It was embarrassing to read the Op-Ed “Keep Pike Place Market open to traffic” [April 9, Opinion] stating cars are necessary for Pike Place Market, just days after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Working Group III report on climate change mitigation was released.
That report righteously and alarmingly declared that unless cities rapidly de-prioritized private vehicles and re-democratized streets for people and blue-green infrastructure, we would not prevent catastrophic warming.
The Op-Ed’s statement that, “Pike Place Market is the one place everyone can feel safe and enjoy” does not square with the facts — more than 150 collisions have been reported on Pike Place since 2004, according to Seattle Department of Transportation data. Furthermore, today’s SUVs are nearly double the weight and size of the average car from the 1970s, when a car-free Pike Place was studied. Seattle’s metro population has also doubled in that same time frame. Not only are there significantly more cars, but some are significantly larger and more dangerous with anti-pedestrian front ends and notoriously large blind spots.
There are significant co-benefits (highlighted in that same IPCC report) to eliminating private vehicles in urban spaces like Pike Place. These include significant positive public health outcomes — and not just for patrons, but for tourists, Pike Place Market workers and residents living around the market. These benefits include reduced air and noise pollution lowering risks for dementia, asthma and heart disease; safer streets; more space for businesses and restaurants to spill out into the public realm; and space for tourists, residents and patrons to loiter and wander. It also provides more space for urban trees, shade, and green space needed in summers when the market swells and temperatures rise — especially in a warming world.
Logistics remains the most important issue to the vitality of the market — and this is an issue that all those car-free markets in Europe, Central and South America, and Asia have long solved. They do this through measures such as only allowing deliveries, or allowing deliveries during certain hours. It is also possible to remove private vehicles while still allowing for taxis or accessibility. Unlike Seattle, cities that are leading on climate action prioritize green logistics with new forms of urban mobility and cargo bike logistics. Seattle could choose to prioritize this — but would have to build a bicycle network that is functional and actually protected. Notably, sustainable mobility was a further imperative of the IPCC report.
I’ve had the privilege of living and working abroad — and car-free markets have always been some of the most frequented and memorable places in cities I’ve lived in or traveled to. In an era when markets the world over are eliminating private vehicles because it is better for businesses, patrons and workers; when cities are re-democratizing public rights of way and returning — even expanding — in the form of car-free plazas and pedestrian zones, Seattle’s continued default to an unhealthy, unsustainable and unsafe status quo is dumbfounding.
We are in the midst of a worsening climate crisis. There is a massive open space deficiency downtown — as well as in every single one of Seattle’s Urban Villages. Removing private vehicles on Pike Place would be one small step in the right direction, one that shows city leaders are legitimately serious about issues like livability, vision zero and climate action. The IPCC report also highlighted that delaying such transformations would ensure carbon lock-in. Seattle will continue to miss its climate goals until city leaders rapidly roll out transformations like this. But we will be a much more civil, livable, healthy and safer city once they do.