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The third and final public meeting on an update to the U-District neighborhood’s park plan was held on Wednesday night. Like the first meeting (I missed the second), the event was well attended and organized. Here, city staff and their consultants presented a synthesis of ideas they heard during group discussions at the previous meeting. The direction that the plan will take is ambitious and will embody the core values of the community. The current plan, last updated in 2006, hasn’t been extensively acted upon, but the recent creation of the Seattle Parks District will help improve and add park spaces here and citywide.

Aerial ViewThe catalyst for this public process is mostly the new light rail station that is due to open in 2021, seven years from now. The neighborhood currently has 14,000 residents, and by 2030 the station alone is expected to serve 12,000 daily commuters. The city is planning to increase height limits in anticipation of increased population and employment growth. However, the U-District also currently lacks an adequate amount of open space, with a three acre deficit by city standards. The University of Washington, the city’s largest employer and a magnet for youth and talent from around the world, is steadily growing. But its 600 acre main campus isn’t open to neighborhood residents for recreation and events.

A draft of recommendations to be listed in the parks includes six key elements. The first is to activate existing and planned parks. Most are along the neighborhood’s edge, including University Playground near I-5 and Cowen Park to the north. These spaces could be improved through better programming or simply letting residents know they exist, perhaps through flyers or a neighborhood wayfinding system. New park space is also opening within the next few years, including an expansion of Christie Park  and an addition to Sakuma Viewpoint on Portage Bay to the south.

The second idea is to establish a multitude of pocket parks so that most residents are within a five minute walk of open space. Pocket parks are small and intimate, provide relaxation space between larger parks, and oftentimes are on private property. While the city could acquire property for these types of parks, it may be more feasible to create incentives for future development to include pocket parks for public use. Such incentives usually include the exchange of open space for taller height limits.

UW Retaining Wall

The third issue is the western edge of the University of Washington campus on 15th Avenue NE. It’s mostly a retaining wall facing a sidewalk for several blocks broken only by campus entrances. A representative from the university said there is an active interest in removing the wall, and projects like a possible Burke Museum expansion could facilitate it one piece at a time. I suggested that the university’s need for additional office space could be fulfilled along the edge with office buildings that contain street level retail. Locating future student housing along the edge would also give students easy access to shopping on University Way (The Ave, the district’s main commercial street) and transit connections.

Brooklyn Festival Street

The fourth idea is east-west pedestrian connections, especially between the university campus and the upcoming light rail station. There is already movement in this arena; after 42nd Street, 43rd Street, and Brooklyn Avenue were identified for “green street” treatments in a 1998 neighborhood plan, the the city is finally finishing up designs for these streets (PDF). Green streets have additional vegetation and improved bike and walking infrastructure like attractive paving materials and comfortable street furniture. On 43rd, for example, the plans call for a widened sidewalk up to 20 feet on the north side (where most people will be walking between the station and campus), street trees, and raised intersections at Brooklyn Avenue and The Ave. Brooklyn Avenue between 45th and 43rd will be curbless and intended for a daily offshoot of the neighborhood’s popular farmer;s market. The green streets will be implemented only piecemeal, however; construction will be done by developers whenever their project necessitates the street beside their property be torn up for other upgrades. But Sound Transit’s construction is adjacent to a considerable portion of the designated green streets, so big improvements can be expected by the time the station opens in 2021.

Another east-west idea is midblock pass-throughs. The neighborhood’s north-south street grid is coarse, with average blocks being 500 feet long and 250 feet wide. Pass-throughs, essentially east-west alleys, could allow people to walk through the middle of long blocks. Like pocket parks, this idea could be implemented through regulations or incentives for redevelopment. Alley activations can also enliven neglected public space, and can be done incrementally with business support, material improvements, and event programming. Cafe Allegro, for instance, has its only entrance on the alley between 15th Avenue and The Ave but is highly popular. The University Bookstore is likely planning to convert its parking lot into a structured garage, which presents an opportunity to improve the adjacent alleyway.

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The fifth idea is a key north-south spine that consists of a street treated as a linear park. During the second forum meeting, most breakout groups identified 12th Avenue, Brooklyn, and/or The Ave as this key corridor. 12th Avenue is currently being converted to a neighborhood greenway, which is a safer and calmer street achieved through signage, intersection improvements, and speed limit reductions. Brooklyn Avenue’s green street improvements, which includes an uphill bike lane, are also intend to extend north to Ravenna Boulevard and south to Pacific Street. Additional street trees can contribute to a sense of uniform character along at least one of these corridors.

