It might be frustrating as a driver to see a street closed because of construction, but when the street is full of kids having relay races and playing hopscotch, it’s hard to get annoyed (unless the kids are doing construction).
That may soon be a more common sight in Capitol Hill as the Seattle Department of Transportation begins implementing the pilot play streets program in approved areas. The city’s first was installed at St. Therese Catholic Academy in Madrona. A play street allows a neighborhood to temporarily close a street to traffic so kids and their nervous parents can have more space to play, without having to yell “Car!” They’re especially beneficial in neighborhoods with limited park and yard space.
“We started looking around the country at other programs, and found that New York City has had a play streets program since 1914,” said Jennifer Wieland, manager of SDOT’s Public Space Management program. “And there are probably a dozen other cities in the U.S. that have active play street programs, so we thought, ‘If we did this as a community-generated, request-based program on residential streets, it makes sense to try this out and see how it works in Seattle, to see if it’s something people really want to take advantage of.”
In 2013, SDOT developed the Public Space Management Program, which is responsible for play streets and parklets and other activators of public space, the purpose of which is to find new and safe ways for people to use streets, sidewalks and parking lanes.
Wieland noted that the play streets program is community generated and/or orgainized by schools, and that SDOT is not out actively looking for play street sites. Instead, they’re waiting for people to tell them where they’d like to do one.
How such a program plays out in the dense, parking-strapped streets of Capitol Hill remains to be seen. “We haven’t heard of anyone who’s interested from Capitol Hill yet,” said Wieland, “but we’re open and taking applications as they come.”
In determining the viability of a particular street, SDOT emphasizes safety, and takes a quick look at the traffic impact, the length of the play street, its visibility from adjacent intersections, and the level of neighborhood support. The permit is free (really).
At the moment, Seattle has designated play streets in Madrona, with an additional two set for Ballard and Magnolia. They’re often ideal in front of schools for recess. At St. Therese in Madrona, part of 35th Ave is closed from 8:45 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., allowing kids to have fun on the street as part of field day.
Activities on play streets are totally open, and have included relay races, hoola hooping, hopscotch, basketball and foursquare. No signs yet of water balloon fights, street hockey, laser tag or detention, but it’s possible.
Around the beginning of July, SDOT plans to partner with local organizations for an outreach campaign. Wieland hopes communities around the city will give it a try.
“If you hear of folks in Capitol Hill who are interested,” she said, “send them our way.”
You heard her.
More information and a bona fide application can be found here: