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Thursday, December 29, 2005

Della’s Tortured Logic

Posted by on December 29 at 12:30 PM

In Tuesday’s Seattle Times, City Council member David Della made the case for rebuilding the Alaskan Way Viaduct rather than holding out for the city and state’s “preferred” tunnel option. “[B]uilding a new, stronger viaduct is estimated to cost between $2.7 billion and $3.1 billion and is projected to take between six and eight years to build,” Della writes. “Do we really want to risk people’s lives betting on an aesthetic point of view?”

Della’s op-ed is both metaphorically tortured (“Our safety is at risk each day that we hold out false hope that there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow”; “I can’t stand by in good conscience and let safety, jobs and transportation take a back seat to a gold-plated alternative”) and logically unsound. If the viaduct can be shut down for six to eight years during reconstruction (not much less than the estimated seven-to-nine-year shutdown tunnel construction would require), why can’t it be shut down permanently?

The state Department of Transportation estimates that a $4.1 billion, six-lane viaduct tunnel would reach its full capacity in nine years - after that, it would be just as congested as the current highway. That’s a big investment for less than a decade of traffic relief. Tearing down the viaduct and rebuilding the traffic connections through downtown instead would cost far less - and accomplish far more in the long term - than spending billions on a tunnel that will do almost nothing for the city’s long-term transportation needs.

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God help us - Della's on the city council.

Why rebuild the viaduct? It's a freeway to and from nowhere - it starts in surface streets in SoDo, and ends in surface streets just north of Pike Place.

I can't imagine why that's worth $3 billion (rebuild) or $4 billion (tunnel) - get a grip Seattle!

Maybe it makes sense if you live in West Seattle or Magnolia, as a way to shortcut I5 - but even that's not worth the time and expense.

If we need more capacity, expand I5 by making it a double-decker with a lid - or route it through the Eastside.

The viaduct made sense as Seattle's first freeway - now it makes no sense at all.

Della's just a "working port" guy who's living in the past. Vote him off, and vote someone like Nicastro back on.

She had the balls to back underground parking garages on Cap Hill - much better investment than a tunner.

Spoken like a true Cap Hill hipster, urbanite. "Nowhere" is a pretty dismissive description of what might more accurately be described as "the rest of the world".

Magnolia's not in it; it's not near 99 (check a map). But West Seattle, Ballard, all of N and NW Seattle, all the northern suburbs, and all the southern suburbs, Sodo businesses, the Port, and the main transport hub of the state, Seatac, are all dependent on viaduct traffic in one way or another. Its users are not "shortcutting I-5" anymore than they're shortcutting I-405, or I-95 for that matter; it DOESN'T GO where we want to go. These mythical "unconnected" downtown streets are also all in the wrong place. And we have no usable mass-transit system.

Seattle is almost impossible to get around in as it is. Let's make it worse!

Spoken like a true suburbanite, FNARF999. You must live in W Seattle or Ballard - or Burien.

Hey, get real: the viaduct's just a couple of miles of freeway. The rest is surface.

A better solution would be expressways linking the far west (Ballard) to I5 - along 85th say.

West Seattle already has one - they should stop whining.

Enough of gutting downtown so the people outside it can drive through.

Let’ be honest, it's not about congestion relief, it's about getting rid of that ugly concrete viaduct and reconnecting downtown with the waterfront. Isn't The Stranger supposed to be slightly Seattle-centric? The burbs would rather us just rebuild the thing or just tear it down because then they'll have to pay less $$ to improve Seattle’s waterfront. I’d like to see you stand up for THE CITY. Obviously having the tunnel - as opposed to the 6 lane roadway (think Aurora from 80th to 125th St.) would be incredibly beneficial to City of Seattle. (and no, I don’t work for the mayor and I didn’t write a letter to the Editor in this week’s edition)

What is substantiating this misguided belief that the 110,000 cars that have been traveling on the viaduct can simply be rerouted through downtown streets by making the grid more efficient? Is there a study I don’t know about? If it’s that easy to add capacity to our downtown streets then why haven’t they done anything to keep 4th Ave, 2nd Ave and 1st Ave from all coming to a complete standstill during rush hour? After the bus tunnel reopens, 3rd Ave may remain a transit only road… so where are all the cars going to go? There’s only 6 N-S arterials through the downtown core!!

