There is an opportunity right now for Seattle to set another new standard for the country. Make the alley between 4th & 5th Avenues and Virginia and Stewart Streets a Test Case for the 21st Century Alley Design.
Our 19th Century alleys downtown are totally inadequate for 21st Century traffic demand. The Downtown alley grid was developed over a hundred years ago in the time of the horse and buggy. They are too narrow to handle modern traffic demands or the 24/7 building service and resident demands of 21st century residential buildings.
SDOT tries to funnel all of the traffic off of the streets and into the alleys, but existing alleys can’t handle it. Alleys become overloaded with hotel and residential parking, taxis, sanitation, 24 hr. deliveries, repairs, moving, and emergency services; and major streets become blocked with vehicles backed up waiting for access to or from the alleys. This is a major safety and quality of life issue.
In addition, the lack of alley setbacks permits construction of multiple buildings right up to the alley edge degrading privacy, air and light and safety for residents. On this test case block, there are two new 500’ residential towers proposed with 1000 new residential units on the 5th Ave side of the alley.
Those buildings will exponentially increase the existing residential vehicle and building service traffic on this alley, which is already congested over 30% of the time. That would create severe traffic circulation, safety, and livability issues, but there is a solution. As you grant permits to build new towers, require a 10’ setback off of the alley to really handle 21st Century demands. [And we would support additional allowable height equivalent to the loss of any development capacity to help accomplish this goal.]
With the construction of these two towers now, and the likely redevelopment of the only other parcel on this side of the alley within five years or less, you would fairly quickly have a 28’ wide alley that could really handle the two-way traffic demands of a 21st Century alley, and be the pride of the entire City, if not the country.
There is a precedent for alley setback in First Hill HR zoning where a 10’ alley setback is required, and we believe that this is the only viable long-term solution for most of downtown as well.
Activating alleys [Post alley, Pioneer Square] is a great idea, and has been successful, in neighborhoods with low to mid-rise buildings where servicing needs are moderate. However, a different model is needed for alleys on blocks with multiple high-rise residential mega-towers with extensive servicing and parking requirements.
That's why we are proposing this test case as a real solution to Seattle's Alley problem.