The Solution to 3rd Ave? Commerce.

Photo by Rob Ketcherside

Third Avenue may be one of Seattle’s most important streets– it houses the city’s most frequent transit corridor, is lined by major employers and institutions, and is downtown’s most central avenue.  You can’t fault someone, then, for asking why Third is also one of the city’s most horrible places to be.  And so it is– hotspots of drug and gang activity, long monolithic stretches of blank wall, and few attractive qualities of urban life prevail along its desolate corridors.

A few months ago, the Seattle Times printed a story on the arterial’s long, disenchanted history and woes of high crime.  After a bit of finger-pointing, there seemed to be a consensus among the planners and policymakers that the solution was twofold: more police and better urban design, summed up nicely in this quote from Jon Scholes, the VP of the Downtown Seattle Association:

“More plantings, more lighting, more trees are great, but if we don’t deal with the drug dealing we haven’t improved the corridor.”

As much as the public likes to think that nicer streets and more cops are the holy grail to making over Third and crafting a more livable downtown, there’s a crucial component in the formula that didn’t so much get a peep in the Times article– commerce, and lots of it.  Commerce gives a reason for people to be somewhere, a reason that’s nonexistent right now for the many blocks that span Third.  With it comes buyers, sellers, patrons, people, and eyes, lots of them to keep on the street, as Jane Jacobs would say.

As such, the makeover of Third through urban design and policing is directly tied to how commerce is incorporated into the landscape.  Design shapes frontage and streetscapes amenable for retailers, retailers attract foot traffic with their wares and goods, and foot traffic helps induce communal policing within the vibrancy of an urban environment.  Moreover, commerce creates tax revenue, which help make these improvements to begin with.

With Metro’s “rainbow of frequent service” and the prospect of a much larger role to play when the DSTT becomes rail-exclusive, the future of Third Avenue can be promising.  And while design improvements have a power of their own, only the attraction of people, and a lot of them, can truly make it a great urban street.  Commerce, as we’ve argued all along, is the best way to do that.




Comments

  1. Bruce Nourish says

    As someone who used to live in that area, I don’t think this is an accurate diagnosis of 3rd Ave’s problems at all. The grubbiest bits of 3rd Ave are near Pike and Pine, which is chock full of street-level retail. Down in the financial district, which is the least active, it’s actually less scary. It gets scary again down by the county buildings.

    • FWIW says

      As a frequent traveler through the 3rd & Pine area, I have to agree with Bruce.
      IMO, the combination of transit and shops seem to provide ‘cover’ of sorts for all kinds of sketchy characters, giving them ‘reason’ for their presence.
      I don’t know what volume of legitimate users of the t&c components would be necessary to counteract the faux shoppers/riders, nor can I imagine what that volume of legit users would be going there to obtain.

      • says

        YYYYYup. Find a Mcdonalds in downtown. Whether it’s on 3rd, or on 6th and Westlake, or across from the space needle…and some kinda crime WILL be going down. Just sayin.

    • Kevin R says

      Agree completely. The scariest stop (outside Century Square) probably has the highest concentration of retail of any bus stop along the corridor. It made a huge difference for me when my bus stop was moved from 3rd & Pike to 3rd & Pine a few years ago.

    • Sherwin Lee says

      All that retail is Pike/Pine’s retail, not Third. There’s a marked difference when you start traveling south. I don’t disagree with you, however. I know gangs and drug dealers actually use the crowds as their cover, so it’s probably one area where design improvements may be a more fitting solution.

      I actually disagree on your point in the financial district, especially around the post office. Past 7pm, it’s pretty uninviting around those blocks, given the strong peak-orientation of foot traffic in the area.

    • justinf says

      Bruce is right. 3rd has more commerce and a lot more eyes than 2nd, but it is so much worse. Lack of commerce is not the issue — perhaps it is the type of commerce.

      I’m always impressed with how blatant the drug dealing/use is.

      • Nathanael says

        There’s a demand, there’s a supply, it’s not possible to eliminate either, the trade’s going to happen. Legalize and regulate it and it would get less sketchy.

    • Mark Dublin says

      Disappointed, Bruce. With your experience and powers of analysis, you can do better. Sherwin is right about the cure for destructive activity being the proliferation of its opposite. But like in agriculture, growing any healthy living organism requires provision of necessary conditions.

      When Third Avenue becomes surrounded by the kind of 24-hour residential neighborhoods where working people can live and raise children, the kind of businesses you would like to see will rapidly displace both the kinds you mention, both examples of urban blight, though only the grubby one so recognized.

      Recalling city life when it was still livable on an ordinary worker’s income, I think its restoration will be worth whatever it costs in terms of public encouragements and subsidies. Like weather in farm country, market forces can certainly work for the positive.

      But they don’t do so automatically, anymore than sun and rain raise crops with no human labor.