I’d rather have someone with guts just go out and say that the idea is to make traffic so bad that our utopian Seattle ideal of socially engineering everyone into public transit can finally reach fruition. Instead, we’re treated to dim-witted arguments that claim we can simply re-route traffic because look, San Francisco did the same thing, and obviously what works there or in Vancouver, or in Portland will work here.

We are the most educated population in the country, and thus are the most prone to cerebral bitching/debate on these types of issues, so don’t try to pull a fast one and claim that we can BOTH save a ton of $$ by not building the viaduct, and realize long-term congestion relief in downtown Seattle. Last time, real simple: We are already building light rail, the monorail is dead, 3rd Ave is peak period transit priority, the Convention Center is above I-5 (so much for double-decking Urbanite) street lights are synchronized, Pine St is open…. There are no major, viable transportation investments left to improve traffic flow in downtown, and so the $$ saved from not building the tunnel will go towards I-405, the 520 bridge, the Burien Transit Center etc. So in the end we’ll know who to thank when we have twice the transportation investment on the Eastside and Aurora Ave on the Seattle Waterfront.

Lastly, Urbanite must be living in one of his/her idealized underground Cap Hill parking garages to think that the viaduct's only use if to give West Seattle and Magnolia residents a shortcut to I-5.

Indeed, Della's writing is garbage...

Wrong on all three guesses.

"Gutting downtown so people can drive through" -- hardly. The viaduct is what lets me GET downtown. Without it I guarantee I will never set foot in it again. And I love downtowns. SF, NYC, Vancouver, Boston, London, Paris -- terrific, wish I was there right now. But you can get to all those places. Kill the viaduct and you'll be cutting downtown off from everything. Downtown needs the rest of the city as much as the rest of the city needs downtown.

okay, I just don't get it - how is the viaduct essential to getting you downtown?

I look at it on the map, and it parallels I5 through its entire length - and is just 1/2 mile to a mile west of it.

You can't drive 1/2 mile west?

What's so freakin' great about "reconnecting downtown with the waterfront"? The last time I checked, it was pretty easy to walk to the waterfront from downtown, except for the goddamn hills. The viaduct doesn't "block" anything except views. Why should transportation take a back seat to the views of executives and yuppies in condos?

The argument for replacing the elevated highway with surface streets seems to me to fail in the same way that the argument for building surface transit instead of elevated monorail does; surface modes block; elevated doesn't. But the surface-street option people are frequently monorail people. Go figure.

I think it's because the chattering classes in Seattle have a powerful bias against reality; they WANT to devote their energies towards projects that cannot possibly succeed.

Ultimately it doesn't matter what anyone wants, because we can't even afford to do the one thing that MUST be done, to keep downtown from physically falling into the Bay: rebuild the seawall. Not going to happen -- we don't have the money, and we don't have the will. Whatever proposal finally emerges will be dragged down and killed like all the others.

Again, it's not gonna work.

The economy of Seattle will take a hit as the viaduct's closure impedes and limits traffic to and from the harbors that help drive our economy. Seattle can take a temporary hit, but it cannot take a permanent one, which not replacing the viaduct will do.

We don't have the mass transit or the highway capacity to cover the displaced traffic, Erica, and paving a token 4-6 lane surface street next to Alaskan Way will not solve the traffic problem no matter how much you, Grant Cogswell and Cary Moon delude yourselves into thinking so.

The DOT is not replacing the viaduct to increase traffic capacity, but because they need to due to the safety risk. Never was it stated that the intention was to increase traffic capacity. The capacity it handles, however, is absolutely necessary to keeping this city moving, as the transit and highway infrastructure does not exist to take on the traffic load into perpetuity.

Until we build enough mass transit to serve Puget Sound en masse, doing away with the viaduct permanently does not help this city.

"you can't drive 1/2 mile west?"

You need to familiarize yourself with the traffic connections in Seattle. If I was coming from someplace near I-5, I could take I-5 (assuming I-5 is moving, which means we're talking about 2:30-5:30 AM, but never mind that), but I'm not.

And in point of fact, driving anywhere west or east is inordinately difficult in this city, and is only going to get worse. From my house I can currently get to the airport in less time than it takes to get across town to the U-District (thank god for 509 and 518). Downtown too is strictly north-south.