Square Option C

The sixth, and perhaps most significant idea, is to identify a site for a publicly owned central plaza. U District Square has been the lead group on this effort for several years, and the idea has been floated for decades. Attendees emphasized that the light rail station presents a a once-in-a-lifetime chance to establish a central open space that forms the identity of the neighborhood. The ideal size for the central plaza would be a quarter acre, which is similar to the scale of the well-used Hing Hay Park in the International District. The developable area atop the station will be 18,000 square feet (.41 acres), but the UW owns the air rights and seems to be resistant to any idea but building office space there. Whether the plaza is built over the station or not, it was agreed that it should be centrally located and preferably along The Ave. Several sites near the intersection with 43rd Street, including the outdated post office and single-story commercial buildings, also present opportunities for acquisition. Rather than waiting for properties to come up for sale on the market or resorting to eminent domain, the consultants plan to recommend aggressively talking to property owners who may be thinking about selling.

Other thoughts that came up during the discussion period were specific suggestions for each of the above ideas, such as ensuring maintenance funding is adequate and that buildings surrounding the public spaces enable “eyes on the street” to promote safety. One audience member suggested studying a freeway lid over I-5 between 45th and 50th Streets, similar to the idea for downtown lids. The Ave is identified as a future streetcar route that will connect to Eastlake and downtown, a concept I explored in detail in another post. The idea of closing it off to car traffic and converting it to a pedestrian mall was also brought up by the audience. Other ideas for The Ave include additional street trees or a planted median north of 50th Street, where the street widens. And though it’s a less likely candidate for a north-south green spine, I’ve also done some preliminary designs for a road diet on 15th Avenue that includes protected bike lanes and additional street trees.

With this meeting, the formal public process comes to an end and the consultants and city staff will work to publish the updated neighborhood parks plan over the next few months. A draft of the neighborhood upzoning is also to be released the early spring, which is a chance for residents and businesses to provide further input on the growth of this vibrant urban center. Signup for updates on the U-District’s urban design project page.

Scott Bonjukian is a graduate student at the University of Washington’s Department of Urban Design and Planning. He writes about local and regional planning issues at his personal blog, The Northwest Urbanist.

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Scott Bonjukian is a car-free urban designer with a passion for sustainable and efficient cities. With degrees in architecture and urban planning, his many interests include neighborhood design, public space and street design, transit systems, pedestrian and bicycle planning, local politics, and natural resource protection. He primarily cross-posts from his blog at The Northwest Urbanist and advocates for a variety of progressive land use and transportation solutions.

12 COMMENTS

  1. However, the U-District also currently lacks an adequate amount of open
    space, with a three acre deficit by city standards.

    Right, which just shows how ridiculous the city’s standards are. The U-District, to anyone who walks there, has way more open space than anywhere west or Magnolia. Look at all that green on the map.

    The University of
    Washington, the city’s largest employer and a magnet for youth and
    talent from around the world, is steadily growing. But its 600 acre main
    campus isn’t open to neighborhood residents for recreation and events.

    How do you define recreation? If you mean walking, it is very open. It doesn’t close, from my estimation, which is way better than just about any park in the city. Why, just last night I walked through campus, on my way back from watching the Husky basketball team beat SDSU. It was a very pleasant walk, but that doesn’t count as recreation I suppose. And the game, the biggest game in town, doesn’t count as an event, nor did the youth symphony performance in Meany Hall, etc.

    I don’t mean to criticize the report, but the last thing The Ave needs is a huge plaza. There are big plazas right next door. You can’t just say “we are growing because of all these students” and then ignore the wide open campus that they all go to. That is just silly.

    Frankly, there are lots and lots of places that need parks more than this area. Not that these ideas are all bad. Capping the freeway would be great. Road diets and other pedestrian focused amenities are really good as are midblock pass-throughs. But let’s not pretend this is Northgate. It isn’t. The Ave is a marvelous little slice of urban life (similar to Toronto, in my opinion) right next to a huge, sprawling, absolutely beautiful campus. Getting rid of the wall on the west side of the campus is a great idea, since that would allow for easier access. But let’s not forget the big picture here. There are only a few things wrong with the U-District: the freeway, 45th (which is way too wide) and the lack of ground floor retail along many of the areas.

    • On the one hand, I think the report does ignore what should be included as open space for the neighbourhood. Many people at the forums noted that the number was meaningless and shouldn’t be used as a talking point. Personally, I was annoyed when people quoted it. However, most people agreed that space to serve the core of the neighbourhood would be a positive thing. The Ave lacks that currently. Do you do that with a central open space? Do you do that by taking ROW back for leisure? Do you do a mixture? Do you do neither? That’s the crux of the issue.

      Fundamentally, the U District’s open spaces have been focused on the water, at the UW, and at the ballfield near 50th and I-5. All of these are at the fringes of the neighbourhood core, and the pocket parks really don’t function well–but they could with improvement.

      I could go to the UW, but I’m not inclined to as a non-student, non-employee. This is especially the case because 15th Ave NE is effectively a barrier and the UW further has literally put barriers up. Those can be softened, but functionally, additional space–however you do that–in the core is desirable. So I think it’s important to consider the needs of people who aren’t going to the fringes for their open space needs. I’m not advocating any one thing though.

