by Michael Sarko
– The Capitol Hill Times –
The cultural and commercial identity of Capitol Hill centers ever more around the form and function of certain streets. Pike and Pine are downright iconic, Broadway is historic, and 12th Avenue is getting plenty of financial attention as the Hill’s next big thing. Residents and visitors alike become passionate about their favorite thoroughfares, which explains the well organized group of informed citizens and partner organizations working together to create Melrose Promenade.
The stretch of Melrose Avenue between Pike Street and Bellevue Place Park is becoming much more than its origins as a side street next to the highway. Like many places on Capitol Hill, it is acquiring new businesses, real estate developments, and transit concerns at a rapid pace. One new business, the sister store to Central District’s Broadcast Coffee, has played host to the Melrose Promenade group twice in the past month. Part presentation and part community spitballing process, these meetings are the groundwork for the future of Melrose Avenue.
The Melrose Promenade project began in 2011 when Mike Kent, who spoke to the Capitol Hill Times last year concerning the Yesler Terrace redevelopment, used to jog along Melrose, near his former home on Bellevue Avenue. He noticed what he calls “some of Seattle’s most beautiful views,” and saw an opportunity to transform the street’s narrow sidewalks and blank fences into an attractive promenade for the community.
Jonathan Morley of the Berger Partnership, a landscape architecture and urban design firm, set the foundation for the meeting on February 20.
“We had this idea, and we talked to our friends who talked to more friends, and the next thing you know, two years later with partnerships of groups like Central Seattle Greenways and Sustainable Capitol Hill, we have this project that has really come a long way.”
The Promenade also has the confidence of the city of Seattle. This early meeting process has been made possible by a $20,000 grant from the city, which includes hiring consultants from organizations like the Berger Partnership, Schemata Workshop, and Weinstein AU. After gathering information from the community about what kinds of changes they would like to see on Melrose and developing a formal plan, the Melrose Promenade project will have the material to seek additional funding. Though it is too early to take concrete steps, the group is staying up-to-date on potential sources like the Neighborhood Matching Fund system and the Seattle Green Spaces Levy.
The Promenade divides Melrose Avenue into three distinct zones. The first, known as “Active-Urban,” is the stretch between Pike Street and Denny Way that serves as a dense district of homes and businesses. The second, the “Overlook,” looks down on Eastlake across Interstate 5 and up to Bellevue Place Park. This area sees significantly less traffic, carrying around 1,600 vehicles per day, as opposed to the nearly 12,000 vehicles in the busiest part of the Active-Urban zone. The final area is the “Greenway” zone, mostly concerned with the Bellevue connector trail leading to Lakeview Boulevard East.
One of the central goals of the Melrose Promenade project is to make the area more pedestrian-friendly. This can be accomplished by reclaiming some street parking spaces for wider sidewalks, eliminating curbs where possible, increasing outdoor seating, improving lighting and reducing noise. The mix of urban bustle and the roar of I-5 make the average volume along Melrose nearly 83 decibels, which is the equivalent of a running garbage disposal unit at close range. The Promenade’s partners have suggested installing acoustic panels at strategic points along the street that could double as public art spaces. There has also been talk of high-efficiency lighting options to create consistent, attractive lighting through the area for both safety and aesthetics.
The next Melrose Promenade community meeting is scheduled for March 13. The meetings are open to all, and are organized for ease of input. Promenade organizers and partners lead discussions at several stations that depict each of the three zones with plenty of room to contribute notes and suggestions. Between now and the third community meeting, the project stakeholders will develop a Preliminary Vision Plan to undergo review. Following the third community meeting, the Vision Plan will be finalized.
In addition to the visioning process, the Melrose Promenade group also holds events throughout the year for community improvement, such as cleanup events for parks and green spaces. Updates can be found at MelrosePromenade.com and on the group’s Facebook page.