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How Downtown Plans Can Create a Framework for Revitalization Efforts: Part 2

People walking, biking, driving a car, or riding on a bus

With their community gathering places, unique local businesses, and walkability, downtowns are the heart of any community. As part of an urban village or centers and corridors strategy that links land use and transportation planning, downtowns also help communities achieve their goals for compact growth, a strong economy, housing options, active transportation, climate action, and more.

In Part 2 of this series on how downtown plans can provide a framework for revitalization efforts, I’ll review the following strategies: Supporting Transportation Options and Fostering Safety and Security. Part 1 of this series looked at the first two strategies: Diversifying Uses and Activating the Public Realm.

Supporting Transportation Options

Also sometimes referred to as activity centers, urban villages, or transit-oriented or transit-supportive development, downtowns are an ideal environment for walking, biking, and taking transit due to their higher densities and mix of uses. To facilitate safe, active transportation options in their downtowns, cities can prioritize the public realm for walking and biking through strategies like investing in bike lanes and sidewalks, coordinating with transit agencies, facilitating redevelopment of underutilized public surface parking lots, and reducing or eliminating parking requirements. Also see Activating the Public Realm in Part 1 of this series for additional ways to prioritize pedestrians.

Marysville's Downtown Master Plan responds to changing commute patterns through improving bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, coordinating with the local transit agency on locating a new station downtown, and encouraging downtown employers to implement transportation demand management programs (e.g., rideshare, bikeshare, vanpool/carpool, and transit passes).

The transportation vision of Bellevue's Downtown Subarea Plan is to provide regional access to downtown via roadway and transit systems, mobility between downtown and other parts of the city, and safe circulation for all travel modes.

Spokane's Downtown Plan proposes prohibiting new surface lots in certain areas and discouraging them in others, redeveloping surface lots with mixed uses, and implementing parking management strategies. It notes:

The predominance of surface parking lots detracts from the experience of walking in Downtown. Redevelopment of these sites would strengthen the downtown fabric and bring new activities and jobs. Reducing surface parking and consolidating parking in garages would improve walkability in the city and at the same time improve parking options for businesses, employees, and visitors.

Marysville's plan also addresses parking, noting that minimum parking requirements should be reduced in areas where development is most desired. Some plans, like Bellevue’s, also include recommendations for shared or joint parking, whereby parking can be shared between uses at varying times of the day or week.

Fostering Safety and Security

Many communities are addressing concerns around downtown safety and security that have continued beyond the pandemic and, in some cases, were exacerbated by it. In developing solutions, cities should assess local conditions and tailor actions to keep workers, residents, and visitors safe. Cities can use community-oriented policing to proactively foster a feeling of safety and security through the engagement of downtown businesses, property owners, and residents. Social service providers can also serve an important role in providing services and alternatives to calling 911 in non-emergencies.

Approved prior to the pandemic, Bellingham’s Downtown Plan discusses real and perceived safety issues and the resultant impacts. Some of the city’s more recent efforts include working with the Downtown Bellingham Partnership (DBP) on a private security company to conduct safety patrols, the Downtown Safety Ambassador Program, and a graffiti removal program. 

Seattle's Downtown Activation Plan proposes several safety and security measures, like increased service provider outreach in certain areas, a crisis-care center, better lighting, and graffiti removal. Identified as a recommendation in the plan, the city authorized a 10-year renewal and expansion to the Downtown Seattle Association’s Metropolitan Improvement District for cleaning, community safety, and hospitality services earlier this year.

Spokane's plan recommends maintaining an accessible downtown precinct to implement the comprehensive plan’s goal of neighborhood and community-oriented policing. It also highlights the importance of creating a feeling of safety and stewardship in alleys through features like art, landscaping, and signage, and considering a Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) assessment for public spaces and larger development projects. The Downtown Spokane Partnership website includes safety resources, with contact lists for emergencies and non-emergencies, as well as information on city regulations related to topics like litter, vandalism, trespassing, and more.

Conclusion and Additional Resources

This blog series touched on a handful of strategies cities can consider as they reimagine their downtowns. In the coming weeks, look for more blogs that will dive deeper into downtown revitalization topics such as placemaking, financial incentives, and the Washington Main Street Program.

Here are additional resources from MRSC:

And related programs from the Washington State Department of Commerce:

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

Photo of Lisa Pool

About Lisa Pool

Lisa Pool joined MRSC in June 2021. Most recently, she served as a senior planner for Bellingham. In this role, she primarily focused on long-range planning projects, including the city’s comprehensive plan and new housing-related regulations. Prior to moving to Bellingham, she worked on regional sustainability and transportation issues for a metropolitan planning organization and conducted development review for cities and counties in the Midwest.

Lisa holds a Bachelor of Arts in environmental policy and a Master of Urban Planning, both from the University of Kansas in Lawrence. She has been a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners since 2009.