Jan 13, 2023 - News

A car-free Pike Place Market in 2023 looks doubtful

People walk on a brick road with a sign that says Public Market Center in the background.

Trust me, you don't want to drive here. Photo: Melissa Santos/Axios

For months, I've been trying to pinpoint the status of discussions about whether to ban or limit cars in Pike Place Market.

  • So far, I've gotten a lot of vague answers that tell me that if this was something you were hoping would happen in 2023, you might want to adjust your expectations.

Catch up quick: Debates over whether cars should be allowed to drive on the main road through Pike Place Market occur at regular intervals, sometimes after pedestrians are hit or injured by cars in the tourist-heavy area.

  • In 2021, Seattle City Councilmember Andrew Lewis told the Seattle Times he was interested in seeing the market reimagined as a mostly pedestrian thoroughfare — particularly after the pandemic created a demand for more outdoor gathering spaces.

The latest: The Pike Place Market Preservation & Development Authority, which runs the market, is examining car travel on the street as part of a bigger master planning process, Lewis told Axios last month.

  • That master plan is looking at the future of the market as new waterfront amenities are developed, making it a much broader discussion than just talking about cars, he said.
  • Madison Bristol, a spokesperson for the development authority, said the idea of closing Pike Place — the street that runs through the market — to vehicle traffic concerns many of the businesses there, who she said rely on the street as "a lifeline" for their daily operations.
  • As far as how long the development authority's master planning will take, Bristol wouldn't specify, but wrote in an email last month: "We are in the very early stages."

Yes, but: No one is talking about banning delivery vehicles that market vendors rely on, Lewis added — only other types of traffic, like people who drive to the market to visit the landmark Starbucks there and soon realize they have made a terrible mistake.

What we're watching: Even once the Pike Place Market Preservation & Development Authority finishes its master planning process, more steps would be required to change the rules for vehicle use on the street.

  • The project would need to be approved by the Pike Place Market Historical Commission, as it involves a historic area.
  • Then, the Seattle Department of Transportation would want to consider different potential design options for the proposed pedestrian zone, gathering public input along the way, according to a city memo.

The bottom line: This is a debate that is likely to stretch on for several more years, as urban planning discussions (particularly in Seattle) often do.


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