      • I guess it depends on how you define the neighborhood core. One might consider the core of the U-District to be the UW itself, but I won’t go there. I would consider the core of the business district to be the Ave, between 45th and 41st. I’m pretty sure this has the biggest concentration of shops in the area (and has for the last forty years, which is as long as I can remember).

        I’m not sure how 15th is much of a barrier. There are entrances on every intersection, as well as a great overpass which blends extremely well with the Ave, via the Admissions Office building (the building between 15th and the Ave and 41st and Campus Parkway). In other words, if you are on the Ave south of 45th then you can simply head east at any intersection (one block). It is really only if you are walking along 15th and suddenly decide to head to campus that the wall is a problem. This is no different than Volunteer Park, for example — in fact it is better, because you can’t walk along the east side of Volunteer Park and the cemetery forms a bit of a barrier.

        You can, of course, find a spot that it a long way from a park. But you can find that in almost any Seattle neighborhood, even the ones that are very good as far as parks go. The Central Area is a good example. If you are at Madison and Denny (one might call the heart of the area), where do you go if you want a nice walk in a park? You can head to a ball field or a pocket park, but my guess is you walk to the arboretum or Volunteer Park. Or maybe Cal Anderson, which is smaller, but still very nice.

        The same is true if you start out at 50th and 12th in the U-District. The playground is closest, but Cowen/Ravenna or the UW campus aren’t much further, and they are way nicer.

        Now imagine if you are at Northgate. You have tiny little parks and you have to cross big streets to get to a decent sized ball field. Probably the closest really nice park is Maple Leaf Reservoir, but that is a long ways, and even though it is very pretty (thank you very much, Seattle Parks and whoever else was responsible) it isn’t that big. The closest big park is probably Green Lake (which is a very long ways away). It gets worse as you go north of there (unless you like to golf).

        So, back to the UW, while I don’t think it is parks priority, I wouldn’t mind a new park where it is most needed, around 52nd and 12th. That is probably the farthest away from a big park that you can get in the area. But I wouldn’t mess with the Ave — that would take away from the best thing the neighborhood has going for it (a lively business area). That sort of thing reminds me of the Boston urban renewal mess. Yuck. But I would have no problem with making University Playground bigger, or adding a pocket park in the area.

        But I still think the best thing is probably the most expensive thing, which is to cap the freeway. This would be huge, and be great for everyone. The area actually has a pretty good pedestrian grid (for Seattle). You can avoid busy streets, as most of the streets go through. It is only the freeway that makes it so bad. It forces people onto very busy, fairly ugly streets (45th and 50th). Capping it anywhere north of 45th would be great at both connecting neighborhoods and providing green space and would be strongly supported by everyone in the city.

        • As much as I like the idea of capping I-5, I’m not sure what that really gets you. It’d be a large dead space unless there’s a commitment to activate with high and medium density development. It’s an expensive proposition whatever the case. But, this was brought up during the meetings.

          A new park space is already in the works for the gravel site at the Community Center. It’s not big, but it will be something.

          Definitions are ambiguous when talking about places. It’s clear that there is an active core focused on The Ave between 47th and 41st, with the main portion just south of 45th and north of 41st. Of course, being the neighbourhood that it is, it is polycentric with activity.

          Most people would agree that the pedestrian bridge across 15th is dismal at best. Even at the meeting, people were asking to “tear down that wall”. UW staff agreed that totally revising Campus Way and the lead up to Red Square is desireable. Further, they recognised that 15th Avenue is an awful barrier. It’s loud, dark, and devoid of activity. New development could fix this. Schmitz Hall is slated for demolition and a superior building to replace it. The Bookstore parking lot is also slated for a new building.

          UW staff understood that permeability and activity has lacked with campus developments in the past, and they want to fix that so that 15th Avenue will be a much more active and pleasant place to be. That means fixing both sides of it as development opportunities present themselves. The inward focus of the campus has literally created walls for no functional purpose. I cannot emphasise enough how much of a barrier 15th Avenue is.

          Arguing that UW park space counts as park space is a touchy subject. As a non-student, I’ll say that the space definitely is not as inviting as you may think. There’s a strong disconnect, and again, that has a lot to do with the division of 15th Avenue. It’s a two-block walk for me–and I will never do it–unless I have another purpose to go onto the UW campus. Many other non-student residents and business owners share the same sentiment. I’m not really sure how to describe this phenomenon, but I assure you that it is real, and it does matter. And thus, you will find few incumbent residents argue for it as a true public space. Softening the edges of campus and making them truly accessible as public spaces could prove successful in the future if the UW actually does pursue that–and I hope the neighbourhood works with the UW to continue advocating for that.

