Letter to the editor: Ideas for improving Walkable Main Street

Editor:

The City of Edmonds has announced that Walkable Main Street will resume this weekend and continue for the foreseeable future. This decision enhances the quality of life and encourages community interactions. With the Farmer’s Market also taking place on weekends, Edmonds will offer a beautiful downtown experience in the weeks and months to come.

As the city moves forward on this plan, here are a couple of suggestions.

  1. Did the city conduct a survey to gauge stakeholder perception of the previous Walkable Main Street experiment? If it did, the survey and other documentation summarizing stakeholder interactions should be made available on the city’s website. A good government is a transparent one.
  2. Everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy the Walkable Main Street. This means the city needs to provide a transportation system, such as golf carts so that those with mobility issues can take advantage of the downtown. Similarly, public restrooms should be made accessible (irrespective of whether we have a car-infested or a Walkable Downtown). Both these issues are important for many senior citizens who are critical pillars of the Edmonds community.
  3. There is a perception, rightly or wrongly, that restaurants favor Walkable Main Street while other establishments do not. Of course, the stakeholder survey can shed some light on this. We also suspect that not closing 5th between the Fountain and Dayton helps address this concern.

But we wonder if restaurants can voluntarily begin to offer a 5% (or even 10%) discount to any customer who presents a receipt of shopping in a downtown store on that day. This could motivate those planning to visit restaurants to include downtown shopping during their visit. Participating restaurants could display a notice something along these lines, “5% Discount for Downtown Shoppers.”

In any democracy, it is difficult to get a consensus. This is even more challenging in these polarized times. Nevertheless, it is critical to make a good faith effort to address the objections to Walkable Main Street.

Congratulations again to Mayor Mike Nelson, who has brought a refreshingly new governance style to the city of Edmonds.

Nives Dolsak and Aseem Prakash
Edmonds

25 Replies to “Letter to the editor: Ideas for improving Walkable Main Street”

    1. It would be great if retailers could put more items outside for sidewalk shopping. I won’t go into stores but would be thrilled to be able to patronize them. I did go downtown on a Sunday afternoon, found parking within a half block and had a wonderful time.

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  1. Those are good suggestions. I would really like to know what the non-restaurant businesses think about the the Walkable Main Street.

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  2. Some of our downtown stores have websites. I went on one, found something I wanted to buy, called them/made payment arrangements, and then called to let them know I was out in front in my car. They brought it out to my car. The person had a mask, I had a mask, and she put my items on the back seat of my car. Maybe that would work for you, Deborah.

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  3. I love this very walkable community. I love the traditional evening closing of the main streets in some European cities. But, on top of this Pandemic, any disruption of retail could send remaining businesses out of business. I have the same question and concern…were the businesses, especially the retail businesses, involved in this decision? I’d like to know where the Chamber and Ed! and Downtown Merchant’s Assoc. are on this decision. All stakeholders should be at the table to first get agreement on “What’s the Problem We’re Trying to Solve?” before any solutions are analyzed for their costs and benefits. For instance, did the city consider closing the streets in the evening after retail stores close? This is the busiest time for most restaurants too. It’s potentially a win/win – but only if we do our homework and first get agreement from ALL stakeholders first on what’s the problem we are trying to solve?

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    1. Exactly. What is the problem? I have seen people stumble through chairs, tables, displays and sandwich boards while walking on sidewalks and streets. Having a row of chairs and tables against the restaurant building is great! I have also been told by several people that they have had to quickly scramble to get out of the way of skateboarders who shoot down Main Street from the top of Sixth Avenue to Third Avenue. I see one problem. Lawsuit.

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  4. As an individual community member, I truly enjoy and appreciate the “Walkable Downtown” concept. And as a former Edmonds Chamber Board Member from 2001 -2014 the Chamber conducted a number of “Studies” regarding the “walkable downtown” scenario. The results were always approximately 90% FOR by restaurants or similar businesses and usually 50/50 % by all other businesses including retailers. Though the Chamber, during that time period , was recommending a trial similar to what is taking place now , the City was not willing to approve the trial at that time. This is a very different time period with very unique circumstances and realities. We need be concerned about ALL businesses including retail and I totally agree with the entire assessment outlined by Maggie Fimia , specifically the 5PM closing of streets , a seemingly reasonable compromise for the entire business community.

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    1. I disagree with the 5pm closure idea. Edmonds draws more people to the area In the morning and afternoon hours. By not allowing pedestrian-only during the daytime, the majority of people will not experience that community feel, will not be able to shop outdoors or eat outdoors. Some restaurants are breakfast and lunch only. Being open only in the PM takes away so much from this trial period.

