If you’ve ever spent a day at Seattle’s famous Pike Place Market, you can probably envision the following scene: You have one arm holding a bouquet of flowers and the other arm weighed down with fresh produce and donuts from the Daily Dozen as you step out onto the cobblestone street. Momentarily blinded by a rare burst of sunlight or distracted by a flying fish, you don’t realize you’ve stepped in the path of someone’s rental car until you hear a honk. You attempt to get out of the way by squeezing past the throng of other market-goers trickling between the gaps in between vehicles, but it’s too late—you’ve created a traffic snarl and now everyone is mad at you.
That imagined scene became a reality this past weekend on Easter Sunday when a woman walking through Pike Place Market was hit by a car. The driver then allegedly attempted to flee the scene but was ultimately arrested. The full details of the story, as reported by The Stranger, are worth checking out. It’s quite the wild ride.
It begs the question: Why is the main thoroughfare at Pike Place Market open to general auto traffic when it causes so much friction between the market’s pedestrians and drivers? It’s a fair inquiry that has sparked an ongoing debate, starting last November when Councilmember Andrew Lewis commented on Twitter that it was a priority.
Yup. Meeting soon with the new traffic engineer to talk about next steps. Big priority for 2022.
— Andrew J. Lewis (@LewisforSeattle) November 20, 2021
As of now, Lewis has yet to propose legislation but told Eater Seattle earlier this month that he has discussed the issue with the Seattle Department of Transportation, market business owners, and other stakeholders. There appears to be widespread support for limiting vehicle access in Pike Place Market, with a poll by the Northwest Progressive Institute showing that 81% of Seattle residents were in favor of the idea. Not long after Lewis addressed the topic on Twitter, the Seattle Times editorial board asserted that “one of Seattle’s greatest treasures deserves to be elevated into one of the world’s finest outdoor pedestrian spaces,” and warned that “Lewis’ stakeholder discussions must move with urgency to keep the topic from stagnating.” The Stranger also bemoaned the pace at which the discussion has moved, saying that “… no list of stakeholders can ever be complete; there will always be new opinions to consider, new organizations to check with, new passers-by eager to offer their thoughts and even more eager to take offense when their concerns do not carry the day.” Clearly there is a consensus that the sooner Pike Place Market is car-free, the better.
Actually, not so fast—as the Stranger foretold, a new opinion has entered the debate. In an op-ed published by the Seattle Times on April 8, the authors argued that “[vehicle] circulation and access are critical to the health and vitality of a public market” and that “the Market would be lessened without the traffic spine and interaction of transport and service-vehicle access which is essential to the health of the retail and accessible short-term parking.” Nearly 200 commenters weighed in on the piece, debating the numerous gray areas—such as accessibility for delivery trucks and the disabled—of what is clearly not a black-and-white issue.
So what will it take to make Pike Place a traffic-free zone for its daily crowd of shoppers and tourists? If it is truly a priority this year for Councilmember Lewis, the next step would be to wrap up the discussion with stakeholders and introduce legislation for consideration. If this doesn’t happen by the end of 2022, then we can surmise that the discussion was just that: a discussion, and nothing more. In the meantime, maybe look both ways before you step out onto the cobblestone street of Pike Place this spring.