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Sky Bridges are Making a Comeback in These Pedestrian-Friendly Times

September 18, 2017

Overview

Younger workers, aged 18-34 years old (yes, Millennials), prefer walking as a mode of transportation by 12 percentage points over driving, prefer living within walking distance of shops and restaurants, and having short commutes. Such pedestrian-friendly ideals are reshaping how sky bridges are perceived.   

Sky bridges tend to invite strong opinions and controversy.  It was not that long ago that detractors feared “blotting out views, scooping shoppers off the streets, casting dark shadows and Minneapolizing” Seattle’s streets.  Admittedly, Seattle certainly has at least one example of a sky bridge that does not enhance the skyline (like the utilitarian sky bridge connecting the King County jail to the King County courthouse); the detractors have a point.  

Proponents find them an exciting way to enliven second-floor business and retail opportunities, allow shoppers to cross congested traffic, and keep off a little of our beloved Pacific Northwest drizzle.  While sky bridges are still not exactly encouraged, they are now allowed in limited circumstances. [1]

The reality of such connections, of course, depends very much on location, design, and intended use.  With assistance from Schwabe land use attorney Alison Moss, Kemper Development Company obtained permission to construct a new pedestrian bridge connecting Lincoln Square to the Lincoln Square Expansion above NE 6th Street between Bellevue Way NE and 105th Avenue NE.  We specifically use the term pedestrian bridge as opposed to a sky bridge, because there is a difference: sky bridges typically connect building to building, while pedestrian bridges typically provide connections to the sidewalk and function as part of the public realm. 

Bellevue had previously authorized crossings over the public right-of-way only over “auto – biased” streets, such as Bellevue Way. In contrast, NE. 6th Street is a designated Pedestrian Corridor.  In keeping with this designation, Kemper Development Company’s new pedestrian bridge provides a sidewalk connection and an iconic element of the public landscape.  Although covered for weather protection, it is not fully enclosed and retains an “open” feeling.

Downtown Bellevue is a regional center and is expected to accommodate about half of the City’s housing and job growth.  Nearly 11.3 million square feet of new commercial and residential development occurred in Downtown in the last decade. [2]  It is the City’s fastest-growing neighborhood—in 2012, there were more than 45,000 jobs in Downtown and more than 10,000 residents living Downtown. Residents and workers provide an active daytime and nighttime environment, supporting a rich array of cultural and entertainment uses, and the Downtown population is getting younger. [3], [4]  The new pedestrian bridge will connect current and future employees from Valve, WeWork, Apex Systems and Stifel to restaurants, upscale entertainment, several luxury hotels, condos, apartments and a pedestrian-oriented street. 

In the context of Bellevue’s development as a thriving urban center, sky bridges have not only supported upper level retail uses, they have not detracted from a vibrant pedestrian scene.    


[1] See, e.g., Seattle Municipal Code Chapter 15.64.010, limiting proliferation of sky bridges and considering requests for them with regard to how well they serve the public interest and their relationship to the cityscape.

[2] City of Bellevue Comprehensive Plan – Land Use, p. 35.

[3] City of Bellevue Comprehensive Plan – Land Use, p. 44.

[4] City of Bellevue Comprehensive Plan – Urban Design & The Arts, p. 307.

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