Downtown Seattle looks to rework foot-traffic flow to scale with transit growth

Sep 8, 2022, 12:56 PM | Updated: 2:10 pm
(Photo courtesy of DSA)
(Photo courtesy of DSA)

The Downtown Seattle Association (DSA) has a plan to help improve downtown’s Third Avenue as “unprecedented growth” has made the central street struggle with transportation, traffic, and crime, making the area unappealing for pedestrians.

Third Avenue, as of 2019, boasts more than 290 buses per peak hour, more than any other transit street in the U.S. or Canada.

“In fact, actual growth trends have shattered expectations as Seattle has added approximately one-third of those estimated new residents in just the past two years,” the report read, written by Kathy O’Kelley and Sabrina Villanueva. “And in 2018, for the third year in a row, Seattle had more cranes than any other city in the nation (65 total). That’s 25 more than second place, Chicago.”

The DSA believes, at its current growth rate, the city will reach its 2035 growth estimate this year, 13 years ahead of schedule, according to DSA’s newest published report.

In 2016, the Seattle City Council adopted a comprehensive plan that estimated Seattle’s 2016 population, 686,800, would grow by 120,000 over the next 20 years.

Seattle’s current population has already surpassed those expectations and is currently estimated to be 762,500, according to the Office of Planning & Community Development.

The DSA, along with the Downtown Transportation Alliance and partners at the City of Seattle, King County, and Sound Transit, founded Commute Seattle to encourage single commuters to use more efficient transportation.

“Since Commute Seattle was founded in 2005, drive-alone car trips are down, and Seattle leads the nation in transit ridership,” the report read. “In 2017, Seattle logged more new transit trips per capita than any other city (2.5 million total) and grew transit ridership by a rate of 2.3%. Today, even as record numbers of workers come into downtown each day from around the region, only 25% commute alone by car.”

Research shows Third Avenue has relatively little sidewalk space compared to other city streets. Approximately 45% of its right-of-way areas are developed for pedestrians, as of 2019.

“Some people report avoiding Third Avenue altogether due to the lack of personal space and unclear pedestrian pathways,” the report read. “This puts storefront retailers at a clear disadvantage from competitors on adjacent streets.”

Young man fatally shot on Third Avenue in Seattle, investigation underway

Amidst the commuting congestion Third Avenue faces daily, violent crimes have also been on the rise in that area this past year. Mayor Bruce Harrell called the situation along Third Avenue “completely unacceptable,” after a deadly shooting took place in February.

Earlier this year, the Seattle Police Department increased its patrols on Third Avenue in response to the recent violent crimes. Seattle Interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz said in a letter that the department will be launching patrols in the area surrounding 3rd Avenue between Pike and Pine streets.

“I know these last two years have been a difficult time for our city, especially for you, our members of the Seattle Police Department,” Diaz said. “But, at the same time, I believe we have turned a corner and can make a positive impact with the support of Mayor Harrell, City Attorney Davison, and the great majority of the community members we serve.”

Despite the increased volume of crime, the DSA report lists a lack of public or private open spaces, high pedestrian volumes and long bus queues, infrastructure maintenance in disrepair, blank walls or façades that lack engagement, and a high volume of office towers with underutilized lobbies as the street’s biggest concerns.

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Downtown Seattle looks to rework foot-traffic flow to scale with transit growth