Posts Tagged ‘Seattle’

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P.M. Bruner Sidewalk Lights in Seattle, WA

August 3, 2011

As I walk down unfamiliar sidewalks I make sure not to ignore the ground, always on the lookout for sidewalk markers.  Due to this conditioned vigilance, I have accumulated a decent photographic collection of these markers from cities all around the country.  Right now for example, I am in Aurora, IL, a Chicago Exurb whose attractive city center is loaded with sidewalk markers that I am quite happy to have stumbled upon.  This particular sidewalk contractor stamp includes an exact date:

Happy 29th Birthday!

The details that some sidewalk stamps carry provide starting points for research that can reveal much about a city’s past.  While visiting Seattle last month I came across a nice selection of sidewalk stamps and markers, the bulk of them concentrated in Pioneer Square.  Pioneer Square has a remarkable history as Seattle’s original downtown.  After the “Great Seattle Fire” of 1889 (seems like every American city has had a great fire), the city began rebuilding immediately, but soon after reconstruction had begun planners made the decision to raise the streets up a story to remedy a problem with flooding during high tide.  During this transition, building entrances were moved up to what became street level, and new sidewalks were built one story above the old ones.  Because the original ground level entrances were sometimes still in use underground, many sidewalks in this area have skylights to allow light into the passages below.  A popular tourist attraction, the Seattle Underground Tour, allows you to walk along some of these underground sidewalks and listen to bad jokes.

Sidewalk Skylight as Seen from the Underground Tour

These skylights are all over Pioneer Square and are hard to miss for even someone with only a casual interest in sidewalks (I assume).  The fact that so many of the sidewalks in Pioneer Square are over 100 years old is awesome to me, but, after almost a month in Seattle and regular trips to Pioneer Square and other sections of the city’s historic core, I stopped carrying my camera after dark.  I figured that anything I was interested in, I had already photographed several times.  Thank God for camera phones, because on one of my last nights in Seattle I looked down and saw this:

Installed by L.A. Norris - Bruner Patents

This sight brought me back almost to the beginning of my relationship with sidewalk markers.  An interest that began after coming across a St. Louis Sidewalk Company sidewalk marker.  After making this initial discovery I started enthusiastically searching the internet for more, and the first bit of gold I struck was a flickr photo of a P.M. Bruner Sidewalk marker in Tower Grove East.  I immediately began walking blocks in the neighborhood until I found them myself, and since then I have come across several identical markers in other sections of the city.

P.M. Bruner Sidewalk Marker

Almost every new sidewalk marker I see gets its text googled, and this one was no exception.  Unlike most cement contractors, however, P.M. Bruner has a pretty serious online presence, particularly if you perform a Google Patent search.  Interestingly enough, Preston Martin Bruner of St. Louis, Missouri holds several patents for Sidewalk Lights that closely resemble those visible in the photo of L.A. Norris’ sidewalk.

Sidewalk Light Construction - P.M. Bruner

Is it possible that a St. Louisan designed this technology that helps make Seattle’s Pioneer Square so cool?  It is very possible, but unfortunately, all I can do is speculate and continue to keep my eyes and ears open.  If anyone has more information on this subject, please share.

Update:

I found a website with a photo of a P.M. Bruner sidewalk with “vault lights” in Houston, TX.

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Seattle’s Pedestrian Master Plan

July 1, 2011

I’ve spent the last week or so in Seattle, and have been extremely impressed with the city.  Seattle’s Central City is a continuous, walkable urban environment, that is unlike the vast majority of American cities I’ve been to.  In Seattle, the “inner-city” is a truly desirable place to be (as it should be).  Although it is not completly free of empty storefronts and surface parking lots, when compared to a place like St. Louis these underused spaces are a non-issue.

Seattle has its problems too

I am aware that Seattle and St. Louis have more differences than similarities, but I disagree with those who say we have nothing to learn from a city so dissimilar.  Seattle’s Metropolitan Area is not significantly larger than St. Louis’ (only having recently surpassed us), but it has the resources to experiment.  We need to be paying attention to even our more distant peers if we want to stay competitive.

Section of Chinatown cut off from Downtown by Interstate 5

Seattle has made many of the same mistakes that St. Louis has.  They have an interstate highway running through their downtown.  They have two major sports stadiums that take up superblocks and are surrounded by underused parking garages in a historic district.  At the same time, they value good urban design and the pedestrian experience.  For me, Seattle has many new ideas to offer.  Good ideas.  One big one that struck me is the Downtown Transit Tunnel.

The Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel

Seattle’s Light Rail runs through Downtown in a tunnel, but the tracks run on a paved, flat surface that is also used by buses.  This is brilliant for many reasons (it keeps you out of both traffic and the rain), and is a flexible infrastructure investment.  My one complaint is that you aren’t allowed to simply walk across the tracks to the other platform to change directions.

Illegal to Cross

As convenient as being able to walk across the tracks would be for an urban explorer and photographer like myself, walking up and over is a small sacrifice for us to make on behalf of public safety.  The City of Seattle actually cares about pedestrians and their safety, and it shows.  Little details can make big differences.  This year Seattle was recognized as the most “walk-friendly” city in the country by the NRDC, and in the City’s Pedestrian Master Plan, Seattle declares that it wants to truly become the most walkable city in the nation.

Alternatives to the Car

Featuring before and after photos of transformed sidewalks that would be sure to make Steve Patterson proud, the Pedestrian Master Plan’s website lays out a detailed plan with ambitious goals that focus on the pedestrian experience.  It outlines the benefits of walking and the responsibility of the city to encourage and to facilitate alternatives to personal automobiles.

Seattle has a Large Network of Trolley Buses

I think that the City of St. Louis can learn from cities like Seattle.  Our problems are not unique to the rust belt, and their solutions might found if the time was spent creating something like a master plan.  We have a long way to go before we can even compete in a walkable city competition, but we need to start with a coherent (unlike many of my blog posts – Sorry!) and comprehensive plan.  Let’s start Downtown and connect our neighborhoods to one another.  Otherwise newer, faster growing cites like Seattle will leave us in the dust.  Or in the fumes of our own exhaust.

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