If the viaduct was removed, I-5 would be ten times more useless than it is now, and the current Aurora traffic would have to bleed over to Dexter, Elliot, Eastlake.... ugh. From the south, nothing anybody does to "reconnect" is going to change the fact that the streets all change direction at Pioneer Square. Coming from anywhere south to there would become impossible.

The function of the viaduct is ultimately much more important than the form, but something that the “reconnect with the waterfront” people seem to forget is that tearing it down would eliminate the stunning views of Elliot Bay afforded to all who traverse it.

You don’t have to work in some corporate office tower or own an overpriced condo to enjoy this amazing, panoramic vista. All you need is a car or bus fare.

Tear it down and all we’ll really get is a better ground-level look at Ivar’s and the Aquarium and other touristy stuff. I don’t need to connect with that.

I'll tell you why urbanites hate the viaduct, and it's not blocking their views: it's the noise, exhaust and road dust.

When I first came to Seattle 5 years ago I rented an 8th-floor apartment in the Harbor Steps. Views were great - but the noise and dust from the viaduct (not to mention all the crap coming out of the exhaust fan at Puck's) polluted my indoor environment so much I had to move out.

Oh, yeah - that working port with its heavily polluting diesel engines on container ships and ferries also took a toll, when the inversion layer was right.

And in answer to my quesiton, fnarf999, it turns out you agree with me that the two things that need fixing more than the viaduct are east-west streets through town, and the bottleneck of I5.

That's what we should be putting our money into - not 10-years of getting used to no viaduct while it's torn down, only to have the same eyesore (and lung and earsore) rise from the ashes.

And actually, now that I think of it when I did live downtown, I always took surface streets to and from Ballard - which were fast and efficient and more pleasant than the viaduct/Aurora (Alakan Way surface to Elliot to 15th to Leary - voila) - except for the odd times when a freight train blocked the road.

It seems what you really want the viaduct for, fnarf999, is a way for Ballardites to bypass I5 on their way to the airport:

"From my house I can currently get to the airport in less time than it takes to get across town to the U-District (thank god for 509 and 518). "

Hey, if you want to live in Ballard, plan on taking a little more time getting to the airport.

Another thing we really need in this town is better maintenance for surface streets, widening major routes, and synchronizing stoplights (I think the traffic engineers have purposely un-synchronized most of them in efforts to get a bigger budget - as if it takes a huge study to deduce that you've got the timing wrong).

You could also close off most of the east-west streets downtown to eliminate cross traffic clogging things up - and make the north-south ones all one-way - as in 23 Parallel Roads in Christopher Alexander's A Pattern Language - the model of Berne, Switzerland, which has the best downtown traffic in Europe.

I used to support the tunnel option myself - the only thing I'm really against is reconstructing the elevated monstrosity - until I started thinking about the cost, what other transit projects we could spend the money on - and that the reason Allied Arts, the mayor, etc are so much in favor of the tunnel is to free up new land for their developer palls to construct a bunch of new high-rise condos on.

"When I first came to Seattle 5 years ago I rented an 8th-floor apartment in the Harbor Steps. Views were great - but the noise and dust from the viaduct (not to mention all the crap coming out of the exhaust fan at Puck's) polluted my indoor environment so much I had to move out"

For all its faults, of which there are many, the viaduct had been in Seattle about 45 years before you ever moved here. Were you thinking that it--and the exhaust fan at Puck's--would close just because you and your "indoor environment" moved into the neighborhood?

Ah, now the native Seattleite "let's keep Seattle Seattle" - i.e., completely provincial - crowd has weighed in.

FYI, I rode the viaduct to the Space Needle when I was a kid in '63. Man, it was way cool - back then.

I guess I should have said, "when I moved downtown."

And you don't realize how bad the viaduct is - until you do.

move downtown, that is

You have no clue whether or not I am native or have lived downtown. You just seem to me the type of new resident who moves next to a grade school playground and then whines about the noisy kids outside.

a. stop driving
b. pick a different place to live
c. that shit is loud and obnoxious
d. people get really huffy about these things
e. it's just like, your opinion - man.
f. the airport is what, 20+ miles away and through a major metropolis and you think you deserve to get there lickity-split?
g. we probably don't share the same reality
h. bicycling along the waterfront really is easy.
i. crumble.
j. you really need 2 tons of metal to move your 100 or so pounds around? a little absurd.