      Mark Dublin

      • Joseph Singer says

        If residential buildings are supposed to help why is Belltown which was supposed to get “yuppified” still sketchy.

      • Kyle S. says

        I dunno what parts of Belltown you frequent, but in my experience of living there for a year, the sketchy parts of Belltown consist of:

        3rd Ave from Bell to Virginia (at which point the Downtown seediness begins)
        5th and 6th Avenues from Cherry to Westlake (at which point Downtown vibrance begins)

        In particular, 4th and 1st Avenues are consistently nice for their entire length. They’re also where all the housing is.

      • Aleks says

        I don’t think you and Bruce are actually disagreeing. Bruce is simply pointing out that commerce itself is not what 3rd is lacking.

        This is confirmed by the fact that 3rd becomes infinitely more sketchy at night, when the shops close.

        3rd could probably use some more retail, especially something more upscale than Ross and Payless. But what it really needs are residents. A few well-placed apartments or condos could easily triple the number of people living in the area. Once you give people a legitimate reason to be on 3rd, even if the sketchy contingent remains the same, they will no longer define the neighborhood’s character.

        Of course, it’s once again worth pointing out that city life was affordable on a regular income back when it was still legal to build cities. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do. :P)

      • Aleks says

        +1 to Kyle’s point. 4th Ave is beautiful. I could imagine living there if I didn’t like Capitol Hill so much. :) 3rd might as well be a different universe. Among other buildings, it features Moda (famous for a dispute with its contractors who took off all the balconies without telling anyone), and the Belltown Inn (furnished units do not a neighborhood make).

  2. GuyOnBeaconHill says

    Third Avenue was the prime downtown street prior to the digging of the transit tunnel. It was the digging of the tunnel that killed commerce (of the legal nature) on 3rd Avenue. People avoided the mud and disruption on 3rd during the dig and all the small businesses died. Then the city took advantage of the depressed real estate market caused by the dig and bought several distressed properties and created the low and no income social services complexes that we see across from the courthouse today. So 3rd & James became ground zero for Seattle’s most disadvantaged and desperate citizens. Meanwhile, other streets, like First Avenue, which previously was home to Seattle’s slimiest citizens rebounded as businesses took advantage of the lower rents on First and the opportunity to be away from the mess on Third. Urban Ecology 101.

    • MIke says

      +1 as I recall the big pits along 3rd during construction. It never rebounded from that. The RFA just further enables the homeless to transit from Courthouse to Pine to Bell all day long.

      • Cinesea says

        I moved to Seattle in 1981 and I remember 3rd and Pine(McDonalds) being surrounded by drug dealers back then, BEFORE the tunnel. And even further down from the corner, at the Winchells Donut Shop, there were scuzzy people hanging out. Sure, its easy to blame the tunnel construction for today’s woes, but it isn’t correct.

      • GuyOnBeaconHill says

        And even further down from the corner, at the Winchells Donut Shop, there were scuzzy people hanging out.

        Are you talking about the International Donut Shop at First & Pike? That was a classic place, but it was more representative of the ambiance on First Avenue–not Third Avenue–prior to the tunnel dig.

      • says

        There was a donut shop on Third, too — just a couple of doors down from the McDonald’s. I don’t think it was a Winchell’s, though.

        I applied for a job there after my first two years in college and was told I was “overqualified.”

    • says

      Agree with your analysis.

      I worked in 1201 3rd for a bit less than 2 years.

      That bus area outside of Benaroya is horrifying.

      In fact, I don’t think I will renew my subscription to the symphony because that whole area depresses me.

      And what the STB article says is wrong — in the past years there have been daylight shootings due to drug deals gone wrong. Also stabbings on the bus and on the street.

      What can fix it?

      First of all — I am really surprised that with the incessant rants about Pearl Districts, Portland, walkability, transit corridors and all the rest, there are no carfree plazas anywhere in downtown Seattle. (Well, okay, the part between the Amtrak Station and the LINK station in the ID.)

      The most obvious would be Pike Place Market — why, oh, why is there still traffic on the cobbelstone street when people can barely walk there?!

      And 3rd avenue — if they want to do something big — look at Times Square in New York.

      People — all I hear are daily rants and raves from the Mayor on down, but when it comes to breakthrough action — nothing.

      I think both 1st and 3rd could become car free from Pioneer Square to Pike.

      • JohnS says

        Please. The Benaroya stop is mild – Century Square is where the ‘action’ is.

        Leaving aside Matt’s obvious “where would the buses go” response, I’d say Mark has it right – more people living downtown of various incomes is really the best answer to this. That would encourage businesses (of the legal sort) in ways that commuters simply do not do.

      • says

        More people of more incomes?

        What does that mean?

        There’s tons of subsidized housing already downtown.