          In any case, the Post Office is going to be vacated soon, and that site is fairly abysmal–aside from the large windows on The Ave and the signage/lamplight. Hopefully those elements could be preserved, but it seem like that could be site on The Ave which could serve as an effective open space. It could easily be activated with new development and open up on three sides–one of which could enhance the pedestrian alleyway.

          I agree with many that the District lacks adequate open space. I’m not married to any one idea or means to bring more of it. However, I also don’t want to waste sites with open space that won’t be functional and may harm opportunities for other uses. It’s for this reason why I strongly oppose an open space at the future light rail station, and that I don’t want to bother acquiring most of the lots on The Ave to achieve such a goal.

          I think other neighbourhoods need quality open spaces, too. However, places like Jackson Park are intrinsically different from the U District. Their needs and desires just aren’t the same.

          • >> Most people would agree that the pedestrian bridge across 15th is dismal at best.

            Nonsense. It is extremely popular, and it is obvious why, when you consider the topography. Perhaps the best way to explain it is to compare it to a typical pedestrian bridge. So, I’ll start with the famous (or should I say “infamous”) pedestrian bridge next to Franklin High School (site of the incident where a cop punched a female high school student). This bridge, like many pedestrian bridges, joins two areas which are at equal level. To get from one side to the other, you have to go up the stairs (or in this case, a ramp). As is often the case, the ramp circles around, taking a very long distance to actually accomplish your goal (to get to the other side). This combination (lots of extra distance and altitude gain) is why students routinely avoid the overpass, and just jaywalk (which lead to the confrontation, which lead to the punch).

            But the pedestrian bridge over 15th is different. The entrance to the bridge from the Red Square side is actually below the surface of Red Square. There is no additional elevation gain or loss. This makes it a very efficient way to reach the area, especially if you skirt Schmitz Hall. This deserves some explanation. From the corner of 41st and University, you walk up the three steps onto the building’s brick walkway. From there, you walk on level ground until you encounter the bridge. Unlike other bridges, this one goes in exactly the direction you want to go (assuming you are headed to Red Square). The bridge also has a great view.

            But I will say that the bridge does nothing if you are headed from the south, next to 15th and Campus Parkway. Speaking of Campus Parkway, it seems to me that this is exactly what is likely to be built — more little green spaces surrounded by streets. But Campus Parkway is not popular. No one frolics in the grass or throws a ball around there. At best it is a slightly more pleasant place to wait for a bus. By the way, it is also UW property, but I don’t think that changes anything in the way that it is used (but it does mean it isn’t counted as green space for the neighborhood when it obviously should be).

            Yes, without a doubt 15th sucks. The street itself could be improved, but let’s face it, one of these streets will likely have a lot of buses on it. When Link gets to the U-District, it is possible that the buses can skirt the edges of the community, but I’m not sure exactly how. This means that 15th is likely to carry a bunch of buses, and can only be shrunk so much. It is five lanes now; four lanes doesn’t make sense (and is more dangerous) and I doubt it can be shrunk to three. It would be great if it could, but that would be very difficult (from a transportation standpoint). So 15th will likely always be unpleasant to walk along.

            But improvements can be made. As I said, the southern crossing (around Campus Parkway) is terrible. The pedestrian bridge is great if you started to the northwest (41st and the Ave) but not good from the south. Moving north from there, 41st isn’t bad, but it is ugly and not very inviting. It is not clear if the southern end of 41st even goes through to the campus, or if you need to cross the street. Either way, it dumps you out on an awkward part of the campus (next to a street and the back end of some buildings). It gets a lot better to the north, as you get to 42nd, which leads into a nice lawn (Parrington) and the great walkways around it. 43rd is similar, although not quite as nice. 45th is one of the ugliest ways to get there, which is a shame, especially since it one the most convenient (for obvious reasons). You basically have to cut through the parking lot of the Burke Museum. There are a lot of trees here, but it is still a parking lot.

            So I would improve things on both ends. The area along 15th between Campus Parkway and 41st is terrible, and should be made more pedestrian friendly. Likewise, it shouldn’t be too hard to get rid of a bunch of parking in the Burke Museum, and make a nice pedestrian pathway through there. If Schmitz Hall is torn down, I would push hard to keep the same platform and walkway. Again, this is a great way to get into Red Square (and similar areas) if you are starting at 41st and The Ave (or someplace to the west).

            But probably the biggest problem with 15th are the buildings that are on the other side. For the most part, there are parking lots and (at best) apartment buildings. While the apartments are generally really nice to look out, the lack of retail isn’t, and makes for a very bland street. Like I said, unless the street goes on a diet, though, it will never be as pleasant as nearby streets. Unless you are actually working or living on 15th, I don’t think it matters. In other words, if you are on The Ave close to 43rd, you just cut over on 43rd. Same with 42nd. On 41st you use the bridge. But Campus Parkway (and areas to the south) are a problem and the UW could do more to improve that.

