One of Seattle’s greatest treasures deserves to be elevated into one of the world’s finest outdoor pedestrian spaces. City and Pike Place Market officials should make a priority of getting cars off the three blocks of Pike Place fronting the market, and the block of Pike Street that connects the market to the city.
If it was ever a good idea to allow motorists to drive through the crowds jostling along the brick street to browse market wares or stage selfies, that day has long passed. It shouldn’t take a heroic civic effort to block traffic from a minuscule fraction of downtown streets to benefit pedestrians who flock to the market by the millions each year.
The coming Overlook Walk connecting the Market to the rebuilt central waterfront means even more pedestrians will filter through the bustling neighborhood.
Pike Place could be a festive bazaar of outdoor restaurant dining, coffee-sipping and people-watching free of cars’ invasive noise and exhaust. The move would also save GPS-reliant motorists and those questing for elusive Market-adjacent parking from the frustrating trap of having to gingerly inch through a parade of pedestrians.
A century has passed since the Seattle City Council booted farmstands from the street to open Pike Place up to cars. It is fitting that a current council member, Andrew Lewis, reawakened the debate with a November tweet calling the carless idea a “big priority for 2022.” Seattle needs to get out of its own way to make this pedestrian restoration happen — without diminishing the vitality of the independent businesses that call Pike Place Market home. That means jettisoning the “Seattle Process” of endless conversations and stalled progress.
Lewis’ stakeholder discussions must move with urgency to keep the topic from stagnating. Mayor-elect Bruce Harrell recently told this board that he’s also interested in pursuing this if “the right outreach” makes the strategy workable. This is not an impossible challenge.
The more than 500 businesses of the market, from handmade craft sellers to nationally famous fishmongers, run on decentralized schedules of shuttling in their wares and setting up shop. Their needs for sustainable access to the street must be a primary concern. These vibrant enterprises and their jumbled hustle of daily commerce make the market the jewel that it is. And mobility-challenged shoppers must be provided with easily-accessible pathways to enjoy market amenities. Good urban design can accommodate these needs if leaders, including Harrell and Lewis, take on this problem with diligence.
Seattle’s downtown must confront numerous blights post-COVID, from crime to sidewalk tents. Helping Pike Place Market evolve into a friendlier place for people to walk, dine and shop will put a fresh shine on one of Seattle’s favorite amenities.
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