South Lake Union: How High Should We Go?

Photo by Mike Bjork

The 2004 Comprehensive Plan designated South Lake Union as an urban center, and it laid out ambitious growth targets.  Since then we’ve seen solid growth in the neighborhood through the Hutchinson Cancer Center, Amazon’s relocation, and of course the Seattle Streetcar.  But the real potential for densification lies in incentivized upzones, and to that end the City of Seattle has released a draft Environmental Impact Statement, South Lake Union: Height and Density Alternatives.  It studies the environmental impacts of three zoning alternatives that would create space for 23,000-31,500 jobs and 15,000-21,000 residences.

More after the jump…

SLU Height and Density Alternatives

Alternative 1 would bring the most comprehensive change, raising the maximum height limit to 400′ (for reference, 400′ is identical to the 37-story Aspira Tower at Stewart/Terry).  The highest towers would be concentrated in a narrow area bounded by John, Denny, Aurora, and I-5, while the rest of the neighborhood would still see a rough doubling of the height limit, between 160-300′.

Alternative 2 would retain the current density in the Cascade-Fairview area (65-125′) while clustering the highest density (300′) into the western part of the neighborhood bounded by Mercer, Aurora, Westlake, and John.

Alternative 3 would offer the least densification, keeping the existing zoning in Cascade-Fairview while creating 85-240′ limits in the rest of the area.

These studies tend to be long-winded – at 659 pages this one doesn’t disappoint! – and I can’t possibly offer comprehensive comment.  But a couple observations struck me.  All three alternatives would bring major arterials into failing categories for auto traffic levels (LOS scores of D, E, and F), but since LOS scores are calculated relative to the prevailing speed limit, this tells me that increased density will simply slow things down to speeds common to a downtown core.  As a pedestrian and cyclist who has braved Mercer I would welcome this, though as a transit rider stuck on Denny less so.

Mitigation Measures

The report recommends significant improvements to bicycle/pedestrian facilities to mitigate the effects of growth.  However, though the EIS is not intended to be a transit planning document, its assessment of potential transit investments is limited.  The report mostly analyzes individual route load factors, and accordingly it focuses its recommendations on increasing headways rather than analyzing the route structure itself.  Though it has an impressive list of bicycle, pedestrian, and roadway improvements, some of the worst stretches would receive little investment.  For instance, Denny Way already fails all reliability standards (as anyone who rides Route 8 can attest!) but is largely overlooked for improvements, save for a pedestrian sidewalk on the north side of Denny over I-5 (between Stewart and Melrose).  With ULink opening and Capitol Hill remaining an attractive place to live, Denny will be 60% over functional capacity under all 3 considered alternatives.  It is clear that it will require significant investment, perhaps in the form of  BAT lanes?

Anyway, there is much much more here, and public comment will be taken until April 11th.  In the end I hope we will view this growth as an extension of the downtown core north from Westlake Center all the way to the lakeshore.  It would be a shame if SLU upzones itself merely into an condo-and-office-park-writ-large.  SLU has seen impressive growth, but it still lacks an evening and weekend pulse.  There’s nowhere else in central Seattle so amenable to visionary infill development, so we really need to do this right.

Comments

  1. Bruce says

    Agree entirely about the evening-weekend comment. I hope the idea of extending the SLUT to the market comes out of the CTAC/TMP process. It relatively cheap, requires taking only a handful of parking on the south side of Stewart, and would bring a small but steady stream of tourists to SLU. Granted tourists probably won’t bring much nightlife, but they’ll at least begin the process of diversifying SLU a little.

    It’s a damned shame, too, about the 8. Unless they start taking that corridor seriously, it may end up being quicker (or at least more reliable) to take a trolleybus downtown and then Link.

    Finally, it probably shouldn’t be there, but this quote on the wiki page was pretty funny:

    LOS A occurs late at night in urban areas, frequently in rural areas, and generally in car advertisements.

