October 8th, 2010 by Clark Humphrey

(Cross-posted with the Capitol Hill Times.)

Sally Clark had seen the Capitol Hill Block Party.

She’d seen the exuberant crowds bringing life, and business, to Pike/Pine.

She saw that it was good.

She decided she’d like more of it.

All year round.

In July, even before this year’s Block Party occurred, the City Councilmember floated the idea of closing one or more blocks in the Pike/Pine Corridor from vehicular traffic, one or more nights a week.

Her inspiration came partly from the Block Party and partly from the example of Austin. The Texan nightlife hotspot, once billed in the ’90s as the “Next Seattle,” shuts down Sixth Street (its main nightclub drag) on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights from 11 p.m. to closing time. The result: A bustling, vibrant street scene along this part-time pedestrian mall.

Councilmember Clark’s first choice for a year-round block party site here was East Pike Street, from Broadway perhaps as far east as 12th Avenue.

The concept hasn’t progressed very far since it was initially offered. Councilmember Clark says it would need the approval of, and tax assessments from, area businesses.

Still, at this fledgling stage, the every-weekend block party has already attracted detractors.

Writing at PubliCola.net in mid-September, urban planning maven Dan Bertolet (who has described himself as a devout “car hater”) nevertheless disapproved of the street closure concept.

Bertolet believes a late night street party every weekend just couldn’t attract enough regular patrons to be worth the traffic disruptions.

He’d rather have a more modest set of pedestrian amenities on East Pike, such as wider sidewalks and a wider range of permitted foods for street vendors to sell.

I disagree.

I’ve seen the weekend night scene along First Avenue in Belltown (which will get its own quasi-Block Party space next year, when Bell Street gets refitted with wider, landscaped sidewalks).

The late-night scene on First can occasionally get wild and rowdy, particularly in the hour just before and after closing time. But it can also be a blast, an entertainment destination in its own right.

Something like that on The Hill, with its own unique milieu, would be its own kind of blast. Particularly if it’s enhanced by the freedom of milling about without fear of traffic.

Of course, Seattle has something Austin (and New Orleans and Miami) don’t have.

A rainy season, commonly known as winter.

Would The Hill’s party-minded young adults, hipsters, gays, etc. want to wander about on a closed-off street during a drizzling Northwest monsoon season?

For a potential answer to that, don’t look south. Look north.

A long stretch of Vancouver’s Granville Street has been car-free (except for transit buses) for three decades now.

And it works.

Day and night, week in and week out, Granville is alive with diners, drinkers, clubgoers, and assorted revelers of all types.

Pike can become more like that.

We could at least try it out.

Close East Pike to cars one Saturday night a month for six months.

Festoon the place with awnings and tents in case of rain.

Bring in artists, a music stage, street performers, fire eaters, and vaudeville/burlesque acts.

Park some mobile vending trucks. But leave out the beer garden. The object is to bring more business to Pike/Pine’s bars, not to compete with them.

If these trials work out, if they attract enough regular revelers, turn them into regular events.

I can see the slogan now:

“Yes, We’re Closed!”

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