        Seriously, down town is the most transit rich and densest part of Seattle…and it’s a positive hellhole. It has everything transit people ask for…nightlife, retail, high rise buildings…but it simply doesn’t work.

        And what happens when one area gets ruined? Well, then the powers that be take their bat and ball and move to South Lake Union…where there already have been shootings and knifings.

        When are you going to stand up and take responsibility for your statements about density and transit instead of just moving the goal posts?

      • d.p. says

        I’m not even going to dignify your last comment with more than a couple of sentences. Manhattan is one of the safest places on earth. Kent’s murder rate is (much) higher.

        Crime has many causes and correlations; density and transit are not two of them.

        As for your earlier “helpful suggestion” that we pedestrianize our cavernous boulevards…
        http://www.nytimes.com/1996/02/01/us/chicago-gives-a-pedestrian-mall-the-boot.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

        Planners and architects point out that people like to go where other people are going. It did not help that the vast walkway of the mall gave State an empty look, which, together with the absence of cars, “gave it a deadened feel, like a ghost town,” said Craig Wolf, a spokesman for [Chicago's] Department of Transportation. (He’s no more flattering of it as a “transit mall.”

        And you want to compare safe and sketchy? Boston’s ill-implemented Downtown Crossing pedestrian scheme is an island of after-hours sketch in miles of otherwise nearly crime-free center city.

        Pedestrian schemes only work in places where the density, the street-scale, and the manner of use remains essentially unchanged from the time before automobiles. Very few examples of this exist in North America, and in Europe, there have been as many State Street-esque failures as there have been appropriately-implemented successes.

        Seattle has one worthy example, and you named it: Pike Place — the first and busiest block of which is, in fact, already blocked to general traffic most of the time these days. Deliveries still need the road at times (which is what makes it a functioning market and not a museum piece.

        But your vision would be more like Occidental Park times 1000. So lively!

      • d.p. says

        [Man, trouble closes every kind of parenthesis and markup today. You get the point... as usual, John has a fascinating degree of confidence in statements born of total ignorance.]

      • says

        It’s fine to allow deliveries to Pike Place Market — just kick out the OTHER vehicles.

        I’m thinking of the old city streets in Salzburg that are pedestrianized. They still allow delivery vehicles and cabs to go there, but those streets belong to the pedestrians. But here, the requirement to have some delivery vehicles to the site makes people think we have to allow ALL vehicles, and that is simply nuts.

        Pike Place Market is one place that obviously should be pedestrianized, and why we don’t do it makes no sense to me.

      • says

        Hold on.

        First the logic is: density and transit are good in themselves. People and businesses will move to places that are dense and transit rich.

        Now you say the opposite. 3rd Avenue..which is as dense and transit rich as it goes, needs to add “commerce”. How come? If density and transit supposed to draw people and commerce, why does it have to be force fed?

        And why are there so many vacant and under utilized tall buildings there?

        Crime in downtown:

        http://www.neighborhoodscout.com/wa/seattle/city-center/#crime

        Kent has a similar high crime rate — but after Seattle, it has some of the densest neighborhoods in Western Washington.

      • d.p. says

        Nemo,

        The first, busiest block of Pike Place is already car-free — the barriers are there almost every day. More importantly, the cars that do come through have no expectation that they own the space. The battle had already been won for that pedestrian environment; formal recognition is superfluous.

        John,

        Elsewhere on this very thread it is explained that huge blocks with few uses per block and cavernous boulevards between them, in the manner of post-’80s 3rd Ave, do not really constitute “density” in any meaningful way. You’re from New York, dude. Does ANY of that city’s healthy density look like 3rd?

      • d.p. says

        Psst… take your ideals to their logical conclusions and you’ll get Jacksonville. Want to have a powwow about crime in Jacksonville sometime?

      • Joanna Cullen says

        I agree with John S. I am perfectly fine with the Benaroya stop. The lighting is fine and the crowd is just waiting for the bus with an occasional passerby who seems a tad out of touch. I tend to fault McDonald’s at 3rd and Pine, but maybe Century Square is also at fault. Once inside Century Square the undesirable activity seems to cease. However, I can’t imagine going into the McDonald’s. just wonder who would want to go into that McDonald’s. I confess to not being a McDonald’s customer even at the best kept of of their spots. Nonetheless, I don’t usually have that type of thought about them. Since the appearance of Columbia Sportswear the northwest corner of Pine and 3rd seems to have significantly improved in ambiance. Metro probably heard about this situation recently during the community meetings.

      • Aleks says

        John Bailo,

        You’re correct that there’s tons of subsidized housing downtown. There’s comparatively much less market-rate housing. Therefore, when JohnS says he wants more people of various incomes, clearly he means that he wants more of the latter.

      • Nathanael says

        “Pedestrian schemes only work in places where the density, the street-scale, and the manner of use remains essentially unchanged from the time before automobiles. Very few examples of this exist in North America,”

        We are so lucky in Ithaca, NY in this regard.