    • Bruce says

      Oh, and I think you mean “posted” speed limit. If I understand LOS correctly, it’s comparing prevailing speeds to posted speeds.

    • joshuadf says

      The SLU-Uptown Triangle Mobility Plan will hopefully be done in time to be submitted as a comment to the draft EIS and there will be more specific transit recommendations in it. Not a lot you can do with the 8 unfortunately.

  2. says

    The Denny Triangle is still “in the way” of SLU developing as an extension of the core. Has Clise been vocal in the EIS process for SLU?

    Until that sea of surface lots and light-use buildings fills in, SLU might as well be an extension of Eastlake or, with some infrastructure, Capitol Hill. (I still want a gondola connecting north CH and SLU, but would settle for I-5 lids.)

    • says

      +1. The Triangle is becoming an island of low-rise in a sea of tall buildings. Eastlake/Stewart/Howell and the approach to Aurora are the only routes to SLU with a consistent “downtown” feel.

  3. Anc says

    How much can be done to speed up the SLUT, and would this have much of an effect on the increased traffic?

  4. Cascadian says

    Building height is not the issue, except to the extent that it means more residents and more traffic. Whatever happens there needs to be better transit access, both in terms of exclusive right of way and increased frequency. Do that and the higher-density alternative is definitely better.

    BAT lanes on Denny and other arterials (including north-south arterials) are a minimum requirement. You could make a nice transit grid with transit-only lanes on Aurora, Dexter, Westlake (streetcar), Fairview, Eastlake, Denny, and Mercer. And extend them outside the neighborhood for the benefit of both residents and other people trying to get across the city. For example, the Denny and Mercer lanes should extend to 1st Ave N on the west and (for Denny anyway) Broadway on the east.

    Also, I don’t know what the plans are for improving bike access on Thomas, but I could see that as being a vital link in the city’s bike network, and a great asset through the heart of SLU.

  5. scott t says

    Building height is not the issue, except to the extent that it means more residents and more traffic. ”

    well does it interfere with planes or cast shadows on certain historic structures???

  6. Anc says

    Oh, and what do ‘SM, IC, SM/R, C2′ stand for? Am I correct in vaguely remembering something about zoning being simplified in the future?

    • joshuadf says

      It’s a little more complicated than this, but here’s an overview:

      SM: Seattle Mixed, a relatively new type which allows most anything

      IC: Industrial/Commercial, basically office buildings. Amazon buildings are IC

      SM/R: Seattle Mixed Residential, same as SM except must have a Residential component

      C2: traditional commercial. As you can see the Hutch is technically Commercial

      • alexjonlin says

        I’m pretty sure podium just means the part of the building that’s allowed to take up the whole lot before a setback is required. So they’d have a few stories going out to the sidewalk than a tall, skinny tower rising from that.

      • joshuadf says

        Har har har, I suspect code will get more and more complicated. Well, the IC stuff might be rezoned SM actually which I guess is sort of simpler.

        OK, so a podium is the part of the building on the ground that often goes right up to the lot line. So a podium height is how tall that part is before the tower above it. Here’s an example from Vancouver, probably about 40′ :
        http://www.flickr.com/photos/sfcityscape/4092310658/

        Also note the limit on 1 tower per block in the hatched section.

      • Eric L says

        So that’s what that means. I think that’s a good idea, though I wonder if it would work better to simply set limits in terms of the angle above the opposite side of the streets surrounding the block that a building may reach rather than limits on height. That allows you to guarantee a certain amount of sky is visible at the street and make sure the buildings don’t seem imposing even if they’re actually quite large.

      • joshuadf says

        Eric L, I think that’s what the one-tower-per-block requirement and FAR (floor area ratios) are supposed to accomplish. However, when you start throwing all these in my head explodes.

  7. scott t says

    could the entertainment options as you claim are lacking be met with less densification??

    lakeshore would seem to generate some after hours places.

    would lower density wit improved acces to higher density employment be ab option wit a break in the tall buildings??

      • ChrisG says

        Haha – glad to see the “other side” in quotations!

