We put out a blurb on the Westlake Hub Strategy about a month back in a news roundup, but I wanted to share some additional information I got from SDOT as well as bit of analysis.
The strategy is designed to help improve multi-modal transfers around Westlake plaza and help create a more attractive and lively pedestrian environment. It includes a new pedestrian plaza in what is now Westlake Ave. This project takes big cues from NYC’s pedestrianization of Times Square. The expanded plaza will be created by closing the block between Stewart and Olive to all traffic except the streetcar, more than doubling the size of the existing McGraw Square and creating a public space that is actually functional and enjoyable.
More after the jump.
In addition to the plaza, SDOT is improving wayfinding between it and Westlake Station. Currently there are no plans to include real-time information for passengers that are tansfering between Link and the Streetcar. This is not surprising but still never-the-less disappointing. SDOT looked at extending the streetcar to Westlake plaza, but complications with crossing over the DSTT and turning streetcars around became too problematic, so it was decided to focus on other improvements instead.
One very good detail of the plaza design is the inclusion of a vendor kiosk. Kiosks and street food are one of several details that are important for successful public spaces. People like places with other people and by giving people a reason to be there, a virtuous cycle is created. Food is a great way to do this because everyone eats, but also because eating is one of the most social activities that humans undertake. One glaring omission is seating, whether it be benches or just a nice staircase. It should either be added to the design, or the vendor should be required to provide ample and movable seating throughout the day. Other musts include close linkage to street life, trees, and good maintenance.
Check out this must see video (all 6). They give you a great rundown of some of the components that go into making good urban spaces, and it’s actually really funny. The narrator has such a dry humor. It’s great.
Most importantly, this is a visionary and bold project that continues an exciting trend of re-prioritizing the use of public ROW for pedestrians and placemaking, not cars. This trend started with Metro’s 358 bus stop plaza improvements, then the Pike/Pine pedestrian improvements and finally Bell Street linear park. As I said before, two thumbs up SDOT.
Bell Street and the Streetcar plaza also show that the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department (which is funding a majority of both projects) understands the great opportunity that streets represent for creating new and affordable public open space in already built up neighborhoods. Going forward, it looks like this trend will continue. According to an e-mail I received, it looks like the next project of this type might be part of the new Summit and John park on Capitol Hill.
One side note. Last year in my Pedestrian Travel course at the UW I worked on a GIS based project related to the pedestrianization of street ROW. I wanted to see if I could create a GIS tool that helps show where, and what kind of pedestrian improvements are best on a block by block resolution. Generally this isn’t a difficult task but I want to create a tool that could be use on a city wide level to quickly screen for the best opportunities. For data reasons I limited my project to the neighborhood around 15th Ave in Capitol Hill and grouped improvements into amenity zone, shared space, and “normal” open space type improvements. Here are the zipped files (13Mb). Check out map 3, 4 and 5 first. More details and assumptions are in the paper. Input data is shown in the other maps. If you have questions comment and I’ll try to respond. It was a while ago and I only spent about two weeks working on this project so don’t expect too much depth from it.