Hey, I Like Your Streetscape

This section of 5th Avenue between Union and University could well be the best piece of streetscape in all of downtown Seattle.  All it takes is a few basic ingredients:  small-scale storefronts, wide sidewalk, mid-block crossings, street trees, human-scale lighting. 

The 5th Ave roadway is fairly narrow here—three travel lanes and no parking—which makes crossings easier and helps create a cozy sense of enclosure between the two street walls.  Buildings are 5 to 7 stories on the East, though on the West it’s more of a hodgepodge with an unfortunate gap at Rainier Square.   Perhaps due to the “visual friction” of a narrow roadway, car traffic tends to move relatively slowly.

It’s simply a nice place to be a pedestrian.  And it’s really not that hard to create these spaces.

9 Responses to “Hey, I Like Your Streetscape”

  1. David Sucher

    Yes it’s pleasant but it is not a good model for most urban streets as it has no on-street parking.

  2. Frank

    “car traffic moves slowly”

    because you have to dodge people illegally stopping while dropping off workers in the morning, or picking up 5th avenue theater folks or picking up workers again at night.

    or because traffic is backed up trying to turn left onto university (aka i5 north). or traffic is backed up (in 2 lanes) waiting to turn left at cherry (aka I5 south)

  3. BrianK

    It’s definitely very nice and therefore seductive to us urban geeks (e.g. HAC readers). Though if we’re talking “best”, I wonder why more sidewalk-intensive businesses are in short supply (signaled by cafe chairs, etc). Unless I just haven’t seen them? As pleasing as it is to be a pedestrian here, I don’t think of the area as one linger in. Perhaps due to the N-S orientation? Not likely – see Belltown. Maybe the continuous slope?

    It’s true, not every block needs to be packed with cafes. But since you used the term “streetscape”, which speaks more to appearance than use, the next question is: are there great streets that are not great streetscapes? I don’t think it’s just an academic question…

  4. Frank

    please tell me where the bus stop is on this block. also tell me where the elevator is to the bus tunnel. it looks nice on this block, but it’s a failure as an arterial by car, and a failure on foot.

    if it was an obscure cross street full of cafes, i’d be totally with you, but i don’t see a street scape. i see a failed block, that is lucky that trees were planted and haven’t been attacked by “progress”

  5. JoshMahar

    I love the street Dan! All of the things you mention are exactly why its such an awesome street. Mid block crossings (man I wish Broadway had those!) and no on-street parking. @1 why do good urban streets need on-street parking? Everyone says they create a nice barrier from the street but really they just create an ugly wall of cars that limits sights to the other side and doesn’t allow people to scamper across at any time. No parking really makes the street feel more pedestrian friendly because pedestrians feel more connected to the actual street, visually and physically.

    @2: you are absolutely correct. the lack of on-street parking or turning lanes makes driving very frustrating and helps limit speeds. In fact, a street like this is such a simple way to increase the “cost” of driving (ie. making it difficult) and thus encouraging people to use other modes of transit.

    I also think the lack of street cafes, or outdoor seating has very little to do with the physical set-up of the street and much more to do with the environment that already exists here. Its a high end shopping area, not a neighborhood. People are here to buy things not to relax from a hard days work and watch the world go by. And to its credit I’m pretty sure there is at least one cafe with some outdoor seating across from Urban Outfitters.

  6. Barman

    I’m more partial to 1st Ave S and Occidental through Pioneer Square.

  7. Joe G

    @4 The bus stop is one block up between university and seneca and there is no elevator to the bus tunnel because the tunnel runs underneath third not fifth.

    I have to agree that this is one of the best streetscapes in the city. Pioneer Square is amazing as well, but the sidewalks are small and in major disrepair. Having the opportunity to walk this block every morning to work is a god send.

  8. Michael

    Now contrast that to the polar opposite- 3rd avenue.

    I used to walk fifth every day to go to work. Its a beautiful street. It does lack some character due to the high end shopping places (which I never saw anyone enter or exit), but I think its pretty great. One thing that might be a difference maker is the presence of street sweepers. I think that the street may have a group that is dedicated to keeping it clean at all times. Not entirely sure about that though.

  9. Joe G

    @8 Unico manages several of the properties in the vicinity of this block and their staff keeps it clean.

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