        We at LUOA don’t consider ourselves as the “other side” and I would hope “the other side” would not consider us that either. (Full and Fair Disclosure: I currently serve on the LUOA Board…)

        Actually:
        We’re very excited about all that’s going on in SLU.
        We have our share of concerns about the direction we head.
        We have some ideas that we hope are heard and considered.
        And why not, right? As is true for many of the people who are excited, concerned, and interested in sharing their ideas about the growth of this neighborhood, South Lake Union is our home and/or our workplace. (Be DRIMBY, not NIMBY!)

        Surrounding the relation to this question, I think our ideas are very attractive and I too hope that Terry St becomes a great street. Density is fine but vibrancy is better!

        In the words of Zach Shaner: “There’s nowhere else in central Seattle so amenable to visionary infill development, so we really need to do this right.”

  8. Matt the Engineer says

    I vote for alt 1 – or even go higher. Our fear of density because it’ll slow down traffic is carthink. Cars don’t flow quickly in any large city. That’s a feature, not a bug. The next step is to either take back lanes for transit or start building grade separated transit.

    And I’m with Hans regarding gondolas. They’re cheap, quick, and can move you from neighborhood to neighborhood – you can walk or take regular transit from there.

    • Bruce says

      That’s a feature, not a bug.

      +1. As long as transit still moves.

      Where would a gondola go? I’m curious, haven’t heard that idea before.

      Just imagine what the “war on cars” people will say about Mike McGinn and his choo-choo gondolas.

      • alexjonlin says

        Only useful gondola I could think of would be from SLU to Capitol Hill. It would be pretty awesome, but yeah I’m not sure how good the press would be, unless of course it’s paid for mostly by a developer or something.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        We could pretty much put one from any of the hills to major transit points.

        Here‘s my suggestion for connecting Queen Anne to SLU. It follows the city’s right of way the entire time (not a requirement, but then you don’t need to deal with air rights).

        In that post Wesley Kirkman commented that he “rendered an aerial tram station atop what is now the Brix on Capitol Hill connecting to the SLU park.”

      • Kaleci says

        “I’d like to see a gondola from the ferry dock up to First Hill.”

        …or bring back the cable cars (waxing historic).

      • Bruce says

        I must say, I’ve gone from curiosity to “Wow, that could really work.” You should make sure that gets in front of the CTAC group, because it’s doable within the limits of reasonable city funding. Not sure if it’s doable in the current economic and political climate, but from this brief examination I’m pretty sold.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        [Bruce] Also check out my West Seattle gondola idea. This one hasn’t been fleshed out as much but we could either bring it over water to the ferry building (though probably hitting challenges building towers), or go overland to the SoDo Station.

    • joshuadf says

      Well, the other worry I’ve heard—and let me just say I don’t have any idea whether this is well-founded or not—is that “overzoning” would lead to property owners just sitting because it’s difficult to get together hundreds of millions of dollars to build a huge building, while a smaller project can be done more by more entities including non-profit housing developers.

      Of course Vulcan has the financial capacity, but people forget that they own less than 30% of the private property and even lower percentage when you consider public right of way and parks (Vulcan has about 60 acres out of around 300 in SLU). So a bunch of those parking lots might stay parking lots for longer, instead of Capitol Hill style midrise buildings.

      • Steve says

        One additional overzoning concern: building higher costs more per square foot, so neighborhoods zoned for heights that can only be built with glass and steel tend to have only very high-end new development (since the height capacity ups the perceived value of the lot whether or not tall construction actually pencils out). By this argument, zoning for height might be fine for some parts of SLU (2200 Westlake wasn’t cheap and it seems to have sold out), but might not work as well for the Cascade, which has a bunch of housing for the formerly homeless, etc.

        That said, I’m not sure I buy the argument — there’s nothing besides land value stopping a developer from building below the height limit, so if an entire neighborhood doesn’t seem like it would support high-end housing, there’s no harm done.

