by Tyler Mangrum
- The Capitol Hill Times -
As Seattle’s urban development continues, one of the biggest concerns among residents has been how the city will encourage businesses to thrive in an environmentally sound manner.
Inevitably, with growth comes sprawl, and a disbursement of businesses over a wider area. Capitol Hill is no stranger to the issue, as numerous businesses now compete over limited parking resources in order to maintain customer bases. But now the city is pursuing a new planning endeavor that hopes to enhance business growth by making sure that neighborhood commercial areas encourage the patronage of pedestrians in a city cluttered by cars.
The pedestrian zone project hopes to expand on an older idea that encouraged businesses to become more accessible for people walking, biking, or using transit. By promoting the creation of more businesses like restaurants, retail stores, medical offices, salons, and offices that utilize pedestrian traffic to exist on the street level, the city hopes that more people will be encouraged to leave their cars behind for longer periods of time by consolidating the amount of time you need to walk from errand to errand.
“The pedestrian zone designation is meant to preserve or encourage a pedestrian-oriented retail area,” said Aly Pennucci, the senior planner for the city who currently heads the initiative. “In the case of Madison [Street], it sort of already is one. It’s walkable with lots of shops on the street level, so in that case it’s so that area continues to be a neighborhood destination that people can walk to and grab a bite to eat or do some shopping. It’s both to preserve and protect it, so if redevelopment occurs, it continues to add to that style of business district. It’s also about promoting those areas so that in the future, when development happens, walkable destinations are added for those that are using that area.”
The pedestrian zone designation is one that has already existed for years, with areas like the Pike/Pine corridor and Broadway already carrying the label. But now, with development on the rise, the city is hoping to expand on it by both adding new areas to the designation map and easing up on the requirements for how pedestrian zones must operate.
“We are looking at a variety of areas around the city to see if the pedestrian zone designation should apply, and we’re also reviewing our current regulations to see if we should add requirements or modify existing ones,” Pennucci said. “Last year the [city council] made requirements a bit more flexible and wanted us to take a look at 60 areas around the city to determine if they should also become pedestrian zones and what standards should apply.”
Currently, the city requires businesses to have certain minimum requirements for parking that Pennucci said may soon be lessened to make it easier for new businesses to open without needing designated parking spots and to encourage people to leave their cars behind for longer. But Pennucci stressed that the waiver of parking requirements wouldn’t lessen the amount of parking or ban the use of lots, but instead merely encourage new businesses to grow in a walkable core.
“One of the things that makes it easier for businesses to go into an existing building or sometimes in new development is easing the parking requirement,” Pennucci said. “Many of these areas that are in urban villages are already no longer subject to a parking requirement, so this would be for areas like Madison Valley that are outside of the urban villages to make it a little easier for new businesses in the hope that people get to the area by means other than driving or just parking once and walk shop-to-shop.”
Outside of the parking requirements, the city is looking at other ways to make these areas more pedestrian friendly by adding additional requirements for new businesses or redevelopments, such as expanding the amount of sidewalk space available or adding weather protection such as overhead awnings. Other changes, such as allowing more art spaces to exist within pedestrian zones like what is already permitted in the Pike/Pine corridor, are also being considered.
Currently, the project is still in its development phase, and Pennucci’s team is canvassing neighborhood organizations for additional input on how the pedestrian zone designation should be altered to help commercial zones become more walkable. The project is slated to institute changes next Fall.