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Committee hears proposal that would make Seattle's Third Avenue safer, cleaner, more equitable

There is a proposal to make the major transit corridor more pedestrian friendly, but councilmembers stressed that any plans would need to be equitable and inclusive.

SEATTLE — A city council committee considered a new vision for Seattle’s Third Avenue on Wednesday. 

There is a proposal to make the major transit corridor more pedestrian-friendly, but council members stressed that any plans would need to be equitable and inclusive.

Third Avenue is a road of possibilities, according to Sabrina Villanueva, senior director of Property Management for Clise Properties.

"I think there's a lot possible,” Villanueva said.

She acknowledged that the gateway to downtown is a place dealing with persistent problems.

She heard firsthand from residents and workers about the crime and safety concerns when she co-chaired a task force that published a Downtown Seattle Association report in 2018. At the time, Third Avenue carried about 52,000 transit riders per day with more than 290 buses per peak hour, more than any other transit street in the United States or Canada.

The report also looked back at how Third Avenue has changed over the years. In the 1870s, it was where Seattle's first schools were opened. In the early 1900s, beloved theaters began popping up. By the 1970s, Metro Transit, the new countywide bus system at the time, relied on the route.

"Is there a better way to do it?” Villanueva asked.

The task force visited places like Portland and Denver. Villanueva said the cities were able to come up with a retail and pedestrian experience with their largest transit corridor successfully.

"I think looking at the retail storefronts differently, opening up visibility, just starting at the basics of clean and maintenance,” she said.

A lack of lighting and sidewalk space was also mentioned in the pages of the report.

"The fear was that we were going to create this beautiful report and it's going to sit on the shelf and collect dust,” Villanueva said.

It did for a while during the COVID-19 pandemic, but on Wednesday a council committee took it up, with council members asking how to make the area inclusive and safe as downtown adapts.

While the conversation is in the early stages, Villanueva is just happy that it is happening.

"To me, this is just the first step in the right direction. I mean the city is paying attention,” Villanueva said.

The committee voted to move a resolution forward that calls for the issue to be studied more. The full council could take up the topic soon.

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