      • ChrisG says

        Plus…
        It would seem that Vulcan (deeper pockets) would be ready to roll on the Mercer blocks (the biggest money blocks), essentially leapfrogging the whole neighborhood from the Triangle to Lake Union. This could potentially leave the interior of SLU very drab for a considerable amount of time while the neighborhood is actually catching up with some pretty high projected growth targets over the next 20 years.

    • Zach Shaner says

      I vote for Alt 1 as long as we make the required transportation investments. I’d hate to be overbuilt while having grossly inadequate infrastructure. If we go Alt 1, SLU better have downtown-core quality transit service. If not, build to moderate density. 10 story-buildings would still be a marked improvement.

  9. says

    Okay, I know this is a pipe dream but damn it, I love trams. I think it would be awesome to have a linear line running from capitol hill station to around the sculpture park. It would directly link the slut to the first hill streetcar and u-link while possibly even providing incentive to incorporate a streetcar line into the waterfront redesign, a la the waterfront streetcar reactivation. It would look pretty and it would connect 3 streetcar lines with Link and buses.

    Ah….one can dream….

  10. says

    Oh and yes provide an attractive alternate transport option for three dense neighborhoods (slu, belltown, capitol hill)

  11. JoshMahar says

    “Alternative 2 would retain the current density in the Cascade-Fairview area (65-125′) while clustering the highest density (300′)…”

    Just to clarify, height limits are not synonymous with density although there is certainly a strong correlation.

    It is really unfortunate that Denny Way is given so little attention. Making it more attractive for walking, biking, and transit could be one of the smartest investments this city could make. It is the most direct route connecting, Cap Hill, SLU, Belltown, Denny Triangle, and Lower Queen Anne, not to mention the Seattle Center. It is also the most direct route to almost all bus connections North from Capitol Hill.

  12. Mike Orr says

    The more SLU to Mercer “looks like” downtown, the more the two-block stop spacing on the SLUT will feel natural, and the less people coming from Fremont and Ballard will be cursing the many stops. (The de facto stopping is double because the streetcar also stops at almost every intersection for a traffic light.)

      • Mike Orr says

        I don’t know whether it’s supposed to but it doesn’t. I ride it every few months to see how it’s doing; I think the last time was a month ago.

  13. Andrew Smith says

    My comment on this is:

    If we are concerned that views will be destroyed, we know you can safely make the limits 165 feet, because the tallest Amazon buildings are 165 feet and block no views.

    If we want to create new views, we know we need to make the heights taller than 165 feet, because the tallest Amazon buildings are 165 feet and block no views.

    • joshuadf says

      At least in the EIS kickoff public meetings, there were two main arguments:

      1. The heights should step down to the lake instead of having the weird situation where you have 300′ (or 240′) towers on the waterfront but shorter buildings behind those. That seems like a possibly reasonable argument, I don’t have any strong feelings either way.

      2. “The Space Needle will disappear!!!!!” This one is ridiculous (it’s over 600 ft tall by the way). Of course any new building—or a utility pole for that matter—can block a view if you happen to be in the wrong place such as directly behind it. Views of it will be fine with any of these alternative from most places on Capitol Hill, and in the neighborhood down streets like Thomas, etc

      • Andrew Smith says

        It’s tall, but from Capitol Hill it’s farther away, and things look smaller when they are farther away.

        From Gasworks, the buildings could block the view of the farther away skyscrapers, but it likely wouldn’t make the view any worse overall.

      • Mike Orr says

        The space needle is already almost gone. If you look at the viewpoints from around Pike and Pine and Boren, there’s a narrow protected view channel but the needle looks squashed between two buildings which are taller than it. It looks pretty bad and we should almost just put the view out of its misery.

      • Andrew Smith says

        South Lake Union really isn’t between pike/pine/boren and the space needle, that’s more the Denny Triangle where the zoning is already super aggressive. I think you’re right, though, why not just put that away and make a new view?