WAAAmbulance for willingly moving into an apartment right next to an elevated highway, and to whoever was stupid enough to build it there.

Urbanite, you should have done your research before moving into such a complex.

Also, have you seen the streets downtown? There isn't much left to widen. Do you realize widening streets would shorten the width of your sidewalks and further increase the pollution in downtown Seattle, as well as spread said pollution throughout more of an area rather than concentrate more of it in one location?

I also love the 'fuck you, motorists' approach you, the PWC and other no-highway proponents take to genuine, legitimate concerns. And by 'love', I mean 'I wish you'd all get a clue'.

Alas, Gomez, if you want to live downtown - you're gonna live by the viaduct no matter where you are - or in northern Belltown even worse, the train tracks.

So you try to make tradeoffs - but then an earthquake happens, the viaduct *is* shut down for months - and life as we know it doesn't end. Too bad the thing didn't crumble enough it *had* to be shut down immediately.

Anyway, this discussion is going nowhere - except into the inanity of Kate's contributions (what is she - a terrible tween?)

Why do these internet/web discussions always turn into flame wars? Coming to consensus on any issue in Seattle these days seems impossible - and so people just go with the status quo - or reconstructing it.

Maybe we *could* all agree that:

1. The principal use of the viaduct is so people north- and southwest can avoid the nightmare of I5 when they're going south- or northwest.

2. The viaduct is a blight on the downtown area. Removing it or burying it would make the downtown better.

3. Some people love the thrill of riding the upper deck and taking in that gorgeous view.

What kind of plan could make us all happy?

I think probably burying the viaduct is the only one reasonable people in all these camps could agree with.

So why does that Della guy oppose it? It's just a little more expensive, and a little harder to pull off, than a rebuild. This guy has no vision - and isn't worthy to be a member of the city council.

Hell, you could pay for the tunnel by charging big bucks to developers who benefit from the newly unblighted downtown.

Why do these internet/web discussions always turn into flame wars?

Those supporting this idea aren't interested in compromise, Urbanite. It's either their no-highway idea or the proverbial highway. That's why we can't have a discussion on this issue: one side isn't interested in changing their stance. I understand there are other options worth considering (just rebuild it like it was before, for example, rather than build a tunnel). Erica and the PWC only want everyone to consider one option: their option, and no one else's. And they want it for purely selfish reasons: so they can have a pretty waterfront, everything else in Seattle be damned. Sure, they claim it'll make Seattle better for vague, flowery reasons, while ignoring the variety of other legitimate problems that it would cause.

A story: I had a coworker who lived in West Seattle when the Nisqually quake hit. The West Seattle Bridge was pure traffic terror so she and many others chose to take the bus Downtown. She and dozens of others literally sat in traffic for hours, and finally, on 1st Avenue north of Spokane Street, her bus driver suddenly stopped the bus at the curb and got off, saying, "Sorry, my shift's over." He left everyone behind and she didn't bother sticking around to see if the driver's replacement bothered to show up: she got off and walked the rest of the way. She dealt with this sort of thing every day until they reopened the viaduct.

The city struggled through the shutdown under the impression that it was temporary and everything would reopen. Imagine the backlash of just making it permanent and fucking everyone for good.

I can agree with your three points. Also:

1. The no-highway plan would double the nightmare. Everywhere in Downtown and on the West Seattle Bridge. Period. People won't stop driving or use 6th Avenue instead. And the buses won't help as they take the exact same streets.
2. Backups all over Downtown and surrounding highways would make an even bigger blight than the admittedly-ugly Ghettoduct. Fewer people would be able to enjoy whatever removing the viaduct would turn the Waterfront into because fewer people would be able to, or bother trying to, access the city center because of the lowered traffic capacity and increased traffic nightmare.
3. Certainly. And we can agree that the ultimate goal of any transport system is to get people from Point A to Point B with as little needless strife as possible.

The viaduct was elevated and located at the central waterfront because nobody else could or wanted to make use of the empty space above the freight train tracks. What do the proponents of a highway tunnel or grand promenade aim to do with the freight train air rights when they are again empty and unbuildable?

By the way, the person who blows off the viaduct as a road to and from nowhere might want to know that its legal name is Washington State Highway 99.

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