Seattle should look to England for examples of thriving downtown retail districts with no cars.
This spring I spent more than a month in the English cities of Nottingham, Manchester and London; and in Cardiff, Wales.
In Nottingham, a city of 321,000, I was delighted to find an enormous vehicle-free commercial shopping district. I immediately thought of Seattle, where, despite years of periodic discussion, our business, civic and elected officials have yet to make Pike Place vehicle-free, a distance of only several blocks between Pike and Virginia streets.
Pike Place Market offers a solid mix of small mom-and-pop shops, a hotel, community health clinic, taverns, restaurants, buskers, vendors, fishmongers, book and music sellers and apartments.
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The hordes of tourists and intrepid locals who frequent the stalls and shops also mustdodge traffic creeping down Pike Place. Why? It doesn’t make sense.
Just imagine if Seattle had a commercially thriving, U.K.- style, vehicle-free shopping district through the market. Or think bigger and imagine a retail district with no cars between First and Fifth avenues and University and Virginia streets. Far-fetched? It works in Nottingham and Cardiff — Manchester too — so why not Seattle?
The vehicle-free district in Nottingham was packed with shoppers and pedestrians, day and evening. I was struck by how many people were out and about, walking and enjoying the neighborhood without fear of cars.
Exceptions are made for delivery trucks; street-cleaning vehicles; city services (police, fire, emergency), and to allow people to pick up or drop off people with disabilities.
Cardiff, with 341,000 residents, has a comparably large shopping and business district. With residential flats above shops, the vehicle-free district was thriving, just like Nottingham. Businesses include everything from mom-and-pop stores, to eateries, national chains and U.S.-based retailers. And, of course, Starbucks.
The vehicle-free districts in Nottingham and Cardiff also have city-block-sized shopping-center buildings within their retail districts. Imagine a Northgate or Southcenter plunked into Seattle’s retail core and packed with thousands of shoppers every day, rain or shine.
While there are periodic news reports that Britain lags economically, I had no idea just how popular their vehicular-free districts appear. It was exhilarating and invigorating.
Why can’t Seattle start by making Pike Place shopping, sightseeing and browsing a truly enjoyable experience for locals and visitors?
What are our city leaders waiting for?