SEATTLE — As part of Mayor Bruce Harrell’s efforts to reshape Seattle’s Third Avenue, the northbound bus stop between Pike and Pine streets will temporarily close beginning April 2, according to a spokesperson for the mayor. The move, which was requested by the Seattle Police Department, was made in consultation with the Seattle Department of Transportation and King County Metro.
“The purpose of the closure is to increase visibility [by Seattle police] into criminal activity … and to reduce areas of congregation,” spokesperson Jamie Housen said. “During this temporary closure, we will continue to assess whether it is contributing to reduction in criminal activity.”
Transit users who catch their bus at the No. 578 stop will have to shift one block down to the No. 575 stop just south of Pike, near Ross Dress for Less, consolidating riders in one location while thinning crowds on a block that’s long frustrated city officials.
Finding an effective and sustainable response to Third Avenue, the site of a well-known open-air drug market, has eluded City Hall for years. In 2015, as part of the city’s “9 1/2 Block Strategy,” the same bus stop was also temporarily moved one block to the south. But in recent months, as foot traffic disappeared from downtown during the pandemic, businesses and downtown advocacy groups have raised the volume on their calls for a stronger response. A recent string of shootings, coinciding with Harrell’s first months in office, has brought the street into sharper focus.
The stop is being closed by King County Metro at the request of the city of Seattle. “Third and Pine has been on Metro’s radar for many years as a location where public safety concerns are apparent and frequently draw responses from law enforcement, including King County Metro Transit Police and the Seattle Police Department,” said Elaine Porterfield, spokesperson for King County Metro. Metro shares the city’s interest in making the area safer for riders, she said.
Since taking office, Harrell has held several news conferences on public safety and Third Avenue specifically, during which he forecast that changes to the street’s transit infrastructure would be part of his plan.
Harrell’s approach to the area will be “holistic,” Housen said, with a focus on reviving economic activity and addressing “beautification concerns” by adding art to neglected transit infrastructure.
Police presence along Third Avenue has increased in recent weeks, with officers patrolling on foot and a “mobile precinct” van permanently parked between Pike and Pine. In turn, the once-crowded sidewalks have become considerably less populated.
Seattle police were set to increase enforcement even further last week by treating most of Third Avenue as a transit stop, allowing officers to cite individuals for “disorderly conduct” on buses or near transit facilities. Unearthing this sparsely used criminal code would have given officers more latitude to crack down on behavior like smoking, gambling, playing loud music and a laundry list of other activity not usually cited by law enforcement.
But Harrell stepped in at the last minute to “postpone” the operation, without providing a date for when it might resume, saying his office wanted to further examine the best enforcement mechanisms.
Third Avenue became a priority-bus street in 2018, as the Alaskan Way Viaduct was coming down. Cars, once allowed outside of rush hour, were banned for all hours during the day.
The Downtown Seattle Association raised concerns about the switch to an all-transit corridor, which is now among the busiest in the country. “The current volume of transit activity negatively impacts the pedestrian experience and, indirectly, the vitality of adjacent businesses,” the advocacy organization wrote in its 2018 “Third Avenue Vision” booklet.
The organization proposes several changes, including having bus volumes “reorganized” among Second, Third and Fourth avenues.
But Olga Sagan, owner of Piroshky Piroshky Bakery, wasn’t convinced that altering traffic patterns would make a difference. “I feel changing it because of criminal activity is a knee-jerk reaction and it’s not going to change anything,” she said last week.
Sagan closed her downtown bakery last month, citing excessive crime near the store’s location on Third and Pike.
Reacting to the news of the recent bus stop closure, a spokesperson for the Downtown Seattle Association, James Sido, called it a “wise short-term” decision.
“The concentration of transit riders and narrow sidewalks in that location provided easy opportunities for some people to conceal illegal activity, and we know the challenges that have been associated with that stretch of Third Avenue,” he said.