The First Hill Public Realm Action Plan


Connecting parks & public space to enhance mobility & livability in First Hill

The City of Seattle will be holding an open house to discuss the First Hill Public Realm Action Plan on January 7th, 2015 at Town Hall from 5-7pm. Details are available here.

First Hill Public Real Action Plan AreaFirst Hill is one of the densest urban neighborhoods in the City of Seattle, home to some of the city’s largest employers. The number of jobs and people are increasing, and yet the neighborhood remains critically deficient of public open space. The First Hill Improvement Association (FHIA)–representing a consortium of residents, visitors, businesses, and major institutions–has long-advocated the need for more public spaces in the neighborhood to remain a vibrant and livable neighborhood.

As one of the few neighborhoods zoned for high-rise residential buildings, available land comes at a tremendous premium, making open space acquisition prohibitively expensive, and in short supply. The Seattle Department of Planning and Development (DPD), Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), and Seattle Department Parks and Recreation (DPR), are proposing a variety of approaches beyond acquiring private land to provide the necessary open space. By utilizing the existing street right-of-way, vast improvements in neighborhood connectivity and open park space can be created at a much lower cost.

Thus, the Public Realm Action Plan was created, which includes “the development of near term implementation strategies to expand the public space network through right of way reallocation, private development partnership and strategic site selection for potential acquisition.” SDOT and FHIA identified key streets and intersections in the First Hill neighborhood and have developed new street concept plans for adoption into the city’s Right of Way Improvement Manual.

Street concept plans are guides for street and sidewalk improvements that can be made over time as new development takes place.

Prototype park tested this past summer on First Hill
Four concepts are currently being studied. DPR is planning a prototype park to be located at the intersection of Union St, University St, and Boylston Ave in order to test concepts and gauge the neighborhood reaction/opinion. A Street Scrabble tournament was held at this location, to much success, this past summer. SDOT would develop this plan with allocated funds in conjunction with DPD and DPR, as soon as this spring.

Ninth Ave and University St at the top of Freeway Park’s Piggott Corridor will see pedestrian safety improvements and the creation of new public seating and landscaping. SDOT would develop this plan with allocated funds in conjunction with DPD and DPR, as soon as this spring.

Eighth Ave between Seneca St and James St designs are likely to be implemented by private development. Projects in motion at Eighth Ave and Madison St and Eighth Ave and Columbia St could choose to implement these streetscape designs, and are likely to do so given because it is both the community’s stated preference and the City’s adopted designs. The design for Eighth Ave includes pedestrian safety improvements at intersections and crosswalks, activation zones, and roadway adjustments.

Terrace Avenue between Harborview Hall and the coming First Hill Streetcar stop on Boren Ave will see similar pedestrian and streetscape designs.

The Sorrento HotelFHIA identified Terry Avenue as a critical street to include in the Public Realm Action Plan, and funded the design. Focal points near the Sorrento and Virginia Mason, as well as St. James Cathedral. O’Dea, and the Frye Art Museum have been suggested as a woonerf, a shared space featuring curbless streets, enhanced landscaping and encourage use by pedestrians, cyclists in addition to vehicular traffic.

A woonerf is a living street implemented in the Netherlands and in Flanders. Techniques include shared space, level streets, traffic calming, and low speed limits.

The Terry Avenue design stretches from Spring St to Alder St, meeting up with future plans for greenways and parks as part of the Yesler Terrace redevelopment underway.

Unlike Bell St., the Terry Avenue plan would be implemented over time as various projects are developed on the street. Funding would come from various sources including, but not limited to, property developers and landowners located along the right-of-way. The Terry Avenue plan is also being designed to integrate with the Madison BRT project’s pedestrian improvement and open space goals.


Special thanks to Alex Hudson/FHIA, Jenny Kempson/FRAMEWORK, and Susan McLaughlin/SDOT for their assistance.

The City of Seattle will be holding an open house discussing the First Hill Public Realm Action Plan on January 7th, 2015 at Town Hall from 5-7pm. Details are available here.

Full Disclosure: I am a member of the First Hill Improvement Association and sit on the Transportation and Open Spaces Committees

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Gordon is a native New Yorker who wisely chose to leave the Northeast in the early 1990s. A past resident of Belltown, and Queen Anne, he currently calls First Hill home. He is a board member of the First Hill Improvement Association (FHIA) as well as the FHIA Transportation Committee Chair and is constantly looking for ways to improve transportation up the hill.

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Al Dimond

Any thoughts on what does and doesn’t work about existing small parks and park-streets? Particularly in that area… to me, parts of Freeway Park are great and other parts ought to be bulldozed. I don’t really know if anyone gets much use out of Plymouth Pillars or the Boylston/Marion/Broadway triangle. I think the Boylston/Union/University plan would be more active than either because its location is better — it’s not only on the way somewhere, but on a few different paths, and in a place you might actually want to pause.

@rossb: I think there’s actually a direct stair connection to University that isn’t on Google Maps. I’m not totally sure, since it’s not on my typical way through and I don’t have a perfect idea where all the goofy little paths go. I’ll try to check it out next time I’m running or walking by there, and add it in if it’s there.


Thanks Al, I haven’t been down in that area for years (I should do that sometime). As far as your other points are concerned, I agree. The Boylston/Union/University area has a lot of people around there, and is already a good pedestrian route (and would become more popular by following that plan).

I think the Plymouth Pillars are used, but not that much because of the noise of the freeway. It reminds me of Victor Steinbrueck park; people walk up to the edge to get the views, then back away because of the noise. Cap the freeway between Pike and Pine and that would be one of the most popular parks in the city (because of the views and because it would make for a popular walkway).

Boylston/Marion/Broadway is just not that nice of an area. The buildings are a lot uglier than the ones by Boylston/Union/University and Broadway is a lot wider and a lot less pleasant than Broadway (at that end of town).


Sounds like really good ideas. I especially like the woonerf idea for Terry. That is a nice street for walking as is, and it doesn’t get much traffic (since it doesn’t go very far on either end) so it won’t cost drivers much to close it down (or make it “local access only”). I would not make the parking general purpose, though. Maybe delivery vehicles or disabled permit users only (or something very limited like that). I wouldn’t want cars going back and forth there all the time trolling for parking.

With some of the other ideas, especially the ones close to freeway park, it would be nice to grab some views. I don’t remember the area well enough to recommend anything, but if there is any way that views could be carved out of the freeway park area that would be a huge bonus. I know that the little pocket parks around the city that have views are immensely popular (while the other ones aren’t).

Speaking of Freeway Park, it would be nice to see if this can be extended as part of this. I would fill in the areas close to here, which would mean sections 5, 6, 7 and 8 on this mapcomment image). Even a little bit of work in this area would be a big improvement. For example, if capping all of section of section 6 proves too expensive, then at least make walking on University less of a chore (