      • Matt the Engineer says

        [Mike] I believe that’s actually intentional. Old-style urban street layouts used to line up important or beautiful buildings at locations where you can see them from far away. For instance, build a major street with a Y at the end, with a city hall built at the wedge of that Y. This is useful for wayfinding as well as displaying your expensive architecture.

        Of course you wouldn’t normally be able to see the Space Needle from downtown – there are tall buildings in the way. Yet you can see it beautifully (I think) from 5th nearby or 2nd from far away right from the sidewalk between tall buildings thanks to the change of grid at Stewart and at Denny.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        (oops, sorry – didn’t read your comment carfully) [Mike] Any idea why we have a protected channel from Pike/Pine and Boren?

      • Mike Orr says

        Those view-blocking buildings didn’t exist when the Space Needle was built. The view from around the columns is really squashed: they left just exactly enough space to show the needle but it looks boxed in, this little dinky silly needle. From Thomas there’s an excellent view of the Needle all the way to at least Broadway and maybe 14th. On Melrose, I’m not sure about this, but I think the Needle is not visible from Harrison to Mercer, and you have to go all the way up to Lakeview Boulevard to see it (for the New Year’s fireworks from the top of the Needle).

      • joshuadf says

        This article shows buildout simulations from the SLU DEIS Appendix D Aesthetics:
        http://www.poststat.net/pwp011/pub.49/issue.1527/article.6387/

        One of the view studies is “Bellevue” which I looks like Bellevue Place Park and shows the Space Needle sticking above even the highest buildings in Alternative 1. You can get the PDF here:
        http://www.seattle.gov/DPD/cms/groups/pan/@pan/@plan/@proj/documents/web_informational/dpds018670.pdf

        Another rule of thumb would be to look at the simulated view *from* the Space Needle. If you can see it from the Space Needle, you can see the Space Needle from it. From that it looks like Alt 1 would impact views from Pike/Pine but none of the other Alts would.

        Also note the view studies do not show the step back requirements that are in the SLU UDF (since it hasn’t been adopted yet). So for example Thomas St should still maintain views of the Space Needle. (The step backs would be like the Amazon building shown on the right in the Thomas view simulations.)

  14. joshuadf says

    Zach, excellent writeup but let me quibble with the bit about the “evening and weekend pulse”. That’s absolutely true about the Westlake/Terry office park area, but keep in mind that most of those buildings were only recently completed and some of the retail spaces aren’t even built out (and the older ones have mostly banks, who have the money to move in first and establish a presence). However, most of the residential development–and the existing prewar housing–is in Cascade. Stop by Patty Coyne’s or Laadla Bar, or go to Inner Chapters’ open mike night, or come to a Cascade Neighborhood Council meeting (about 40 people last month). And of course there’s Whole Foods or REI which I realize are regional draws but we’ve often run into other locals at both places. (And, shameless plug, with other local families with kids we started a group http://www.southlakeunionfamilies.com/ and have Wed evening potlucks.)

    So, it’s not Capitol Hill or Greenwich Village or anything as far as nightlife but it’s a lot more than just an office park. Hopefully redevelopment on the west side of SLU (8th Ave N for example) over the next decade or so will lead to a strong community feel there too.

    And another shameless plug, all you softies note that because of the Paul Allen connection, Microsoft employees actually get discounts at Vulcan buildings. I’m not one so I don’t know the details but I know several Microsoft employees around. Ride the 545 and/or Connector until East Link is done. :)

    • Zach Shaner says

      @joshuadf, fair enough. My ‘pulse’ comment emanated from my frustrated bike ride through the Westlake/Terry area last Sunday at noon when I couldn’t find a single restaurant or coffee shop open. It felt like off-hours in the financial core or Bellevue. I do enjoy several places in the area, especially Feierabend.

      • joshuadf says

        No, you’re totally right about Sunday. It’s very frustrating. Uptown Espresso and Blue Moon Burgers (on Republican) are open on Sunday but that’s about it.

