Car-Free Sundays: A Business Plan

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Want a taste of life in a car-free neighborhood? This August and September, Seattleites will have three chances to experience a major urban corridor where traffic is limited to pedestrians and cyclists.

Mayor Nickels announced the events, called "Car-Free Sundays," on Wednesday. According to an article in yesterday's P-I:,

Car-free Sundays are a part of Nickels' ongoing effort to get people out of their cars and green up Seattle. Select neighborhood streets will be closed on consecutive Sundays in August and September, one neighborhood each Sunday.

* On Aug. 24, 14th Avenue East will be closed from East Republican Street to Volunteer Park on Capitol Hill from noon to 6 p.m. The park's Western Loop will also be car-free.

* Rainier Avenue South will be closed between Orcas and Alaska streets on Aug. 31 from 3-6 p.m.

* Alki Avenue in West Seattle will be closed to motor vehicles from noon to 6 p.m on Sept. 7

Owners of businesses along the selected routes are wary of the events' potential impact on their bottom line, writes P-I reporter Kathy Mulady. She quotes one Alki restauranteur's dismal view: "It takes away a day for us, and it takes money out of our servers' pockets."

Will the absence of car traffic really keep customers away for the day? We'll have to watch and see, but I suspect that local merchants may be in for a pleasant surprise. After all, it's not like a construction project that takes over the sidewalk and intimidates would-be shoppers from entering. Rather, the plan for creating an afternoon of vibrant pedestrian activity on any of these highly trafficked routes might encourage more people to come out and explore what the local scene has to offer.

Additionally, there's no need for local business owners to become passive victims of the car-free experiments. They can -- and should -- take full advantage of the situation by creating an inviting street presence. Considering opportunities like these, mentioned in the City of Toronto's report, "Steps Towards a Walkable City" (PDF).

Pedestrian streets can also be established on a temporary/periodic basis such as the Kensington Market Pedestrian Sundays. These temporary street closures are intended to operate like traditional market streets, where merchants spill out on to the sidewalk and pedestrians have full access to stroll on the roadway. Regular Pedestrian Sunday events could be encouraged and supported by developing criteria for these events and developing special signs and barriers for events that meet the criteria, and assisting with promotion.

According to the Kensington event website, merchants are allowed to utilize the sidewalks in front of their establishments to display merchandise (registered food vendors may even sell food on the sidewalk). If businesses and policy-makers in Seattle agreed on a similar approach, it seems that Car-Free Sundays could actually enhance business, as well as motivate residents to walk around, meet new people, and enjoy our great neighborhoods at a foot-powered pace. Ultimately, it might be a motivator to create the kinds of healthy, people-centric, shared streets that we already see in Melbourne, Copenhagen, Paris and more of the world's most vibrant cities.

Photo credit: P.S. Kensington.


In many Latin American countries, they close major streets in the evening and all of the restaurants pull out their chairs and tables into the streets. It becomes a gigantic street party. The music stores blare their music out the doors, the shops put racks outside. And people take public transportation (the more wealthy take taxis, to be truthful) to get to the streets. It ends up feeling like you are a part of a community when there are no cars to divide.

Posted by: Melinda on August 4, 2008 9:17 AM