City Damn You, Westneat!
posted by January 8 at 11:54 AMon
A week or two ago I was in a bar, ranting away at Josh Feit—an odd occurrence, I know—about the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Odder still, huh?
Right now there are three options on the table: rebuild, tunnel, or the surface option. (And, yes, the surface option is barely on the table.) The rebuild is favored by the governor, faux-populists, and idiots that tell us they enjoy the view from the viaduct (aren’t you supposed to be driving?). The tunnel is favored by the mayor and his staff. The third option—the surface option—is favored by, well, The Stranger, the People’s Waterfront Coalition, and all sensible people everywhere. (Okay, there’s a fourth: retrofit. But that’s only favored by batshitcrazies.)
Our leaders insist that we can’t replace the current viaduct with “nothing,” their word for the PWC’s proposal for a wide surface street coupled with transit and traffic improvements throughout the downtown core. We are told again and again that we have to maintain the viaduct’s current capacity at all costs—even if those costs run into the billions of dollars, even if maintaining capacity flies in the face of the other stated goals like, oh, cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
So certain are our elected officials that the PWC’s plan is a non-starter that they refuse to seriously study it, much less consider it. We simply can’t live without the viaduct, they insist, and all the cars it carries to and through the heart of the city every day. If the hippies and bike huggers who favor the surface get their way we’ll see gridlock.
But get this: Whether we go with a pricey tunnel or criminally stupid rebuild, we’re going to have to live without the viaduct anyway. For years. Whether the mayor is pouring money into the ground or the governor is building a brand new elevated freeway through the middle of the city (at the same time other cities are ripping them out), we gonna be without the viaduct for a long, long time.
So… since we’re going to have to live without the viaduct for years anyway… why not run a little experiment? The structure is unsafe—shut it down yesterday. Make transit and traffic improvements throughout the city core. And then wait. It seems to me that we’ll find out pretty quick if we can, in fact, live without the viaduct.
I was gonna write about all of this… but that damn Danny Westneat at the Seattle Times beat me to it. Worse still, he had a real-world example to back up his policy suggestion. From Westneat’s Sunday column:
When the downtown Seattle bus tunnel closed for two years of construction, transit bosses were braced for gridlock.
“There was a lot of concern it was going to be a disaster, with buses jamming the streets and traffic backed up all over the place,” says Jim Jacobson, deputy manager of Metro, which runs the buses. People were so worried buses would be at a standstill that the city chose to ban cars from Third Avenue, the street above the tunnel, during rush hours.
Then people fretted that cars would hopelessly clog the other streets. So Jacobson says they did “a thousand little things” to compensate—such as moving bus stops farther apart and eliminating some parking to aid traffic flow.
Fifteen months ago, the tunnel closed. A funny thing happened: Most commuters have been getting through downtown faster than ever.
That’s right: faster. Buses are traversing almost every downtown street quicker without the tunnel. In some cases, dramatically so…
Who knew? We could live without the bus tunnel! Hey, doesn’t that mean that maybe we could live without…
[The] tale of the bus tunnel has me wondering again about our other tunnel, the one not yet built. What to do with the Alaskan Way Viaduct is down to two choices: build a new elevated one or a tunnel. It’s the big ugly or the big costly.
Do we really need either one? What if we did a thousand little things instead?
This idea is not mine. It’s been talked about for years: Tear down the viaduct, reduce Highway 99 to a small boulevard through Seattle and then try to make up for the loss of the freeway with busways, freightways, beefed-up arterials and so forth.
I have no idea if it would work. I could quote experts saying it’d be smooth sailing. And experts saying it would paralyze the city. You know, it would sound a lot like the debate about the bus tunnel.
So here’s my modest proposal: Let’s just try it. Close the viaduct. It’s unsafe anyway, remember? Let’s come up with a thousand-point plan like they did for the bus tunnel and shut down the viaduct for a month or two. Then see what happens.
Yes, yes, yes to Westneat’s proposal. Which is actually my proposal, only Westneat beat me to making it, and made a better case for it than I could. Damn you, Westneat. Anyways…
Rebuild or no rebuild, tunnel or no tunnel, we’re going to have to live without the viaduct for five-to-seven years anyway. So… it seems to me that it might be a good idea to see what life without a viaduct is like before we commit to spending billions of dollars to replace it. Since we’re going to have enact everything surface option backers are proposing during the construction of a tunnel or a rebuilt viaduct, why not enact the surface option now and see if the doomsday predictions come true? Because it’s going to be a tragedy—a fucking crime—if we find out we can live without the viaduct only after we’ve started to build a tunnel or a new elevated structure.