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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Tear It Down

posted by on September 23 at 9:40 AM

Congress for New Urbanism has a list up for of ten urban freeways that should be torn down and replaced with “boulevards and other cost-saving urban alternatives.” Topping the list? Seattle’s own Alaska Way Viaduct.

Built in 1953, as State Route 99, the Alaskan Way Viaduct is a north-south route alongside Seattle’s Elliot Bay and carries approximately 105,000 vehicles per day. Proposals released by the Washington State Department of Transportation for an expanded elevated highway or a tunnel during the downtown segment—each with price tags of $4 billion or more—met with fierce opposition. On a March 13, 2007, Seattleites voted both of these options down in a local referendum—welcoming in a surface and transit option.

This progress stems in large part from the leadership of the City Council and the People’s Waterfront Coalition, led by Cary Moon, who envisioned an open waterfront that would begin to restore the shoreline and support a vibrant urban place. Opening up 335 acres of public land on Seattle”s waterfront could give way to new parks, beaches, and development—and save the city years of construction delays and billions of dollars. “If you try to build your way out of congestion,” said Moon, “you’ll ruin your city or go broke trying.”

Says The Bellows

The additional automobile connectivity gained by extending a freeway into a dense urban area is small, and absolutely not worth the lost land value. Neither is it a reasonable use of urban land to hold freeway miles designed to carry through traffic. If other institutions want to pay a central city to bury a freeway so that through traffic can have an uninterrupted straight-line journey, then fine, but central cities shouldn’t volunteer to undermine the value of their greatest asset—dense, gridded neighborhoods near job and residential centers.

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The quickest new gridding would be to take down the jersey barrier on Aurora North put in lights and cross walks and lower the speed limit.

What's the rush to get up north to the land of strip malls anyway?

Posted by PC | September 23, 2008 9:58 AM

Dense neighborhoods near jobs. Decrease commutes. All to the good.

So what the fuck is up with this Sound Transit ballot measure that would encourage commuters to live 40 miles from downtown employment centers? They do their 20 drive from their McMansion subdivisions in the Cascade foothills, park in a park and ride lot in Puyallup, or Overlake or Lakewood or Shoreline, then get a highly subsidized train ride for 30 more miles to their job.

Hint: that's not dense walkable community "New Urbanism" building, that's massively subsidized sprawl, auto-dependant planning, and the wrong revenue source.


Posted by my brain hurts | September 23, 2008 10:01 AM

Seems the economic pressure will push politicos to start lining up projects they can claim will add jobs soon, so the teardown option may take the lead in that way too.

Posted by tomasyalba | September 23, 2008 10:17 AM

@2 Newsflash, dunce: People are already living 40 miles from downtown employment centers! Lots of people! And a whole hell of a lot of them drive single-occupancy vehicles to work every day, causing incredible pollution and gridlock! At some point, we need to start looking for ways to get them out of their cars, because whether or not we provide them with transit options, THEY'RE STILL GOING TO LIVE IN THE SUBURBS AND EXURBS!

This whole "if we punish them enough, they'll all move to the city" meme is ridiculous and completely out of touch with reality. Some people want big houses, big yards, and quiet nights. You will not convince them to trade it all in for 500 square feet in a 40-story downtown condo tower with crack deals going on below them. It sucks, but that's the truth.

Posted by Hernandez | September 23, 2008 10:18 AM

butbutbutbutbutbut... SEATTLE IS "DIFFERENT"!

Posted by max solomon | September 23, 2008 10:28 AM

"Some people want big houses, big yards, and quiet nights. You will not convince them to trade it all in for 500 square feet in a 40-story downtown condo tower with crack deals going on below them. It sucks, but that's the truth."

So tax them. Don't float a plan calling for taxing Seattle residents to subsidize selfish suburbian employees' massive commutes. If they want to choose to live 40-50 miles from where they work it is all to the good to punish that choice, with higher gas taxes, or tolls on roads, or taxes on employers (a per-capita by employee tax).

Hernandez your much higher sales taxes "solution" sucks. It would be hitting Seattle residents who by and large wouldn't benefit in any way from subsidizing the commutes of those selfish goobers out in the suburbs whose sensitivities you seem so caught up with.

Why do you hate Seattle residents who are just getting by, Hernandez? What do you have against progressive revenue raising schemes? Don't tell me - you would make money if ST2 passes, right?

Posted by alfresco | September 23, 2008 10:32 AM

If you take a walk along the waterfront north of the Market, you'll see the future of the "open space" that will be available should the Viaduct not be replaced - wall-to-wall condos and retail, with a four-foot pedestrian way. This is all about commercial development, nothing about public access.

Posted by arborheightist | September 23, 2008 10:34 AM

"Opening up 335 acres of public land on Seattle”s waterfront could give way to new parks, beaches, and development."

HAHAHA! Beaches? Really? Where? A new park? Really? How will it fit next to the Alaskan Way "boulevard"? The development part is undoubtedly correct, but whoever wrote this statement has never been to the downtown waterfront.

