Never heard of a “Festival Street”? You’re not alone. Actually, it’s relatively new in that a recently adopted and published Director’s Rule officially lays out the details. The development of festival streets achieves a number of goals. First, a festival street promotes a sense of community in that it provides an approved public right-of-way location that can be closed to traffic on multiple occasions during the year for pedestrian-focused special events. At the same time, only one permit is necessary for the entire year of events to be held on the festival street.
Per the Director’s Rule, a festival street is “a public place or portion of a public place that has been designated by the Director of Transportation for recurring temporary closure to vehicular traffic use for the purpose of pedestrian-oriented special activities.”
Given the number of ideal public places, not all are always appropriate. For instance, streets that are considered less desirable for designation as a festival street are those residential streets with a majority of single-family homes; or streets with multiple driveways that provide the only point of access for residential units or business activities; streets used by public transit, including snow routes or bus turn-a-rounds, or those serving as emergency routes for the Seattle Fire Department.
Streets that are considered the most suitable for the festival street title are non-arterials within or providing connections to pedestrian-oriented neighborhood; commercial areas where a festival street activity could reinforce commercial and mixed-use activity, and enhance the quality of the pedestrian environment without conflicting with the desired traffic circulation. Also acceptable are non-arterial streets that are direct links to major transit facilities and light rail stations or if regularly closed to vehicular traffic, so as to not require rerouting transit service or inhibiting emergency vehicle access to areas. In addition, a non-arterial street centered in a redeveloping area that could serve as a focus for new development and provide direction for desirable changes in land use patterns could be a fitting site for a festival street. Non-arterial streets that provide safe pedestrian and bicycle connections with neighborhood amenities, such as schools, shopping areas, public facilities, institutions, and public open spaces, or streets integrated with the City’s urban trail network are also acceptable candidates for the designation as are non-arterials that are of particular interest to pedestrians, including streets with special views or those which are located in areas of unique architectural interest. Last, but not least, non-arterial streets which would have little-to-no parking impacts in order to minimize the need for Festival Street organizers to apply for meter hood permits for every street closure would also be apt sites.
The designation of festival streets is intended to be a community-driven effort with support from the neighborhood. A proposal for a new designation can be made by community groups, an individual, private development proponents, government agencies, or any other organized local interest.
The applicant proposing the new Festival Street designation will be required to follow a fairly straight forward process involving notification to the abutting property owners, providing a way for the public to submit comments on the pending proposal; and present the plan to various community and development councils, business authorities and neighborhood news organizations within the area.
Once approvals have been obtained, the paperwork ultimately ends up on the desk of the Director of SDOT. The Director may also consider input from other potentially impacted groups in the festival street designation outreach process. Following review, the Director will make the final decision to authorize the Festival Street designation.
Because the designation of Festival Street is so new, there are only two so far in Seattle: S Roberto Maestas Festival Street, on Lander Street between S 16th and S 17th avenues, and Nord Alley, a segment of alley between First Avenue S and Occidental Avenue S, between S Main and S Jackson streets. The maps of current sites and the step by step Festival Streets designation process can be found at: http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/drules.htm. Scroll down to number SDOT 2-2012.