Tourism and construction — a good mix?

Summer is considered to be a dreadful season for drivers in Downtown Seattle, as more families travel during the day and major festivals and cruise season bring people in from around the state and country. And the construction that is happening from projects like Elliott Bay Seawall and bridge painting along Aurora Avenue North will cause detours and road closures.

Despite all these changes happening near some of Seattle’s most popular tourist destinations, Visit Seattle spokesperson David Blandford said he does not expect the local tourism businesses to take any hit.

“We often get asked that question about how traffic jams and other transportation snarls would affect tourism, but we certainly don’t hear from tourists if that is a deterrent,” Blandford said. “There can be perceptions about access in the waterfront with all the construction down there, but businesses are still open.”

Pike Place Market marketing and public relations manager Emily Crawford said that she has yet to see the visitors’ numbers decrease by any means, due to nearby construction limiting access to the market and parking spaces.

“We provide directions to our visitors looking to get to the market in our website, and we try to give them as many options as possible to find places to park [their vehicles],” Crawford said.

Blandford added that most tourists tend to think beyond traffic issues, when they think about planning their vacations.

“The factors for them in booking travels have more to do with hotel rates or what’s happening in town, travel packages and things like that,” Blandford said.


Working with neighbors

Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) Street Use director Brian DePlace said communication is key when it comes to minimizing the potential negative impact that the changes in roads and infrastructure could bring to the tourism industry.

“One of our roles [at SDOT] is sitting down early with the contractors and having discussions with them about what it means to build an urban environment and making sure that they’ve identified who their neighbors are,” DePlace said. “Once you have those early discussions, the rest of the project can flow more smoothly from understanding everyone’s [needs] and schedules.”

DePlace said SDOT realized that weekly communication was necessary between the city, contractors and local businesses after the construction boom began taking off around 2013. At the time, DePlace estimated that there were about 50 construction cranes being used around Seattle, and only five were used outside the city. It became clear for SDOT that a lot of construction began happening in a relatively constrained environment.

“That was when we realized that — whether you’re a contractor or a business or a representative of a business district — there was value in the city coming in and saying, ‘OK, let’s sit down with everybody,” DePlace said. “Let’s figure out what the mobility impacts are going to be. Let’s figure out where people need to access their site, and let’s start to build schedules so everybody can be on the same page.”

Ryan Johnson, operations director for the iconic Ride the Ducks tours in Seattle, commended the city’s efforts in communicating with local businesses and coordinating the timing of construction projects in the area.

“They’re willing to work with people,” Johnson said. “They’re willing to work with me, making sure that we have the access [through certain roads] and our guests have the access through most our routes.

Despite the increase in traffic congestion due to delays caused by construction of major projects like the Mercer corridor and the Elliott Bay Seawall, Johnson said that Ride the Ducks hasn’t found any evidence suggesting that these delays have negatively impacted the tour demand and guest satisfaction levels.

“I think it’s pretty positive for what’s been going on around here.” Johnson said. “We’re going to keep going through our routes. We have detours and shortcuts built into our tour routes as is. Our captains practice good situational awareness and can get around problems if they creep up.”


‘A really exciting time’

Despite the changes that are set to happen in the roads and infrastructure the coming months, DePlace said that it was important that tourists and residents understand that business in Downtown Seattle will remain open and accessible for commute.

“It’s a really exciting time to be in Seattle right now,” DePlace said. “We’re one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation. It’s incredible to watch all the new growth, and we want to continue to support downtown and make sure that it’s vibrant now and in the future.”

Johnson agreed with DePlace regarding Seattle’s growth and how he expects Ride the Ducks to embrace these changes.

“A long time ago, the whole waterfront in Seattle were a bunch of railroad tracks,” Johnson said. “Now, it’s roadways, and there’s going to be a tunnel in the future. These are cool changes, and we’re excited to show people that in our tours.”

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