            As for not willing to walk two blocks, I’m sure you can find plenty of people who feel the same way about any park. If you live half way between Cal Anderson and Volunteer Park, you will have to walk more than two blocks, but no one is proposing carving out a park there because it really isn’t necessary.

            Maybe the difference is topographic. I get this. People don’t want to walk up hills, and this area has them (although they aren’t huge). The upper campus sits on the high ground for the area (and not just the campus). To get to campus you have to go up a little bit one way or another. Lower campus is harder (and less pleasant) to get to, unless you are on a bike. This might be another area where improvements could be made. Crossing Pacific is terrible. But again, this means losing a bit of elevation, and this is unpleasant.

            I’m sorry if the UW Campus does not seem inviting to you, but it sure does to me. I walk there all the time. I think the “we aren’t students and faculty” excuse is BS. If that really is how you (or other people) feel, I guess I would suggest you just deal with it. That is like saying, back in the day, that “I don’t feel comfortable at Volunteer Park because of all the gay guys”. Tough. It is a public park, and everyone has a right to use it. Likewise with the UW campus. Yes, you will be outnumbered by UW students — so what? You have every right to be there, just as you have every right to visit the arboretum (where the numbers might be less intimidating). Besides, what do you think will happen if they do build a park? Of course students will visit (assuming anyone visits).

            The arguments for more parkland are more practical than that. Folks don’t want to go uphill or walk very far to visit a park. I don’t blame them. I would argue the same thing, no matter where I lived. Everyone wants a park right outside their window. I’m sure you can find people three blocks from Greenlake saying they wish there was a park on the other side of the street. Or maybe they don’t like the style of park (too many ball fields, not enough ball fields, etc.). But that argument is just as ridiculous as this one. So I’m not surprised that “few incumbent residents argue for it as a true public space”. Why would they? Unlike the folks a few blocks from Greenlake, they have a nice handy loophole.

            Besides, a small park at the post office will only be convenient to the folks that are really close to there. If I happen to be on 42nd, and just want to stop and sit on a bench and eat a sandwich I think I will walk east a block and onto the campus. It is the same distance, and although I will have to cross 15th, the crossing is just fine there, and the trees (once I get there) are much nicer. If I want to go for a real walk, there is no comparison. I can see huge old growth trees, gardens with rare and interesting plants as well a blue heron rookery — and that is on a bad day. On a good day I can see Mount Rainier framed by classic old buildings in one of the nicest walkways in the city (site of the old world’s fare).

            Not that I would miss the post office. It is ugly and out of place. But that is precisely because it has open space, not because it lacks it. From “The Burger Place” to 42nd you have an unbroken stretch of shop after shop. This is great. Almost all of these places are tiny, which makes the street wonderful (e. g. even the 7-11 is hardly noticeable). I don’t even know how many Thai restaurants there are on this side of the street on this one block, even though I’m sure I’ve eaten at every one. But as you walk along there, the long, fun, wonderful stretch of commerce comes to a big, abrupt end. Not that the building is horrible, it’s just that it has an ugly setback, with no street presence. It is bland and boring as hell, which is what I fear a little pocket park would become. I think the only argument for replacing it with a park would be if the park had a specific recreational purpose — like a skate park. I don’t skate, but I could see that making sense.

            Meanwhile, a cap of the freeway would mean a park, just as any other park. But more to the point, it would connect neighborhoods. It would create a pathway that would enable pedestrians and bikes to travel peacefully in an area that has few alternatives. 47th, for example, is a very good street for pedestrians. Likewise with 53rd. If either street connected over the freeway, and there was enough buffer on the sides (so that it was more than a noisy bridge) it would prove to be extremely popular. I see plenty of people walking from one side to the other (over 45th or 50th). This number will increase as the number of people in the area increases and the light rail gets to the U-District. A more convenient, quieter pathway would probably increase that number, and this would be a great thing for the entire city, not just the neighborhood.

          • Just because people use it does not make it popular. There is no reason that it had to be elevated. That was a design choice when the Henry Art Gallery extension was constructed. The UW recognises that people do not like this elevated facility. It’s antithetical to an urban space. Yes, it is dismal. The grade could be modified to mimic Rainier Vista. The grade change is a mere 13 feet. That means that you only need 40 feet to mesh the grades together with a gradual incline. And that would enhance the experience for ADA.

            For what it’s worth, Campus Parkway is a public street, not UW owned. You can see that in King County Parcel Viewer. Cowlitz and Lincoln are examples of where the UW does own the street. It seems that you could capitalise on the boulevard there by ditching the median and building on to the north sidewalk, maybe even the south or recreating a small median and doing away with lanes. The benefit of course would be the sunlight shinning on the north side of the street, which could present an opportunity to add street trees and small parklet spaces that people could seek from the sidewalk. On the flipside, the active uses are on the south side of the street. Maybe making an extension of the sidewalk would be better suited there. The cafe could spill out to the street. I’m not sure what’s in store for the two new halls southwest of Brooklyn and Campus Pkwy. Maybe they’ll have active ground floor uses, too.

