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04.16.2014
Walk On
Gustafson Guthrie Nichol rethinks downtown Seattle.
Courtesy Gustafson Guthrie Nichol

Web Extra: Check out before and after views of the proposed streetscape.

A year ago, with the support of a $150,000 grant from Seattle’s Office of Economic Development, the nonprofit Downtown Seattle Association hired local landscape architecture firm Gustafson Guthrie Nichol (GGN) to make recommendations to bring more pedestrian-oriented elements to 65 acres of downtown Seattle.

The GGN plan, released in February, centers on uniting the fragmented parts of the Pike-Pine corridor, two major thoroughfares at the heart of the retail core running east-west from Interstate 5 to the waterfront. It proposes a series of incremental design changes on three levels, addressing what the firm calls “the light layer” (street life), “the middle layer” (paving and furnishing), and “the deep layer” (walkable, multi-modal right of way).

The light layer focuses on seasonal events and design: a 5k walking/running loop from Pike Place Market at the waterfront to Melrose Market on Capitol Hill, cable-suspended trails of lights along Pike Street in the winter, and in the summer, an outdoor garden festival and competition.

 

For the middle layer, GGN advises making more permanent changes, mostly around landscape. Their scheme involves using trees running solely along the north-south avenues to serve as a wayfinding cue, while filling in treeless voids around the city. Additionally, GGN proposes minimizing shrubs along the hilled east-west streets to expose waterfront vistas. There is also a plan for lighting the dozen or so alleys between Pike and Pine streets, capitalizing on the success of Post and Nord Alleys that run parallel to Pike Place Market.

Ideas for the deep layer range from elevating 20 intersection crosswalks to be flush extensions of the sidewalks, to changing several one-way streets to two-way, to implementing the bike master plan, and introducing traffic calming measures like reducing speed limits.

 

“This plan is about playing up the existing features that already make downtown Seattle uniquely interesting, while making it an exceptionally comfortable place to walk,” said Shannon Nichol, founding principal of GGN. “The plan’s light-handed design standards simply restore some of Seattle’s historic sidewalk details while emboldening the contrasts between Seattle’s two key street types: north/south avenues and east/west hill streets.”

The Seattle Department of Transportation approves of the plan, but the next step is getting support from the private sector. Plan implementation is estimated at $27 to $54 million. Funding has not yet been secured. The Downtown Seattle Association will be working with the public and private sectors.

The plan would be implemented in stages. The first would focus on immediately hosting programs on Pike-Pine while introducing new sidewalk standards alongside new developments, and later the launching of new crosswalks and sidewalks in the most crucial areas.

Ariel Rosenstock