      • d.p. says

        Nathanael,

        You have indeed cited the only universally successful sub-category of American pedestrianized zones, which must meet all of the following criteria:

        1) college town;
        2) specifically, a small-ish city with a large-ish university (the college need not be the only thing around, but needs to play a significant role in the economics and demographics of the area);
        3) pedestrian zone must be within walking distance of the university (captive car-free audience);
        4) city must be remote enough and prosperous enough to be relatively free of “big city” crime hazards;
        5) pedestrianized street ideally hasn’t changed much in form or use in 100 years, though this is not vital in college-town situations (it is a 100% necessity in non-college-town pedestrian schemes)

        Thus: Ithica, Burlington, Boulder, Madison, etc are successes. Buffalo, Poughkeepsie, Ottawa are disasters.

    • Mark Dublin says

      D- in History Junior High. By the mid-eighties, Third Downtown was already perishing from the post WWII conviction that most people should live in scattered purely-residential neighborhoods, and Downtowns should be vertical office parks vacant after working hours.

      Tunnel construction also happened to coincide with a multiplicity of skyscraper constructions, which probably caused more disruption and displacement than the Tunnel work.

      Reason First rebounded first was that its older, smaller buildings were more conducive to healthy new business than the high-rises on Third. Third Avenue could definitely use as good a street life- but the ground floors of some pretty forbidding buildings will need a rebuild.

      Careful about what you demand to be relocated- when Third gets desirable enough to cost money, think what could get relocated next door to you. And the desperate and the disadvantaged? Those of us without a “Golden Parachute” of some kind never know when we’ll need some place to go.

      Mark Dublin

      • GuyOnBeaconHill says

        Yes, there was a burst of skyscraper construction in downtown simultaneous with the tunnel dig, but not all of the skyscrapers were built along 3rd Avenue. And the ones that were built along 3rd also faced either 2nd or 4th and neither of those streets has as much blight as 3rd Avenue, so I think it’s a stretch to suggest that the blight of 3rd Avenue was caused more by the skyscraper construction and not the tunnel mess.

        Also, I think we’d all be better off if we integrated the desperate and disadvantaged into general society instead of segregating them into a dismal downtown ghetto.

  3. Brent says

    More housing would be nice. Then the neighborhood would be more of a “neighborhood” (by definition), and more safe 24/7.

    A disproportionate share of affordable housing downtown is shelters. I’m not saying the shelters shouldn’t be there. They should be. But there are lots of people who would move downtown if the housing existed and didn’t require forking over a half million dollars for a condo.

    As has been pointed out elsewhere on this blog, much of the CBD is zoned to outlaw housing. That’s a tragic mistake.

    People living downtown would be a boon for the commerce that already exists downtown. I don’t think downtown necessarily needs more street-level businesses. I think it needs more shoppers.

    • Matt the Engineer says

      +1 I’m actually impressed by how not-scary downtown Seattle is. Most downtowns become post-appocolyptic nightmares after business hours. Walk the streets of the financial district in San Francisco at 9pm on a weekday, let alone the middle of the night on a weekend, and it’s a ghost town other than the homeless and those using the empty space as their private drug lounge. Seattle has just enough people living and playing nearby that I feel mostly safe mostly anywhere most hours of the day and night.

      • Gary says

        “I feel mostly safe mostly anywhere most hours of the day and night.”

        Me too, but I’m a large guy. I’m not watching a phone when I walk. And I walk like I own the street. On the other hand, my kid working downtown gets hassled all the time in the Pike/Pine corridor. And my wife up at Harborview sees people who get whacked in Belltown and downtown after hours. Mostly though they’ve been drinking and must look like easy targets. It’s not “safe” by most people’s standard.

        And more police isn’t going to fix the drug dealing problem. We’ve tried that, it just moves the problem. The drug dealing needs to become legal, taxed, and regulated, and the non licensed dealers undercut and put out of business.

      • Mark Y says

        I completely understand that more police just moves the problem, but in this case, maybe we should move it from arguably the busiest transit stop in the county.
        After we’ve moved it we can talk about other means to mitigate drug dealing.

      • says

        I agree that Seattle is safer than most people around here believe it to be, but as a 5’2″ female, I don’t think it’s as safe for me as it is for you.

        I recently gave up one regular transit trip I was making because I did not feel safe at 10 p.m. waiting at one of the stops I had to wait at. I am not happy about this. I would much prefer to use transit for that trip, and during daylight I feel safe. At night, there are NO eyes on the street at the place I need to wait, and that feels immensely unsafe. (Walking to a different stop to the south puts me in a location where there is a lot of open-air drug-dealing going on, and further north means walking through more of the area where it feels unsafe, so…)

      • Matt the Engineer says

        Yeah, I certainly didn’t mean Seattle is Disneyland. We can and should improve safety – a lot. I just wanted to point out it feels a lot more safe than many other downtowns I’ve been in after hours, and I think that’s due to people actually living and visiting downtown.

