City building "woonerf," road that gives pedestrians, cyclists right of way

by: Linzi Sheldon Updated:


SEATTLE - The city of Seattle is spending more than a million dollars on a project that some drivers think is flat-out confusing.

As part of a park project in Capitol Hill, Seattle Parks & Recreation is building what's called a "woonerf," pronounced "VONE-erf." It's a Dutch word for the kind of street people will see off 12th Avenue in a few months.

East James Court, a two-way street, will be transformed into a one-way road running right through a new park.

"I think I would stop and think for a second," Leo Khalaf said. "Am Isupposed to be down here?"

Khalaf said he likes the design and believes proper signage would help drivers.

Seattle Parks & Recreation defines a woonerf as "a street where pedestrians and cyclists have priority over motorists."

The city is transforming an empty lot on the corner into an urban park with art, tables, and chairs. To make East James Court a woonerf, it's making changes that include raising the street and adding islands.

The project is across from Cherry Street Coffee House.

"It looks like a beautiful space," Laila Ghambari said. "It would only add to the experience of our cafe."

Bell Street in Belltown may not go quite as far, but the Seattle Department of Transportation said it's a similar concept.

Not everyone likes it.

"I think it takes money and also, it's not making things flow faster, ”Gorham Bowler said. "It's very odd. It looks like you're pulling onto a sidewalk, right?"

KIRO 7 asked SDOT Complete Streets and Urban Design Lead Susan McLaughlin about the concerns.

"How do you respond to that? To be honest, that kind of is the intent: when drivers feel a little uncomfortable, they inherently slow down," McLaughlin said, "and again raise the level of awareness."

She said the city would also like to eliminate curbs on Occidental Avenue near Century Link Field. That project is in its early planning phase.

The city expects construction to start on the 12th Avenue Square Park in late spring or summer and finish sometime during the summer.