            My argument isn’t BS. I’m a genuine planner and would not argue for more public space if I didn’t believe it was absolutely necessary. I’m very conservative on the development of park spaces. My approach is generally quality over quantity. I review single-family plats developed all the time with park spaces that will rarely ever be used, and most likely pose an outright safety hazard to residents–yet they are required. So understand that I’m absolutely sincere. I also wouldn’t be making a claim about the UW not being inviting to non-students and non-employees if it weren’t true. It’s a reality. And as I noted, it’s a unique phenomenon that I can’t adequately describe. I wish I could. I also think there are solutions though that are worth trying. Even if the UW makes those changes, they are very likely to continue developing at the fringe of campus–as they should. It would enhance the space in my opinion and perhaps make existing and revised public spaces better. Naturally, that will lead to the softening of edges. Of course, that also means a reduction of open space even if they become more functionally usable.

            You can’t just create a parks and expect that people will use them. Throwing a cap won’t lead to connecting neighbourhoods necessarily. People feel uncomfortable going through spaces that aren’t activated or feel like there are eyes on them. At a certain point, a space becomes indefensible to an individual user (see Freeway Park). I can’t see a situation where an I-5 cap would be successful unless it was targeted to reconnect very specific portions by providing not only some green and bike/ped paths, but actual street for cars. We’re probably not going to see this: http://featuresblogs.chicagotribune.com/.a/6a00d834518cc969e20154366eba20970c-800wi
            Quieting the noise would be helpful. But a blanket cap, while conceptually sounds nice, doesn’t actually translate to nice. The last thing you want is someone to just walk or bike along 45th or 50th instead.

          • The bridge is a bridge. It allows you to cross 15th (a busy street) without waiting for a light. It does require going up stairs, but you have to gain that elevation somehow. Put a ramp there instead, and people would still use the bridge, to avoid the traffic (even if the ramp is more gradual). I see people doing that on various overpass bridges. To do so, they pay a significant penalty in terms of distance and elevation. With this one they don’t.

            I didn’t say your argument was BS. I said the argument that the parkland in the UW shouldn’t count as parkland is BS. Simply stating something as true doesn’t make it so. The university is open to the public. The arboretum is too. Do you feel unwelcome there?

            As a Washington State resident, I own the campus as much as anyone else. When the cherry trees bloom in the springtime, the newspaper runs a story, and huge numbers of people flock to the campus — are they all students? Of course not. I could go on, but you get the idea. Again, if you or your friends don’t feel welcome — tough it out. I’m sure a lot of straight folks feel weird on Capitol Hill — so tough it out. I’m sure there are parks on parts of town where everyone in the park speaks another language. So, tough it out. Just because you feel less welcome (as a straight English speaker) doesn’t mean the city should build a new park. Eventually you will learn to feel more welcome. Like I said, though, what makes you think a park — any park — in the area will make you feel differently. It will still have lots of students no matter where you put it, because it is the U (for university) district.

            Campus Parkway is run by the UW, based on this map: http://tinyurl.com/mbh6omx
            I have no idea who is right. I don’t think it makes any difference to anyone. That is my point. Look at it this way. Imagine the upper campus closes, and it goes back to the city. What then? Is there any difference? I hope not. Because if it is run like most of our parks, they will put a huge fence around it, with a handful of gated entrances, and close it at night. How welcoming is that?

            As to the cap, I completely disagree. A cap would be a game changer. I really don’t think you can create anything even approaching that otherwise. It would simply be too controversial or too small. I really think messing with the Ave would be a big mistake (and get a lot of people upset). You could maybe do something to the east, but there isn’t a lot of land there, and a lot of people will simply say “so what” to another pocket park. Besides, much of that land is (you guess it) owned by the UW. The exception (as I stated) would be a specific purpose park (like a skate park).

            The biggest challenge with a cap is the cost. But people will embrace a cap. I completely disagree with your assessment of the side streets in the area. This is the U-District we are talking about. Look at a census map, and you can see that there are plenty of people right up to the edges of the freeway. The other side has fewer people, but it is still vibrant, and very attractive. A good comparison is the new park that was created on Maple Leaf, over the old reservoir. This is a very busy park, and it has completely transformed the neighborhood. 12th Ave NE, north of the park, has seen a huge increase in the number of people walking those streets. It is no surprise why. Not only does the walk lead to a good park, but it connects the neighborhood. Prior to the park, you had to walk around 15th or Roosevelt. Both streets are arterials, and thus unpleasant to walk along. They also added significant distance. A freeway park in the area would do all of that, and more. The park, like the Maple Leaf Reservoir, would have a view. It would connect an area that already has plenty of pedestrian traffic (more than Maple Leaf had before the park). The streets are much worse than those on Maple Leaf (because of the freeway, but also because they are simply busier and wider). The park would serve as the connecting point for a neighborhood greenway (a concept that is quite popular amongst city residents). This would, of course, be much better than a typical greenway, because it solves the worse problem in the area (crossing I-5).

