banned from the hotel after their 2nd visit). At Pier 69, which is where you can catch the Victoria Clipper which will take you to Victoria, British Columbia.

From here, it’s not much farther until you reach Olympic Sculpture Park.

After exploring the park, feel free to continue walking along the waterfront through Myrtle Edwards Park, or walk a few blocks back and catch free bus #99 back to where we started.

Highlights: Scenic views, touristy shops, seafood, water, Aquarium, parks (Waterfront and Pier 62/63), Olympic Sculpture Park

Lowlights: can have lots of tourists, can be breezy and cooler than elsewhere in the city, may be too touristy for some people


Transforming downtown to make Seattle America’s Most Walkable City

The city of Seattle just finished the most comprehensive study ever done in a US city on improving public spaces. The architecture firm that performed the study presented their preliminary findings this past Tuesday.

You can download a PDF version of the presentation from the International Sustainability Institute.

The presentation starts with some key findings about where pedestrians go downtown, noting that the waterfront is undervisited partially due to poor connections between the waterfront and downtown. It also maps the dull area in the central part of downtown between the retail core and Pioneer Square.

The presentation then moves on to some recommendations:

  • upgrading the waterfront toward making Seattle a waterfront city
  • using the east-west streets as “green connectors”
  • turning alleys into “green lungs”
  • greening building roofs and walls

There are a few motivating graphics that show how adding greenery and other pedestrian amenities could transform downtown, specifically King Street Station and 1st Avenue.

It also shares some lessons from New York City’s conversion of Times Square to reduce vehicle traffic.

The easy suggestions it makes are to:

  1. Better connect Pike Place Market & Westlake
  2. Complete the bicycle network
  3. Prioritize 1st Ave to make it a great street
  4. Green the alleys
  5. Create active facades to replace plain walls

Seattle has a lot of potential to make the downtown area great and this study seems to have identified a lot of good ways to do that. The full results will be out in March.

You can watch the presentation here. The Seattle PI’s In Pioneer Square blog has a good overview as well.


Walking the Downtown Retail Core

This is a short and easy walk through the downtown retail core – a great way to see the shopping that downtown has to offer and end up at Pike Place Market.

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Start at 5th Ave and University St downtown near the 5th Avenue Theatre and head northwest. The theatre had a new sign installed on December 3, 2009. The new sign is similar to the sign that was originally on the theatre when it opened in 1926 except the current sign uses energy-efficient LED bulbs.

5th Avenue Theatre

5th Avenue Theatre, built in 1926

Feel free to walk along either side of the street, though if I had to pick, I’d opt for the right side to avoid the Red Lion parking garage entrance and an area in front of the hotel where tourists gather. Though 5th Avenue can be busy with vehicle traffic, it is lined with trees that help insulate you from the street, as well as glass windowed stores that draw you in. This initial section of 5th Avenue has an upscale feel to it, with Gucci and Louis Vitton. When you reach 5th Ave and Pike Street, you’ll see the Banana Republic on the north corner of the intersection.

Banana Republic (formerly Coliseum Theater)

Banan Republic, formerly the Coliseum Theater, built in 1916

Turn right on Pike St. You’ll see the Washington State Convention Center ahead. Turn left on 6th Avenue. There is more shopping on this block and some places to eat. Continue for a block to Pine Street.

At Pine Street, you’ll be in the middle of it all. This part of Seattle makes it feel like a big city. It seems there are always people walking here at any time of day. At this intersection you’ll see Pacific Place mall and the flagship Nordstrom.

Turn left on Pine St. You’ll pass by more retail stores, such as the GAP. There are also several entrances to the underground bus and light rail tunnel around this area. On your right will be Westlake Center. At Westlake Center you can take the Monorail to Seattle Center. The Westlake Center also has an outdoor plaza, which has the 2nd busiest Starbucks in North America. Up ahead you’ll see Macy’s (formerly the Bon Marché).

4th and Pine

Macy's, Starbucks, and Westlake Center

On the South side of the street is Westlake Park, which is often used by skateboarders and homeless. Cut through the park or turn left at 4th Avenue. On any weekend, you’ll likely find people at 4th and Pine holding signs protesting Israel or encouraging you to come to God. And you’ll be lucky to pass through this area without getting approached by someone with a clipboard representing a charity. You’ll also likely pass by a few buskers and shoeshiners,

Turn right on Pike St and you’ll be facing the “Public Market Center” sign of Pike Place Market. As you continue the few blocks to 1st Avenue, you’ll pass a few shops and cafes. Our walking tour ends here in front of the market, but there is plenty more walking you can do there.

Finish at 1st Ave and Pike

Highlights: shopping, things to look at, people, excitement, places to eat at the market, street performers, tree-lined 5th ave, ending at Pike Place Market

Lowlights: intimidating big city feel, loiterers, a few underused areas of the streetscape, can be crowded