      • Brent says

        I don’t know about “affordable”, or whether they are subsidized, but isn’t 1st Avenue a lot more lively than 3rd Ave? More housing on 3rd Ave, puh-lease!

  4. Joshua says

    Biggest problem of Third Ave is cops. Every time I go there to get on/off from the buses, I always see almost no cops present or they didn’t really pay attention to what are happening along Third Ave because they’re too busy hang out with other cops. These cops need to stop wasting our tax money and get them fired then find responsible cops to deal with Third Ave crimes!

    • Mark Y says

      I do think that would go a long way to make the situation better. I talked to Metro Transit Cop last week who had camped out at the 3rd and Pike stop for his shift. Hew was out of his car, and standing right around the stop. He was saying that he tries to spend as much time at that stop as possible, and while he was there the character of the area was completely different. The problem is he’s only 1 officer, and he’s only there 4-5 times a week.
      The Seattle police sometimes camp a big mobile HQ truck at the stop, but they don’t seem to get out and walk around. Frequently the bike cops will hang out at the end of the block congregating together, which does no good at all.
      I think that long term the situation is going to need more than just police presence, because that would just scatter these folks to other locations downtown, but it sure would be a good start.
      I’m not certain that more commerce is the answer. If there were more retail around this area, it would probably just mean more businesses like the tobacco shop and check cashing place that cater to the very crowd we’d like to see gone.

      • GuyOnBeaconHill says

        I’m waiting to see if the ending of the Ride Free Area will disperse the drug dealers, the pimps and their clientele to other parts of the city. Metro’s magic carpet does seem to facilitate downtown Seattle’s street level illegal commercial market. It will be interesting to see what happens when the free ride ends.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        They walk. Or they keep riding. It’s not like people will just go home once the RFA is gone.

      • JohnS says

        …or, to further Matt’s comment, that Metro is going to start telling drivers to risk violence to enforce the fare requirements, right? Unless we’re going to hire a bunch more transit police, or implement POP, or do some other thing I’m not thinking of, the end of the RFA isn’t going to stop folks from getting on the bus without paying.

      • Lack Thereof says

        The RFA’s end will have little to no effect on that situation, I think. they aren’t there because they can ride the bus a few blocks for free.

      • SMP Belltown says

        Regarding what GuyOnBeaconHill is wondering about “if the ending of the Ride Free Area will disperse the drug dealers, the pimps and their clientele to other parts of the city,” I think it’s important to rememeber that:

        1.) The Ride Free Area isn’t a 24-hour thing right now, and the downtown area (including 3rd Avenue) doesn’t seem to have less problems like this at night when there is no RFA in operation.

        2.) Other neighborhoods have similar problems even though they’re not part of the RFA. I think that it’s fairly common for these sorts of activities to include a car (or cab?) that cruises around a neighborhood providing support for the ‘sales team’ on the street.

        3.) I’m pretty sure that a good portion (or most) of this sort of activity is done by people who don’t live in the same area that they’re working in. I think that an awful lot of them are commuters, basically. If these folks already have to pay a fare to get into the downtown area from, say, West Seattle, I’m not sure that closing the RFA will stop them from coming into town.

    • Aleks says

      Hell no. Think of all the safe neighborhoods you’ve ever been in. Do they have a constant police presence? Now think about all the seedy neighborhoods. Do they?

      As a rule, whenever I see a “police box” or any sort of miniature station, it always screams “sketchy neighborhood” to me.

      When there are eyes on the street, you don’t need cops. The problem with 3rd is that no one has any reason to be there except to catch a bus; it feels like a place where no one’s watching, and that’s why all the sketchy stuff happens.

      • Nathanael says

        Beat cops on foot actually did seem to make neighborhoods safer, but they don’t really exist anymore. Anywhere I’ve been, anyway.

      • d.p. says

        When a particular intersection has been as problematic for as long as 3rd & Pine has — when sketchy types are practically drawn by force of habit — then a sustained police presence (including a willingness to intervene or to arrest) for a long enough period of time to break those habits is not a bad idea.

        No, it isn’t a permanent solution, and it doesn’t supplant other crime-prevention and neighborhood-improvement strategies. And yes, it disperses rather than eliminates.

        But when half your city won’t take transit because the entire system’s primary transfer point has dozens of threatening characters as permanent fixtures, fights breaking out as often as twice hourly, and no visible security presence whatsoever, it’s time for a unambiguous intervention.

  5. downintacoma says

    Due to the realities of real estate in a commercial core, it’s going to take big thinkers with big budgets to start tackling this issue. I think it’s a great spot to explore a public-private partnership, because private dollars are going to drive improvements like this but the public can certainly incentivize such a project.