Posted by joykiller | September 23, 2008 10:34 AM


But density will increase along the light rail track, which is a very good thing.

Public transit in the Seattle metropolitan area is a joke. If you live anywhere outside of Seattle, public transit is infeasible, especially if you need to get in the city anytime between 10 am and 4 pm or after 7. And heaven help you if you need to get in the city on the weekend. We need to join the rest of urban America and connect our communities with transit.

Posted by keshmeshi | September 23, 2008 10:35 AM

@2: "But density will increase along the light rail track, which is a very good thing."

That density increase will be of inconsequential size, it will not create any vibrant urban centers, and who'd want to live in a residential tower near a train station here in the great northwest?

"Public transit in the Seattle metropolitan area is a joke."

Stop lying. METRO has 400,000 boardings a day. The greater Seattle area has the highest percentage of transit commuters of anywhere in the country (outside NYC). It works extremely well for many, many people. There's a concept call "rate of diminishing returns." Throwing billions at Sound Transit now will not meaningfully increase transit use overall, nor will it benefit the vast majority of those the sales taxes would impact.

A poster above had it right, provide minor financial disincentives to driving during the peak commute hours. Transit use would increase, congestion would decrease (due to discretionary trips being eliminated during those periods), and GHG emissions would decrease (due to less overall auto use, and how the congestion relief facilitates higher speeds on roadways).

I think we all know what's going on here: certain interests who have the politicos' ears want the people to tax themselves for this particular short train line. This we don't need, especially now as we head into rough economic times.

Posted by Fisheye | September 23, 2008 11:01 AM

Light rail construction is well under way. Soon we'll have rapid transit service from downtown, through South Seattle, and all the way to the Airport. The Tukwilla station is almost complete, and looks great. One question - if not now, when?

Posted by CATCH_THE_WAVE | September 23, 2008 11:05 AM


That density increase will be of inconsequential size, it will not create any vibrant urban centers

Wrong. You've never actually been outside of Seattle, have you? Real metropolitan areas with real transit have multitudes of vibrant urban/suburban centers. The San Francisco Bay Area has smaller vibrant communities stretching from SF all the way down to San Jose, and east to Oakland and beyond. Those communities are the most dense along freeways and transit.

And I'm not lying, asshole. I've occasionally considered moving out of Seattle, but commuting by transit from anywhere north of Shoreline or south of Seattle is impossible. I occasionally have to be in Seattle later than 7 pm. I occasionally have to be in Seattle on the weekends. That shit is impossible with the system we have now.

And you're talking about Metro exclusively? Who's the fucking liar now? There are 4 million people (approximately) in this area. How many of them use transit? There are 18 million people in the New York metropolitan area. How many of them use transit? Stop manipulating the statistics to suit your argument. It makes you look like a liar.

Posted by keshmeshi | September 23, 2008 11:15 AM

On behalf of 80,000 West Seattleites and tens of thousands of other people like me who need to get to and through the west side of Seattle, these out-of-town urban planning dilettantes can go fuck themselves.


Um, your tired Sound Transit informercial notwithstanding, there are NO plans to run any kind of mass transit that will serve the west half of Seattle anytime in the next 50 years. None. Nada. Zip.

Posted by Mr. X | September 23, 2008 11:16 AM

Oh, and memo to those same dilettantes, the so-called "Surface/Transit" option wasn't on the ballot.

If it had been, it would have been crushed by voters my a margin as bad or worse than the tunnel scheme was.

Posted by Mr. X | September 23, 2008 11:18 AM

Oops, "By a margin..."

Posted by Mr. X | September 23, 2008 11:19 AM


It must suck to be you.

Cities with highest transit ridership:

1. New York, New York - 54.24%
2. Jersey City, New Jersey - 46.62%
3. Washington, D.C. - 38.97%
4. Boston, Massachusetts - 31.6%
5. San Francisco, California - 30.29%
6. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - 26.43%
7. Arlington, Virginia - 26.28%
8. Yonkers, New York - 25.47%
9. Chicago, Illinois - 25.38%
10. Newark, New Jersey - 24.04%
11. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania - 21.14%
12. Alexandria, Virginia - 20.55%
13. Baltimore, Maryland - 19.55%
14. Seattle, Washington - 17.79%

Posted by keshmeshi | September 23, 2008 11:25 AM


See that 17.79% for Seattle?

Do you know what that number would be for Seattle in 20 years assuming ST gets what it wants ($20 billion dollars worth of sales taxes) and 34 more miles of light rail? That number still will be 17.79%.

Another thing - if you are going to start saying ST's trains are going to transform us into some other part of the world, don't use the Bay Area as your gold standard. Instead of saying we'll be the new Oakland, Freemont and Foster City, try saying we'll be the new Paris and Berlin.

Posted by Where's Waldo? | September 23, 2008 11:41 AM

HAHAHA, Foster City. That's my home town and let me tell you, public transit connecting you to the rest of the bay area is a joke.

Waldo, what's your relation to Foster City?

Posted by Bellevue Ave | September 23, 2008 11:46 AM

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