    • Steve says

      Though Zach’s article focused on height limits, rezoning to allow residential in the current IC areas might bring more residents and hence more nightlife to the Westlake/Terry corridor regardless of height changes. That said, it’s also possible Westlake/Terry is built out enough now to be commercially dominated no matter what.

  15. Lack Thereof says

    I don’t think Denny’s really going to get worse. Traffic on Denny has already reached critical mass, for lack of a better term. This’ll just make rush-hour conditions continue for longer portions of the day. Perversely, that might make schedule reliability better, as the scheduling would be able to count on a congested Denny.

    I don’t see us ever reclaiming lanes on Denny for transit. I’m pretty sure we’ll always need 2 GP lanes each direction there; one for I-5/SR-99 queuing, the other for through traffic. I think it’s much more realistic to get BAT lanes added to the Mercer project, and move the buses off of Denny. Another option would be to reroute to a street like Thomas, and give them a queue-jump to get back onto Denny at Stewart. All of these options are ugly, but with or without added development, Denny/Mercer will be maxed out.

  16. Bernie says

    My concern is more about getting to Seattle Center from 520. My position is Seattle and WSDOT completely dropped the ball on the Mercer Mess and the 520 corridor. Increased density in SLU just makes it worse.

      • says

        With all the growth in SLU, and all the congestion on Stewart, sometimes I’ve wondered if it would make sense to route at least some of the 520 trips to downtown via Mercer instead of Stewart, directly serving Amazon and other employers en route. Long term, none of those 520 routes (e.g. from Kirkland) will be in the DSTT anyway, and East Link will be a preferable option for trips between Redmond and the downtown Seattle office core. That doesn’t get you to Seattle Center per se, but for those trips, the monorail from Westlake is also an option.

      • joshuadf says

        Metro won’t run east buses to/from Mercer because it requires quickly crossing 5 lanes of traffic to get to SR-520. I think Bernie’s right about WSDOT/SDOT dropping the ball on that, because there’s no direct connection between I-5/520 interchange and the express lanes. Maybe someday:
        http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2011323925_520transit12m.html

        There is a new Metro route 309 (Kenmore, Lake City, SLU, First Hill) that uses Mercer express to get north. A coworker of mine who lives just south of Lake City was impressed! Much faster than Stewart.

  17. alexjonlin says

    Is there anywhere north of Denny where an overpass over I-5 would be feasible? It’d really be a shame to have no alternative for the 8 to the slog along Denny. And I don’t think BAT lanes are ever going to happen on Denny, there’d just be too much backlash.

    • joshuadf says

      Well, there’s already an overpass at Lakeview Blvd, roughly from Eastlake and Roy to Belmont Ave on Capitol Hill. I suggested at one of the SLU Mobility meetings that maybe the 8 could use that to get up to Capitol Hill (the 25 already uses Lakeview Blvd). However, the consultant said that’s unlikely since it’s a much more circuitous route than Denny. Maybe someday there could be a new route. The biggest problem with overpasses north of Denny is that the hill becomes much more steep.

      • says

        Republican and Harrison are the best candidates for a new I-5 overpass between Denny and Lakeview. Republican is the old (pre I-5) pedestrian stairclimb route, the top third of which remains heading up from Melrose. ST once considered an overpass in conjunction with a Link station at Eastlake/Harrison. The overpass could still be done, with a ADA-compliant lift potentially integrated with new development on Eastlake. It would be a highly visible landmark to 250K passers by on I-5, and would impact some views a bit. It could be challenging to permit the I-5 overpass, to coordinate with new construction, and to site and construct the east approach.

        An easier alternative is to construct a lift in the little wedge of land under the west side of the Lakeview overpass of I-5 where it makes the turn to the south, adjacent to the recent construction there that is now part of The Hutch. This would shrink the distance and eliminate a lot of climbing between SLU and the dense residential section of the west slope of Capitol Hill. Another lift could be built on the west side of Eastlake Ave., down to Ward Street, which has a big staircase today. The streetcar is then two short blocks to the west. This probably needs either a skybridge across Eastlake (which SDOT seems not to like) or an at-grade crossing, and potential upgrade of the north sidewalk of the Lakeview ramp, but it’s got to be easier than bridging I-5.