    There’s also the questions of what to do with the stuff that’s already there. Office tower lobbies are designed to welcome their tenants, not the general street-going public. While Benaroya Hall is an important regional cultural center, the price we pay for having it downtown is that it eats an entire block of 3rd avenue in an important part of the transit corridor. (I won’t detail the problem with the pacific plaza parking garage – that’s well covered elsewhere by the fine writing staff of this site.)

    • archie says

      Yep, Benaroya is great and all, but its construction also deleted an awesome, old apartment building, and now we have what amounts to a huge single-story, single-use building in the heart of downtown.

      • William C Bonner says

        I’m glad to see the post office mentioned. I find walking the block more pleasant dodging people next to Benaroya than on the east side next tot he post office where it’s a solid wall with one small door for entry into the post office.

        On the other hand, I walk there pretty often because it’s the easy place for me to drop off my netflix movies at 4:45 and still have them arrive the next day.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        Don’t forget the garage door and driveway. Because that’s what the pedestrian environment on 3rd needs – a driveway.

        If the USPS is really looking for money, sell places like this to developers that can build a big building and rent you back a little space. Then put your distribution center somewhere like SODO where it belongs. The value of the land this place is sitting on must be high.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        I may have the terminology wrong, but that building is mostly parking – I assume for mail trucks. That doesn’t belong on 3rd, or anywhere downtown.

      • JohnS says

        There’s the loading dock for the Post Office (which I agree is an unfortunate location) and then the garage south of that down to the corner. I didn’t realize that garage was all Post Office. I completely agree that block of 3rd is not inviting to pedestrians.

  6. Anon says

    New York and other cities do it by putting their main transit routes underground as subways. That way, a good chunk the “sketchy” people are down in the subway stations and “out of sight, out of mind”.

    Seattle does this in the DSTT, but mostly for routes going out of the city.

    • archie says

      Cuz we all know if you come downtown by transit that you are “sketchy.” I think the people choosing to drive downtown are the sketchy ones!

    • says

      Have you never been to the “big city”.

      Although looking at the subway map, you might imagine a subway station on each and every corner, the reality is Manhattan street blocks are very, very long in width. And subway stations are not always rationally allocated — sometimes they are close together, sometimes one must walk blocks to get to one.

      When I was there last summer, staying at Lexington Avenue Hilton, there was a subway station nearby, but when I went to dine on the upper eastside, it was pretty much lots of buses (or the ever present taxis) for getting around. The bus stop outside the window of sushi restaurant was busy every 10 minutes, even after 8pm.

      • Kyle S. says

        That’s because there’s no subway that crosses under the park, John.

        Which would you rather take from the UES to Penn Station: the M4 bus or the 4/5/6 to the 7/S to the 1/2/3?

      • Nathanael says

        The Upper East Side famously has far fewer subway lines than it should. It was built around a dense network of streetcars and elevated lines. The streetcars were ripped out with the promise of elevateds, the elevateds were ripped out with the promise of subways, and… the subways haven’t been built yet. The most famous one is the Second Avenue Subway. They’re working on it….

  7. Kyle S. says

    I’m of the opinion that the biggest problem with 3rd Ave is the fact that it’s a transit mall. Nobody wants to be on that street and fight with the throngs of people waiting for buses. It’s not a pleasant experience.

    I wish we could even out the split of bus lines between 1st through 4th.

    • archie says

      True. I think allowing street parking on 3rd during the off peak hours (on the few blocks without bus stops) might also help cozy it up a little bit and help with the foot traffic.

    • lheard says

      Agree that bus congestion is part of the problem. The geometrical reality of the urban core is that there is only so much street space for allocation. Buses are large and loud and change the geometry and architecture of the streetscape. They form a streetwall, blocking the view from one side of the street to the other, important for safety and commerce. A 3-D isovist study would be interesting here. The noise provides more cover for criminal activity and blocks the normal environmental sensory stimuli that people use for their own safety. Add pedestrian congestion – there are no clear waiting and walking zones, with surges of people crossing from leaning against a building waiting to boarding an arriving bus. A true transit mall with central median boarding would help but with staggered bus stops there would be no room for passing buses. The solution to bus congestion generally is rail, and more likely subway rail (more than currently planned).

    • says

      Well, when I said make it a pedestrian mall, I meant with a center laned bus way. The side walks, as wide as they are, are still very crowded during rush hour. I bet if you just a bus lane or two in the middle, and then a super wide plaza, with walkways, bike lanes and outdoor seating, the whole thing might improve.

