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April 20, 2000

Green Streets: a better way to go

Understanding and easier permitting will help make the concept a reality

By KENICHI NAKANO
Nakano Associates

From Rome to Kyoto, it is the connections within a city that make it livable and walkable. These connections extend from a good public transportation network to pedestrian-friendly sidewalks. Nakano Associates has begun to explore these ideas in planning Green Streets for the Downtown and Denny Regrade neighborhoods.

What are Green Streets and how do they benefit our communities?

Green Streets are specially designated to give preference to pedestrian and non-motorized traffic before accommodating automobile traffic. The designation is given to existing, underused streets that could be re-configured to serve primarily pedestrian needs. Their new designs may include elements such as wide paths, seating areas and large planting beds. The roadway is diminished in importance, with narrowed and restricted lanes to slow traffic and less space dedicated to parking.

Denny Triangle green street
A proposed Green Street in the Denny Triangle
Courtesy Nakano Associates
Green Streets bring many amenities to the city and its residents. They make way for nature to be introduced into neighborhoods. Intimate outdoor spaces for users provide incentives for pedestrian to use the street and thereby help to revitalize the neighborhood. Unique features designed into the streetscape help users form a mental connection with the place and feel a sense of pride and ownership.

The Seattle Green Streets were established as a Directors Rule by the department of Design, Construction and Land Use in 1993. Although it has been a part of the land use code for seven years, very few Green Streets have actually been constructed because of a cumbersome permitting process and lack of funding. To remedy this situation and encourage construction, the city is currently working to improve the implementation process.

There are 19 designated Green Streets in six downtown neighborhoods. In Belltown there are Bay, Eagle, Clay Cedar, Vine, Bell and Blanchard streets. In the Commercial Core, there are University, Spring and Marion streets. In Pioneer Square, there are Occidental and South Main streets. In the International District, there are Maynard Avenue and South Weller Street. In the Denny Triangle, there are Terry and 9th Avenue and Lenora Street. And in the Cascade neighborhood, there are East Thomas and East Harrison streets. In addition, many more Green Streets have recently been designated through the neighborhood planning process.

Each of these Green Streets are classified as one of four types:

Type I: Traffic Prohibited: Motorized vehicular traffic, except emergency vehicles and off-hour service delivery vehicles, is prohibited. This definition applies to street segments that are not needed for vehicular circulation. Occidental Avenue South in Pioneer Square is a good example of this type. Another is the University Street Hillclimb that connects the First/Second Avenue neighborhood with the waterfront.

Type II: Local Access: These street segments have been determined necessary for local circulation but unneeded for overall vehicular traffic. Vehicular traffic is limited to local access to sites along the street segment. Continuous vehicle movement between blocks is restricted. Vine Street in the Belltown neighborhood is an excellent example of a Type II Green Street.

Type III: Continuous Traffic: Continuous traffic is allowed on this type of Green Street. Vehicular access to sites within the block and traffic movement between blocks continues, but widened sidewalks, landscaping and pedestrian amenities are provided within the right-of-way. 9th Avenue and Terry Avenue are Type III Green Streets in the Denny Triangle neighborhood.

Type IV: Little or No Traffic: Little or no traffic is expected on this type of Green Street. Rights-of-way in this category would include street ends that could provide access to neighborhood trails, community centers or activities in adjacent open space or natural areas. A Type IV example is Franklin Avenue East behind Steward School, which will be completed later this year. The school kids and the community both use a childrens play area built in the Green Street.

The city is now actively participating in the Green Street planning process for Growing Vine Street in Belltown and 9th Avenue and Terry Avenue in the Denny Triangle neighborhoods.

The Growing Vine Street project is being used to help refine the process for designing and implementing the Green Street plan. The innovative Belltown project is one of the first Green Streets to be designed, and is certainly the most complex to date. A principal feature of the design is the capture and treatment of stormwater, as well as the expressive use of rainwater in downspouts, cisterns and a bio-filtration runnel.

Growing Vine Street
Growing Vine Street, as published in a 1998 report
The Growing Vine Street design was published in June, 1998 and has received substantial recognition, including a 1999 Awhahnee Award from a coalition of West Coast agencies and organizations that advocate smart growth and sustainable design. However, due to the complexity of the design, the review and implementation process for the plan has been slow. In 1999, the design team had numerous meetings with groups of city staff members to discuss design issues. From these meetings the design team developed a Growing Vine Street Implementation Guide-book, which divides the project into public and private components, and recently submitted it to DCLU CityDesign staff. CityDesign will be shepherding the guidebook through the various city departments who will be involved in implementing the Growing Vine Street project. Once the Guidebook is approved it will serve as a guide for not only Vine Street but also future Green Street development projects.

Nakano & Associates is presently developing Green Street plans for 9th Avenue and Terry Avenue in the Denny Triangle neighborhood, which is anticipating higher density housing and mixed-use development in the near future. The funding for building these Green Streets comes from a unique inter-local agreement between the City of Seattle and King County. A transfer of development credits program encourages private developers to build in the inner city. The developer receives a height bonus in exchange for a set contribution to a fund used to purchase and preserve rural land in King County and fund neighborhood Green Street Improvements such as the Denny Triangle project. The preliminary plan envisions sidewalk improvements, pedestrian lighting, artwork, street trees, and outdoor furniture.

On June 1, 2 and 3 the city of Seattle will be holding the Center City Urban Design Forum. The theme for the forum is "Connections and Places." This forum will help to provide a framework for investment in the public realm of the city in the urban center, including streets, open spaces and those parts of public and private developments that interact with them. This is an important step toward establishing the center of the city as a regional core, a symbol of Seattles international stature, and a mosaic of dynamic, livable urban neighborhoods.

Please plan to attend, and help shape the future of Seattles public spaces.


Kenichi Nakano, principal of Nakano Associates, served on the Pine Street Advisory Task Force and was awarded awarded a NIAUSI Fellowship to spend three months in Italy studying the streetscapes and public open spaces in Rome.

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