The hallmark of great cities are great streets – ones that balance competing needs and uses. And while there are great examples all over the country and the world, one lies just to the south in Portland, Ore. The Portland Transit Mall stretches 26 blocks through downtown Portland, along Fifth and Sixth avenues. The transit streets were successfully redesigned and reconstructed through a public-private partnership after the corridor struggled for decades to cultivate a healthy and vibrant public realm.
Last month, Downtown Seattle Association staff, along with local community and transportation leaders, toured the Portland Transit Mall for insight and perspective as we begin transforming Third Avenue into a welcoming urban corridor.
The original Portland transit mall opened in 1978 after a decline in activity raised questions about downtown Portland’s survival. The city responded with an urban plan that imagined a central boulevard with wide brick sidewalks, greenery, art and pedestrian amenities to bring people back and stimulate business activity.
Unfortunately, once built, inconsistent funding led to a growing backlog of repairs, and investment along the corridor reclined. In response, the city and private organizations formed an innovative partnership to take action. The second revitalization, completed in 2009, included an improved streetscape design that prioritized people, a multi-modal solution for moving trains and buses side-by-side, and a focus on business assistance and storefront design. Working with the Portland’s redevelopment agency, the city of Portland was able to spur $1.5 billion in private investment along the transit mall.
Downtown Seattle contends with many issues Portland once faced. Third Avenue is our equivalent—both a front door to downtown and a key transportation asset. Unfortunately, the dominance of buses (the most per hour in the nation at peak times) and vehicles discourages foot traffic, making businesses hesitant to locate there or make capital investments.
That’s why DSA is leading a partnership with the City of Seattle and King County, to begin developing a new vision for an inviting and attractive Third Avenue for all. This type of work is not new to DSA, who has shaped major efforts like the redevelopment of Westlake Park and the Pike Pine Renaissance.
Today’s Third Avenue Design Vision combines ideas for streetscape enhancements with improvements to transportation, public spaces, management and retail strategies. This multi-faceted approach builds on previous, more narrowly targeted efforts along the corridor. Important initial improvements are already underway, including implementation of all-door boarding to speed up buses along Third Avenue.
DSA has pulled together a “Quick Wins” team to make some immediate impact. After several months of work with a variety of public agencies and other partners, old, non-functioning phone booths along the corridor are gone. The abandoned Metro kiosk was trucked off last last year. Broken transit screens are fixed, and tree pits have been filled with rubber to increase walkability, safety and cleanliness. DSA’s All-Terrain Litter Vacuum and Green Machines regularly sweep the sidewalks.
In January 2018, DSA, along with the Seattle Department of Transportation, also opened the new Pine Street Plaza, a public space with bistro tables and chairs, food trucks and live music.
To learn more about DSA’s efforts to lead the transformation of Third Avenue, download our brochure. We welcome your feedback as we plan the revitalization of this essential downtown street.