      • says

        That was for peds/bikes of course. As for Denny Way and the 8, it’s a difficult situation that’s likely to get worse after full build-out of that area. VMT is now slowly trending down per capita, but there’s no way all that growth with 400 foot tall buildings on Denny won’t lead to a lot of new vehicle trips through there. Maybe the new crossings of Aurora between Denny and Mercer will take the pressure off. Or tolling the I-5 ramp. Or the gondola idea :)

  18. Cinesea says

    As for the height of buildings in South Lake Union, the actual height of the buildings doesn’t bother me as much as the footprint of each building. SLU is horrible as a pedestrian, because each building is built up right to the edge of the sidewalk. So, as a pedestrian, I’m walking along walls, and that is not very enjoyable. Now, if more skyscrapers could be built like where Whole Foods is, with large setbacks, then it would be much more pleasant to walk around in that neighborhood. Once again, just like in Belltown, I feel like it is a wasted opportunity to make it feel nice for pedestrians. Since we want density in these neighborhoods, and to have people not use their cars, why are we making it so ugly from the street level?

    • Mike Orr says

      There are people on both sides of the setback debate. Much of the charm of University Way, Rainier Ave in Columbia City, Summit at Mercer, Broadway, and other areas built in the 1920s, is that they don’t have setbacks. They look inviting and pedestrian-friendly because the doors and windows are right next to the sidewalk. Whole Foods doesn’t really have a setback either, just an enclave for the statue and the door is tilted in, so I’m not sure why you’re using it as an example. Or maybe we mean different things by setback? To me a setback is where the building is moved 5-10 feet back from the sidewalk and in between is just grass some rocks or parking. That can make the area look deserted, especially if there are rarely any people in the intervening space.

      • JohnS says

        Active street use at street level with no setbacks from the sidewalk is great. Useful setbacks of a few feet that are active (or at least not parking) are great. What’s lousy is no setbacks and no active use, so you are just walking along walls, or setbacks that are used for parking or just grass or some rocks. So in a sense you’re both right :)

    • Cinesea says

      Mike,

      I understand what you’re saying…a walk through Pioneer Square is far more enjoyable than a walk through Belltown. I guess what I really don’t like is what I see a lot of in SLU, which is a boring building facade built right up to the edge of the sidewalk, making it ‘feel’ like it is claustrophobic to walk on that sidewalk, even if it is an 8′ or wider sidewalk. In the summer, I’ve seen lots of tables outside of Whole Foods, so yes, there is a bit of difference there, summer vs. winter. Now, it University Way could lose a lane of traffic and then widen the sidewalks that much, then it would be much more enjoyable to walk. A new-ish apartment complex on Denny and 8th(Taylor? I can’t remember) has a setback which makes it nice to walk. Yes, it is a bit dead, but I prefer that over having the walls built up right to the sidewalk. Basically, I just would like the buildings to be built back away from the sidewalks a bit, and then also have something interesting to see at street/eye level, unlike many of the new buildings at SLU. Walking some streets in Vancouver, or Portland, it really makes me wonder why we couldn’t enforce something here, saying to the developer that if you setback your tower, we’ll let you build up a bit more.

      John, I don’t mind some sort of landscaping along the sidewalk, as long as it isn’t intrusive or dangerous. It is nice to have a bit of grass seperating the speeding cars and the sidewalk, although most of the time it just seems like the developer did the minimum required.

      • JohnS says

        I love having a bit of barrier – personally I like swales or something a little more ecologically useful than grass – between me and the cars, for sure. Some of the newer stuff north of Stewart (the block with Motore Coffee) works well I think, giving you a blend of that barrier plus some useful plants.

        But I don’t think that’s a substitute for an interesting facade, either.



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