            Which is not to say that I think freeway park is a masterpiece. I don’t. I think it is way too industrial feeling (there is way too much cement). But that is where guys like you come in. Build a big, nice park (again, Maple Leaf Reservoir is a very popular example) and people in the area will flock to it. The big question is the cost and the topography of the freeway. I forget where the roads dip enough to cap, but that might limit the options quite a bit.

          • I really don’t believe people will use a bridge in lieu of a reasonable at-grade option. People constantly avoid skybridges whenever they can, even with moderate traffic. 15th Avenue is not that wide and speeds are pretty slow. There’s a real opportunity to fix 15th Avenue, which isn’t all that trafficked at Campus Parkway, by making a at-grade pedestrian facility. I’m not willing to test this theory. The right decision is to simply remove the bridge and slope the entrance. And, I’m certain that the UW will eventually do this based upon what staff has indicated.

            I already noted that using Comp Plan policies for park space ratios and then intentionally excluding places like the UW from a neighbourhood is crap. The definition of a neighbourhood is always fuzzy. It’s much more useful looking at the quality of spaces as opposed to the quantity if you want to make a case for something. That’s far less ambiguous as numbers and lines.

            Just to point out, the UW map you shared is meant to be illustrative of the main UW campus areas and properties. You’ll also note that Pacific Ave, 15th Ave, and Montlake Blvd are included as part of “campus”, which is simply untrue. I am 100% certain that Campus Parkway SDOT-owned, it’s not a private street owned by the UW–though they have funded improvements there. It’s for this reason that SDOT only put bike lanes in from 15th to Brooklyn Ave on 40th St for example.

            Your contributions as a member of the taxpaying public does not guarantee you right or access to all “public” spaces. And, if you’ll note certain places (like the rock wall) on the UW campus expressly prohibit non-students and non-staff despite being unsecured and public spaces. I’m not suggesting that’s why I feel spaces along the UW’s edges feel exclusive or unwelcoming to wider public. It’s deeper than that. Plus, rules are meant to broken when they’re absurd. I’m not interested in arguing the campus spaces issue. You can choose to reject it if you wish.

            I want to like the idea of an I-5 cap. I can see a pathway for it, but it isn’t at this particular juncture. It’s deeply expensive and must be activated. It would have to nearly pay for itself if were ever to make it onto the City’s agenda.

            I can’t see a situation in which established neighbours (Wallingford, S Greenlake, and the NW U District) would be willing to do what’s necessary to activate such a space, and you seem to recognise this by your previous comment. Certainly, it could be a great trail and tie the neighbourhoods together again. But, I doubt this could happen until the NW area of the U District densifies–which will not occur over for at least another 20 years as they are excluded in the rezone.

            If was economically feasible, you probably could pull it off from 43rd to 50th where there wouldn’t be opposition. However, that would require its own unique planning though and we’re not even talking about that right now. Perhaps that’s an idea I might pitch

          • I agree with most of what you said, but I disagree with a couple of points. First of all, people do, generally, prefer an at-grade option over a sky bridge. But there are exceptions. One of them is nearby, over Pacific. There are two sky bridges, and while they have their flaws, they are very popular. It is purely anecdotal, but I happened to be in the neighborhood, and walked over one of them today. I saw someone else walking on the surface. She was outnumbered by the folks walking above. Another example is being built, and I think you will agree that lots of people will use the bridge over Montlake Boulevard, once that is done.

            The reason that this sky bridge is popular, and would continue to be popular even if there were an at-grade option right there is for the reasons I mentioned. There is simply no cost, no extra work, if you will, to using the sky bridge. This is in great contrast to the vast majority of sky bridges (or overpasses) in this city (or any other city). I can tell you anecdotally, that both my wife and I would prefer taking that bridge over walking the surface for different reasons, although the first reason should be obvious to anyone who has ever taken it — it has a great view. There is a marvelous view an old brick apartment building (a relative rarity in Seattle). On a nice day, you can see the water and the sunset. But aside from that, there are a couple different reasons why we would take it: speed and comfort. I would take it because it is faster. As I said, there is no speed penalty for taking this sky bridge (unlike most of them). If I’m standing on 41st and the Ave, and race you (at walking pace) to Red Square, I’ll get there faster than you by taking the bridge, nine out of ten times. That is because most of the time, you will spend your time waiting for the light. Speed aside, my wife would take the bridge just because she hates traffic. She is afraid that someone might kill her (a justifiable concern, to be honest). I’ve walked with her, and she has simply refused to follow paths that I find much more convenient, just because she really doesn’t like cars on busy streets. Simply put, if you put in a nice, graded pathway right up to the George Washington statue itself, she would rather take the overpass. As would I (and I’m sure lots of other people).