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  5. Maggie, I did file a public records request for all correspondence and surveys done by the city. Wont receive info till end of month

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    1. Thanks for letting us know that, Don. I just want to add that it’s important that this issue/policy/new program is one that we work on as a Community and not one that potentially divides us. I’m sure those who initiated it – whether in the past as Ron Clyborne mentions or today as some have done – believe that it will be a positive thing for the City. They may be correct. But by unilaterally making decisions, if that’s the case, we risk dividing the community and setting a bad precedent. It would not take a lot of time/money/analysis to make sure we get this right for the whole community and something that brings us together. This started out as a pilot project. Now it is suddenly going to happen indefinitely. I think what some people are asking is how did the city decision makers get from pilot project to major policy change?

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  6. Totally agree with you Maggie. We aren’t here living to enjoy the bowl, we are just Edmonds Home owners living here to pay taxes for others to enjoy the bowl. Does that sound about right?

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    1. Those “others” who come and enjoy the Bowl with us are hopefully spending money supporting our local businesses~ and thus contributing to our tax base.

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    2. Trying not to frame this as “Us” and “Them” actually – but understand your frustration with how decisions sometimes get made.

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  7. Thank you for this pedestrian only experience. You’ve done a great job of identifying available parking very close to the Main St traffic closure. In my walking the area during the past weekend closures there was lots of available parking. Would suggest more designated disabled parking. Once the weather improves, the shops will definitely benefit by placing more merchandise outside…so many of us aren’t ready to venture indoors aT a restaurant or a retail store. This is for the enjoyment of all Edmond residents and also to draw others to the area to benefit the businesses. Thank you so much for making this happen for all of us.

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  8. My only comment about parking is many people are still staying in their homes and not Venturing out. There is parking because of recently bad weather and Covid issues. When the virus is treated differently Or a vaccine the parking problem will be back. Most of our tourists are not coming here. They can’t or won’t travel here. When churches open back up, and people start traveling, and when the tourist ferry riders come back then you will see a traffic problem.

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  9. For what it’s worth, I visited Edmonds Bowl during the first street closure experiment and spent money at the local shops and did not eat at a restaurant. The street closure was something that added to my comfort in purchasing from shops rather than took away from it. Prior to the street closure I hadn’t gone downtown since the pandemic began. The commitment to encouraging social distancing by adding more space for people to walk really helps our family get out and about. I have a child under 2 years old who can’t wear a mask (CDC recommendation) and it feels more safe for us and others being able to keep my stroller 6ft away from others due to that extra space. I did ask the shop owner if the street closure had any impact on business. The main critique I heard was that when it is sunny the closure helps encourage foot traffic, but when it rains people want the close drive-up accessibility of the shops.

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  10. Dear neighbors,
    If Edmonds was in Europe there would be no question: the fountain (5th and Main) and one block in four directions from there would be closed to traffic and redesigned for pedestrians. It would be pedestrian-only 7 days a week, winter and summer…committed to the new sensibility. Traffic and parking issues would be addresses with a parimeter road. In Europe’s experience, at first some merchants would be nervous and opposed. But soon it would be established and the big issue would be that nearby shops and restaurants on streets with traffic would feel left out. Any traffic-free business zone has delivery and resident access early morning (before shops open, often with bollards or posts that rise and fall on command–like garage door openers). And alleys are more used. But doing this in a half-way style (weekends, summers, evenings only, etc) will never give the public the joy of actually experiencing a town plaza or core that is truly peaceful and people-friendly (and therefore no ability to really assess the idea). This is not “my agenda: or “forcing Europe on Edmonds” (as some have written)…it’s just a smart 21st century town design that is the norm elsewhere and feels radical to many for whom it’s new.

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    1. One of the largest consumers of downtown parking spots on the weekends in “normal” times is people going to Rick Steve’s travel classes and seminars. Maybe a smart 21st century town design would be Rick ponying up for parking building, say a 75 space parking garage at say $50,000-60,000 at spot for the joy of actually experiencing a town plaza. Its the norm elsewhere .

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    2. Mr Steves
      There is a pandemdemic and the number of cases in Snohomish County have the health department talking about reverting to phase one. We are not even allowed to travel to Europe right now, they rightfully won’t take that risk. Now is the wrong time to have a City encouraged large gatherings every weekend. A huge block party (that lasts for days) for all when it is over, you bet. But not now.
      Everyone wants to go out and enjoy the summer. The downtown merchants are hurting. But encouraging large gatherings right now is just not a responsible thing to do. Your condescension in saying those who object that they just don’t get it, is, well just wrong. Many just don’t like the idea. Fair enough. Given Covid we have no idea right now what the “smart” cityscapes will look like going forward, in Edmonds or Europe.
      The residents of Edmonds will need to make that decision as a group and as a process. And it will be just that. You have a lot of expertise and your voice is louder here than many. It is a bad idea for right now, but maybe later. Who knows what it will look like when Covid is history.