  8. says

    Others may want to tip-toe around why they find 3rd Ave scary, but I think it really comes down to down to that there are a lot of sketchy people loitering around bus stops. Walking down 3rd is like running a gauntlet of the patrons from Mos Eisley’s Cantina. 3rd Ave is worst because, while other downtown avenues also have bus stops, many 3rd avenue buses travel through low income and high crime neighborhoods. 3rd Ave also has a disproportionate number of shelters. So you have this mix of of homeless people and hood rats congregating near bus stops, many not even waiting for buses, they are just hanging out, and I think it unnerves some people, and it should. As far as a solution, I think implementing a New York-style broken windows strategy would go a long way in cleaning up the area, but in ultra-pc Seattle, that might be difficult.

    • Aleks says

      Congratulations! You’ve identified a reason why people are uncomfortable walking on 3rd. Now what do you propose we do about it?

      The sketchy people you refer to are everywhere. They’re in Capitol Hill, for sure. The difference is that, in Capitol Hill, there are other people too. For every stinky, bearded, homeless drug addict, there are ten people heading to a club, or coming back from the grocery store, or just conducting their daily business. The result is that the neighborhood isn’t defined by the sketchy characters.

      On 3rd Ave, especially at night when the stores have closed, there’s no reason for anyone to be there except to catch a bus. Thus, the character of the street is defined by the sketchy people.

      Give people a reason to spend time on 3rd Ave, and they will.

  9. says

    I agree that commerce really isn’t the problem on third. There are plenty of stores there or attempts at stores- most stuff doesn’t seem to last very long. And I also remember before the tunnel the street was still pretty skeezy.

    That said, I do think commerce is part of the solution, maybe make some sort of third street development zone with tax breaks and such for non-chain local small businesses. A street beautification program, make it just transit, closing it to cars and giving it a dedicated bike lane. I also think people living on third would be a good way to to make it safer. Do something with the Downtown Post office- it sucks all the energy coming off Benaroya and makes that side of street a dead zone. All of this takes $$ of course…

    • JohnS says

      Any solution to Benaroya should deal with the chaos that ensues whenever there’s an event there, and all the folks driving in from the Eastside etc. block intersections and totally hose up transit and pedestrians.

      Maybe we could get someone to buy the air rights over Benaroya and do something there? Even 5 or 6 stories of residential would be awesome. Probably completely undoable, but…

    • Tim Whittome says

      Hear hear on the Post Office and yes, what a wonderful phrase – it does ‘suck the energy’ off the street. It along with the Parking Structure right by it which is awful.

  10. Tim Whittome says

    Third Avenue is a desolate street in most parts and yes, it is not very pedestrian friendly and yes, there are blank walls of ugly concrete by the post office – a neighboring edifice which turns out to be a ugly parking structure which is awful in its blandness. Seattle’s parking garages are all too often a blight on the urban landscape and the one by Macy’s was my first target of complaint when I first moved to Seattle in 1998. As a result of a letter that got published in the Seattle Times, the owners of the garage were moved to paint the monstrosity and its a lot better now. Better still would have been if the No. 1 hotel had ever got started but it remains a flat parking wasteland on Pike between 3rd and 2nd right by the parking structure.

    Pike may get better when they start construction of the 2nd and Pike building or is the 2nd and Pine? Either way, the vacant areas need to be filled in.

    As far as Third is concerned. Maybe we need a central median? Certainly better and more inviting bus shelters and definitely better maintenance and cleaning of the street.

    The Post Office finally got a sort of make over but still remains uninviting and horrible. That was an early target of mine also but it took ten years for the USPS to do anything with it.

    Hanging baskets off lamps might also help, but there was a good article in the Times the other day that Seattle is the 3rd largest retail market in the country. This ought to be an incentive if nothing else is!

  11. Miles Bader says

    Sure, more commerce would be good…

    But…
    if lack of commerce is the problem with 3rd ave, what on earth is capitol hill’s problem?! I’ve had way more actual “issues” walking along broadway on the main capitol-hill strip than any place in downtown seattle, despite the large number of shops and pedestrians (and a generally pedestrian-oriented nature), due to the huge number of ultra-aggressive homeless people that seem to congregate there.

    Capitol hill is otherwise a very nice place, so the contrast is pretty depressing.

    • Aleks says

      Can you define “issues”? I have a relatively unconventional appearance/clothing style, so I tend to attract comments from strangers. I’m also a pretty small person, so I can easily feel threatened by large aggressive people. But I’ve never had an actual “issue” on Broadway. There are a few homeless people who have talked to me when I wish they didn’t, but that’s about it.

      In contrast, Pine St between Broadway and 15th is practically dead. I used to live on 17th and Madison, and when I was walking home from Broadway late at night, I would actually go the extra block to Pike instead of Pine, simply because I wanted to avoid the sketchiness.

      There’s a certain amount of interaction with strangers that is just part and parcel with living in a city. If I make it clear I don’t want to talk to them, and they leave me alone, then all is well. But I don’t know any way you can completely get rid of the sketchy people, other than by getting rid of everyone else, too.