            Second, the area just to the east of the freeway is very populous, and is growing. For example, the census block that is between 45th and 50th next to the freeway, has over 25,000 people per square mile, despite the fact that it includes a fair amount of green space (University Playground and the area between the 7th Ave NE and the freeway). A quick view from the air shows why: there are lots and lots of smaller
            apartment buildings all over the place, along with an occasional tower and some newer midsize buildings. Even the houses are big, and
            house lots of people (i. e. student housing).

            A quick look at the construction plans in the area, or even a short walk through there, shows that it is also growing. That is what is interesting and worthwhile to consider — while an upgrade in zoning will increase the population in the area — the area will grow (and is growing) already. This is in contrast to plenty of other areas, that will only grow if zoning changes.

            Speaking of which, the area west of the freeway is not populous, and it is unlikely that it will have much of a rezone (unless it is part of a general, city wide rezone). But it is a lot more densely populated than Maple Leaf. It is in the same general category as much of Ballard, although it isn’t experiencing as much growth. The fact that Maple Leaf (a relatively sparsely populated area) can suddenly feel like a big city, with lots of people walking on the sidewalk, shows how important these regional connector parks can be.

            It may be too expensive. It may also not be practical (like I said, a lot depends on how much I-5 is in a ditch). But it is, by far, the biggest chunk of available land in the area. It is the only park in the area that one could expect to build that would be roughly the same size as the Maple Leaf Reservoir addition. It could connect neighborhoods in ways that haven’t been connected in a long time. It could not only be a great greenway, but arguably part of the greatest greenway in the city (connecting Woodland Park and the U-District in a way that would otherwise be impossible).

            References: http://www.arcgis.com/home/webmap/viewer.html?useExisting=1&layers=302d4e6025ef41fa8d3525b7fc31963a
            https://mapsengine.google.com/map/viewer?mid=z_Uf08eywQjk.k-13ENVDTX1g

          • “I think other neighbourhoods need quality open spaces, too. However,
            places like Jackson Park are intrinsically different from the U
            District. Their needs and desires just aren’t the same.”

            Not that I said they were. I only brought up Jackson Park because it the closest big park to Northgate. My point is simple. By just about every reasonably measure, parks in the U-District should not be a priority. There are plenty of other places, places with plenty of people, that need it more. Northgate is one. Lake City is another. Neither place is as populous as the U-District, but Lake City is pretty close (and both are growing). But neither place has parks nearby that are are good as the ones close to the U-District — it isn’t even close.

          • I fundamentally disagree. Open space is a top priority for the U District–not *the* top, but it is up there with all other capital investments of the public. As I noted, their desires are different. Either Northgate isn’t organised (and that could be for a lot of reasons) enough to ask for big changes, or they don’t care. Hence, their desires aren’t the same.

            For the record, Northgate does have a large park north of the Target/Best Buy. Of course, that hardly serves the needs of people at Thornton Place. I really do not believe comparing the U District to other places is helpful. Just because they lack quality park space does not mean the U District should have substandard open spaces whether that is a pedestrian mall, improved green streets, or gathering spaces.

          • I don’t think you can judge the desire of a neighborhood based on whether one community group is more organized than another. Using that logic, we should let zoning decisions be based primarily on neighborhood groups. We really don’t want that, do we?

            I mentioned the park you mentioned in my original post. But you can’t really think that the little park (Hubbard Homestead) is anywhere near as nice as Ravenna, let alone this or this.

            I don’t think the U District should have substandard open spaces, because I don’t think the U District has substandard open spaces. They have the U. Getting to the U could be easier, but it doesn’t require climbing a fence. It is open day and night. My main point of comparing the two is that while I have no problem with improving the park experience in the area, I don’t think they need it nearly as much as many other parts of the city. Nor do I think it would make as much of a difference as in other parts of the city. Rent is sky high there, and one of the big reasons is the U itself (it is very attractive). I wish I could afford a place in the neighborhood. Adding additional parkland won’t make much difference. Quieting some of the streets and seeing retail growth on streets other than the Ave would probably make a bigger difference. As would capping the freeway (since many live close to the freeway). But in other neighborhoods (like Northgate or Lake City) having a big, interesting park could make a huge difference. Both actually have huge parking lots where parks could be built without tearing down anyone’s home or business.

            Besides, is Hubbard Homestead Park really what you want for the U-District? A park that on a very nice sunny day, has absolutely nobody on it: http://goo.gl/maps/WQ1XP

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