Foot vs. motor traffic: The push to pedestrianize Seattle's Pike Place Market

The age-old debate over whether motor traffic or foot traffic should dominate Seattle's iconic Pike Place Market has resurfaced, sparking heated discussions among city officials and stakeholders. 

At the center of the controversy is Mayor Bruce Harrell's transportation plan, which includes a proposal to make the bustling market more pedestrian-friendly.

However, this proposal is met with staunch opposition from newly elected Seattle City Councilmember Bob Kettle, who argues that eliminating vehicles could have detrimental effects on the market's vitality.

pike place market

People walk past the Pike Place Market, Seattle's top tourist destination on March 09, 2022, in Seattle, Wash.  (John Moore/Getty Images)

"It’s not some Disney project, it’s not Hollywood," Kettle emphasized during a recent Transportation Committee meeting. "It’s real, it’s a market, it’s a business."

Kettle's concerns revolve around the practicalities of daily operations. He highlighted the potential challenges posed by the lack of loading docks, expressing worries that without street parking, hundreds of small businesses and vendors operating out of the market will face difficulties.

In contrast, pedestrian advocate Gordon Padelford of Seattle Neighborhood Greenways believes there is a middle ground. 

"No one is suggesting we eliminate deliveries or emergency services or ADA access," Padelford said. "Markets around the world have figured out how to allow that sort of essential access to continue."

The debate touches on decades of history and past attempts to pedestrianize streets. 

Douglas Campbell, owner of Bulldog News & Café, reflected on the early 1970s when plans to pedestrianize University Way NE, also known as "The Ave," gained traction. While the proposal was ultimately shot down by property owners, a levy approving the changes almost made it through.

"I have been encouraged many times over the last 50 years, and I am still very enthusiastic about getting more public space on the Ave," Campbell reminisced. "From the very beginning, domesticating the street was our goal."

Mayor Harrell's transportation plan, which comprises 81 projects, aims to reimagine Seattle's streets. While The Ave's transformation didn't make the list, enhancing pedestrian experiences at Pike Place Market did.

With the clock ticking, the Seattle City Council has until the end of the month to deliberate on the mayor’s proposal. 

As the city weighs the balance between tradition, practicality, and the desire for progress, the fate of one of Seattle's most beloved attractions hangs in the balance.


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