Nearly 30,000 people took to the streets when Capitol Hill’s Pike/Pine corridor closed to cars for three weekends last summer. From 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. on the blocks between Broadway Ave. and 12th Ave., the streets were occupied with everything from a drag show to free yoga and dance classes, among other late-night activities.
The event was a pilot project put together by the City of Seattle and Capitol Hill’s EcoDistrict and was set to celebrate the community while reducing street violence and reaffirming the neighborhood as an LGBTQ-friendly place. Or, as Alex Brennan of Capitol Hill Housing puts it: The intent of the making the streets carless was to increase public safety and use "the space as a way to reinforce the queer and artist identity of the neighborhood that people felt like was being lost.
Crowds peaked around 11 PM and stayed constant until 2 AM during the six nights. There was a 9% uptick in pedestrians during the street closure, according to the report.
In order to better understand who was out walking around, researchers surveyed some 700 pedestrians during the study. A quarter of survey respondents identified as gay, queer, or something other than “straight,” and 77% identified as “white” or white and something else. Around 14% of people drove alone to Pike/Pine; the majority of people walked, took rideshares, rode public transit, or used some combination of the three.
Researchers also wanted to find out what people were up to in the neighborhood: 60% came for drinking, 41% for dining, 23% for dancing, and 21% came to watch live music. Around one third of those surveyed lived in Central Seattle, while another third lived elsewhere in Seattle.
The City is preparing to release another report about the pilot project, which could be released as early as this week, said an Office of Economic Development representative.
What's strange, however, is that although the City's latest analysis hasn’t been released yet, there is already talk of cancelling similar festivities this summer.
Sierra Hansen, director of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, told CHS yesterday that the chamber asked the City “not do a street closure this year.” However, when The Stranger followed up with Hansen later that day, she said that “the Chamber doesn’t have a position on when the next street closure will happen.” She clarified further, saying that the Chamber had heard complaints from daytime businesses about the events and that the Chamber is concerned that there not being enough time to plan festivities this summer.
Additionally, CHS painted a picture of near-unanimous opposition to the project by a number of Capitol Hill businesses, including Elliott Bay Book Company and property owner Hunters Capital.
David Meinert, owner of several bars and restaurants on Pike/Pine, including Lost Lake Cafe and Comet Tavern, calls bullshit. According to Meinert, Hansen and the Chamber are simply trying to delay the event into eventual cancellation.
“This issue is really urbanists vs. anti-urbanists,” said Meinert in reference to Hansen and those opposed to another celebration this summer. “It's not very popular to come out against pedestrian zones, so, instead, people are coming out against nightlife.”
Brennan, who collected data about foot traffic in Pike/Pine in the month leading up to the event, said that there was little difference between the number of people on the streets on a typical Saturday night versus during the street closures. (Those final numbers will appear in the forthcoming city report.)
He also seemed to a bit more understanding of the residents’ concerns. “There is a lot of general anxiety about the neighborhood changing in general. I'm sure that this project got caught up in those bigger issues,” he said.
According to Meinert, one of those issues is a nonsensical battle between nighttime and daytime businesses.
"Everybody that I know that operates businesses in the neighborhood wants there to be more investment and promotion of daytime business. It's good for all of us," he said. "I think there are certain retailers in the neighborhood ... who think that there is some odd conflict between nighttime business and daytime business. It seems like there's this fight going on, but it’s them fighting a straw man."
Jon Milazzo, owner of Retrofit Home on Pike St. & 11th Ave., doesn't think so. "It's beneficial for bars, but bars don't need extra benefits in this neighborhood right now. Bars are killin' it, it's party central. So do we need to promote and spend City money on that? No," said Milazzo, who was part of the original planning committee for the project.
The original late-night street closure idea, she said, was to begin at midnight to "get the head-butting testosterone off the street." She was not part of the group who finally decided to close streets to cars at 10 p.m. Milazzo said that creating a party wasn't the intent of the street closures.
Nick Mosbrucker, who also works at Retrofit Home, said that most Saturday nights, during which they are open until 10 p.m., bring in a lot of people to the store. However, on the night of the street closure, he said he spent the last hour of work telling customers they needed to move their cars because of inadequate signage to alert customers of the closures. And then the streets "became Mardi Gras," he said.
Meinert disagrees and questioned whether business owners and residents, who claimed that the streets became flooded, actually attended the event.
"The sidewalks are packed on Friday and Saturday nights regardless of the streets being closed. Rather than it being like Mardi Gras, the streets were actually not that packed. It was a pretty mellow atmosphere," he said.
Rich Fox, owner of Poquitos on Pike St. & 10th, agreed. "In my experience walking around, it toned down the frenetic energy that normally exists on the packed sidewalks and streets between Broadway and 12th and made walking those blocks, which normally feels like running the gauntlet, a relatively pleasant experience," he said. "My biggest motivation behind initially supporting it was the hope that it would improve both public safety and the late night neighborhood aesthetic and it seemed to succeed on both fronts."
According to Meinert, he's been trying to work with the Chamber for more police officers to on foot patrol in the Pike/Pine district. These late-night events, he said, were "a positive way" to try that out.
"I think we could look to other cities and the success they've had doing street closures – Austin, Tex.; New York, and Vancouver, B.C. have done them very successfully," he said.
This post has been updated to add in the City's initial findings from their study on the pilot project. The writer regrets not adding them sooner.
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