  12. AJL says

    When I have to take the bus from 3rd Ave, I have found myself actively walking further north to 3rd & Virginia to avoid the mad crush and scary people/situations. There’s still some there at 3rd, but the whole location feels more open and less confined. As a female, I also get concerned about being targeted – and I have been but lucky enough to get out of an escalating situation rather quickly – especially at night. I do not take a bus home after 7:00 pm if it’s dark (maybe later in the summer). When the buses I take stopped on 1st, I had really no fear of it. Now I do. It’s kind of sad. I know several people who have similar concerns.

  13. Jason Mitchell says

    I’m as progressive as they come, but this isn’t rocket science. Show me a successful downtown (Chicago, NYC) and I’ll show you a downtown that isn’t chock full of shelters, clinics, missions, and “jail alternative housing.” Maintain a commitment to social justice, but disperse social services more equitably throughout the city instead of concentrating them in the CBD. At the very least, thin the number of services and the amount of subsidized housing from the waterfront to I-5 and from Denny to Yesler. The office, retail, and housing boom would help all city coffers, including those targeted toward assisting these particular populations.

    Yes commerce is vitally important, but commerce won’t be coming or thriving in the current environment. We need to get over the notion that it is somehow cold-hearted to acknowledge that concentrating your social services in the heart of your business, shopping, and tourist district isn’t the way to drive economic growth and receive its myriad benefits.

    • Brent says

      Watch the magic as the carpet rolls up and goes away…

      But which neighborhoods do you think will invite these social services in? Tent City seems to be met with the Unwelcome Wagon everywhere it goes.

      • Miles Bader says

        Hmm, isn’t part of the idea that “tent cities” are a really dumb idea?

      • Nathanael says

        The evidence is that cities (and rural areas, honestly) do a *lot* better if services for the “troubled” are mixed evenly with everyone else, rather than being concentrated. The best studies relate to subsidized housing; giant blocks of it are generally disastrous, while scattering it amongst middle-class neighborhoods works a treat.

  14. Mobilitor says

    Heard this some time ago: Hamburg’s central train station had a drug dealing problem. Apparently, bus/train stations seem to be focal points of the drug business and seedy (but legal) establishments. When increased policing and so on didn’t work they put up loudspeakers and pumped… classical music! Which was very effective. I imagine Vivaldi on loop must be especially deadening.

      • Miles Bader says

        @aw

        You heard on NPR that “bus/train stations seem to be focal points of the drug business and seedy (but legal) establishments”?

        Did the Koch brothers buy them out?

      • Mobilitor says

        Teabaggies, heh! Seriously, it was a personal experience while traveling (quite frequently) in those parts of the world, but I did feel safe at all times. To me it was more of an aesthetic problem than a security problem. I managed to find a reference (NYT):

        Mr. Schill’s effort to rid the railway station of drug dealers had a setback, too. He wanted to bus them to the port, but the customs authorities who run the port refused to play along.

        Still, the German train company, Deutsche Bahn, has had its own success.

        It set up big loudspeakers and started playing Vivaldi to improve the atmosphere. The constant repetition of ”The Four Seasons,” says the newspaper Hamburger Abendblatt, ”has been an effective street sweeper, guaranteed to drive the most stubborn junkie crazy.” To avoid Vivaldi, the paper said, many junkies and dealers have left the station of their own accord.

        http://www.nytimes.com/2002/01/23/world/hamburg-journal-judge-merciless-thinks-all-germany-needs-him.html?pagewanted=2

    • Jeremy says

      Sure, it starts with just Vivaldi, but then you’re trying some Wagner and end up snorting Varèse, Scelsi, and Xenakis samples all weekend. Vivaldi: the gateway drug.

    • the358 says

      Wasn’t there some story a couple years back about a fast food place in SODO doing something similar? I want to say it was a KFC or a Taco Bell, and if I remember right, they played country music super loud and the drug dealers stopped hanging out there.

  15. Joseph Singer says

    I’ve been in Seattle 18-1/2 years and 3rd Avenue has always been the pits compared to 4th and 5th Avenue. It didn’t help the “atmosphere” to add that awful signboard on Benaroya Hall when they built the hall. If Benaroya Hall was supposed to be a classy place that garish signboard fixed that in a hurry. In a word it’s “tacky.”

    • Miles Bader says

      Heh; I looked a the Benaroya Hall website. Here’s the contents of the “Guide to the Hall” section:

      * driving directions
      * parking
      * ticket office
      * Food & Beverages
      * security
      * patron services
      * services for patrons withe disabilities

      Not driving? HAHAHA, sorry bud, this is a classy hall! Go hang out with the drug dealers and junkies or something.

      [But seriously, just look at the very end of the "Driving Directions" page for transit info.]

      Ahhhhh, Seattle!

Trackbacks

Sign in or create an account to save your credentials and make commenting faster.



You may want to read our comment policy.