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    3. We are all a better society when people speak up and contribute ideas to make the communities around us better. I really appreciate the time and thoughtfulness that you put into this.

      When I first read about your idea, I thought “of course!! That is a great idea, and would be a tremendous thing for our community. I wish they would make this a permanent part of the city.”

      During this Covid epidemic, adding more walking space is a great idea for both community health and for for the general safety of the people of Edmonds.

      We have all seen people walk off of the sidewalk, and sometimes directly into traffic just to get more space from oncoming pedestrians. Sometimes they have no choice but to either get too close to other people, or to put themselves and everyone else in danger by walking directly in the street. The area of Main street that is being opened for more safe walking space is the same place in Edmonds where I have seen this be the largest issue. Addressing this as the City has done by opening it up on the weekends is exactly the type of alternative thinking that we need to be taking in this pandemic. The fact that it improves the quality of life for all of the people who live in and visit Edmonds is just a great bonus on top of that.

      As one person commented, they have seen this same transformation happen in many other cities, and while there was some hesitation to it being implemented at first, it becomes an essential and vital hub of the city.

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  11. European communities typically have nearby parking lots, as well as streets too narrow to handle an abundance of both vehicles and pedestrians.

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  12. RICK, sounds like your idea would be very expensive. Parking could be helped by you allowing the public to use your parking spaces in front and back of your building on 4th ave

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  13. A parking garage is most likely not going to happen. The city just doesn’t have the money in this fiscal environment to dedicate to a parking garage, and there isn’t an available space that could accommodate the “footprint” necessary for such a large facility – certainly not close enough to the center of downtown in order to accommodate those who would find it a practical alternative to parking in front of their favourite store.

    A trolley might work (and would be far less expensive than a parking garage) – if the city could find one, which seems to be an issue.

    Dedicated golf carts could work, as they do at the airport – except for that annoying “beeping” sound ..

    There appear to be available parking spaces from businesses that are closed on weekends (or at least from afternoon on, commencing Saturdays). I am thinking of two banks, one off 5th and Dayton and one off 3rd and Main. It is their parking, but perhaps some accommodation could be made – what is the harm is trying?

    Finally, people need to get off this “European” thing about “pedestrian friendly” plazas. The Europeans didn’t invent “pedestrian friendly” plazas (shopping sans automobile exists in most every country on the planet) – they just happen to be a lot farther ahead in terms of establishing people-centric places in their communities). How about we focus on identifying the things that work in “people friendly” places, on how they attract/accommodate people, and then work on fixing/improving on the idea? There are some reasons why it might fail, but how about we give it a chance to succeed, before crushing the idea?

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  14. This is one of my most favorite actions that the city of Edmonds has taken. I am appreciative of the care and work that the city and involved citizens (thank you Rick!!) have put into this to help improve our city.

    Nives and Aseem, you make some good points, and I think that a survey would help give more information on improvements. On your second idea, golf carts could provide some help for those with mobility issues, although I believe that they also could cause even greater problems as they could lead to safety issues around other drivers. Especially as the carts travel to and from cars, and new users attempt to become familiar with them. There would be a lot of problems with where the carts would be left, who would service them, who would drive them, and how to ensure safe interactions with drivers.

    I would like to make an alternative suggestion that would help address parking, access for those with mobility issues, and potentially store access as well. A pilot program of 2-3 electric pedicabs with collapsible rainproof Gore-Tex coverings offering free rides would allow people to park farther away. It would help those with mobility issues to easily get close to their destinations, it would reduce the burden on parking availability, and it would help the local shops by allowing people to buy larger items from stores that could be transported back to their cars.

    Regular sanitation of the seats, and requirements for masks to be worn while in use could prevent Covid spread, but this would absolutely have to be done in a thoughtful way to prevent as much risk as possible.

    I was very close to starting a large electric pedicab company in Seattle where I would rent out pedicabs to drivers to mainly service people parking far away to avoid high parking costs for games and concerts. From the business plan I put together, we would almost have been able to make back all of our operating expenses by renting out back cab small billboard space to advertising. I did not go through with the business because the people I was working with did not want to pay taxes, and that was too much of a liability. However, this could employ local Edmonds teens and adults who could work for a regular hourly wage plus tips covered almost entirely by advertising revenue, and provide free rides for anyone who would want it during weekends and events.

    The Pedicabs would also very importantly have enough power to get up and down the steep Edmonds hills, be usable in the rain or shine, and be able to more safely move around vehicles and car restricted Main street areas.

    It is possible that this program could be self supporting and require little to no investment from the City of Edmonds, while greatly alleviating the costly need to put in a lot of additional parking.

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