The Bell Street Problem

There are some problems with Bell Street in Downtown Seattle. It isn’t signed clearly, at all. It has become a ticket trap.

The redesigned street is called a woonerf. Just what is that? It’s a Dutch concept, defined as a living yard or a park-like street where bikers and walkers take precedence over cars. So, it is fair to keep in mind that with all its problems there seems to be some real grassroots urban innovation going on.


But it needs some help.


Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat is a great journalist. Here is why. When Danny sees a problem, he does research, he interviews people, he comes to a conclusion, he writes it up and he has an impact.


Me, I see something and say, ‘ Wow, that’s weird.’ And that’s about it.

But, with Danny’s front-page column about the ticket trap on Bell, it seemed like a good time to post this interview.


I went down to Bell Street a few months back with Chuck Wolfe, writer and blogger on urbanism for The Huffington Post and Crosscut and author of “Urbanism Without Effort.” We wandered around the Bell-town neighborhood and tried to figure out what was happening with this rebuilt Bell Street, this so called woonerf and why it had been built.

It wasn’t a ticket trap yet, just a poorly signed. Drivers were confused about whether they could go straight or had to turn. Since we took our stroll, Seattle Police apparently decided that the best way to help people figure out how to use the street was to ticket them.

As Chuck Wolfe offered, maybe a better approach would have been to pass out a user’s guide.

So, take a walk with us. SDOT is trying to do something innovative along Bell Street, but it is a work in progress, to be sure. We headed down 2nd Ave to 1st Ave on Bell to see what was happening. We walked into the Endless Knot to get the thoughts of the sales people who were watching what was happening on the street. We tried to figure out what was supposed to happening in the neighborhood. We even ran into another urban design author of “Happy City,” Charles Montgomery and got his assessment of the woonerf.

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