Is a Car-Free Pike Place Market Coming Soon? Hahaha, You Must Be New Here

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This is how I feel about the phrase “stakeholder consultation.” Nick Onken / Getty Images

Here’s a message to everyone who flipped out when Councilmember Andrew Lewis said it was time to talk about a car-free Pike Place Market: Calm down. Nothing’s changing any time soon.

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“We need to create space…” Lewis began in a phone interview with The Stranger. Space for people? No, not yet. His sentence concluded, “…for a formal process.”

Yes, it’s time for Seattle to do what Seattle does best: Engage in a process to determine the feasibility of proceeding with a course of action to investigate the possibility of moving forward with an analysis of studying a consultation into the workability of analyzing the options for discovering whether monkeys might fly out of my butt.

“Clearly the community wants to have a conversation about what Pike Place Market should look like,” Lewis said, and that’s certainly true. Whether anything will happen after a conversation remains to be seen.

Vehicles have always had a place in the market, even back when horses pulled them, and over its many decades of life the presence of cars has waxed and waned but never fully gone away.

“When conversations have happened in the past they have not been successful,” Lewis says. “Part of the reason this has failed is people tried to do too much too quickly, not take into account the way it affects the people who live and work in the market, and the status quo remained as it is.”

So that’s why, in 2022, we can look forward to stakeholder consultations. Lots and lots of stakeholder consultations. Vendors. Residents. Hotels. Bars. Tourism groups. Drivers. Security. Transit activists. The dead fish. Everyone will have a chance to weigh in.

The process has barely begun, and there’s currently no target for it to end. Lewis has had “preliminary conversations” with the Pike Place Market Preservation and Development Authority, Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, neighbors and merchants, and he says “it’s become evident that there are massive disagreements and divergences of opinion. … We’ve got to go at the pace that’s being set by the stakeholders.”

Boy, do I know the words to this song by heart. I’ve covered initiatives like this for decades, and I’ve lost count of how many slip into an endless loop of stakeholder conversations.

And yes, sure, of course communities should be consulted about big changes. Planners might not be aware, for example, that there’s a health clinic a block away from the market that needs vehicular access in order to fully serve their clients. (Their entrances, it should be noted, are on Virginia Street and Post Alley, not on Pike Place.) But sometimes, those consultations never end because nobody wants it to be their job to say, “okay, I think we’ve heard enough.”

So is anyone empowered to decide when Pike Place Market’s car-free consultation is done?

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“Unfortunately, the answer to that is complicated,” Lewis says. “The city engineer in collaboration with SDOT could change some of the modes of how things on that street work. … And then the Preservation and Development Authority has a unique charter where they have certain authority over what happens … Then there’s the Pike Place Market Historical District.” He continued to list opinion-havers faster than I could write them down. But no list of stakeholders can ever be complete; there will always be new opinions to consider, new organizations to check with, new passers-by eager to offer their thoughts and even more eager to take offense when their concerns do not carry the day.

Ultimately, no matter what happens and even if nothing happens, someone is going to be disappointed. That’s just how decisions work, and why it’s comfortable to defer them in favor of one more conversation. And one more. And one more. Somewhere between zero consultation and infinite consultation is the sweet spot — not the perfect spot that will make everyone happy, but the point at which there’s no longer anything useful to be learned and it’s time to move ahead, which means letting some people down. No amount of conversation-facilitation will make that step possible — instead, it requires leadership.

“At the end of the day, a lot of these are political conversations.” Councilmember Lewis said. When asked about his own vision for the market, he replied, “I don’t think it’s completely for me to say.”