Slog Music

Music, Nightlife,
and Drinks

Thursday, July 18, 2013

City Proposes Waterfront Highway on Top of Tunnel

Posted by on Thu, Jul 18, 2013 at 12:11 PM

This guest post is by Fnarf, a Seattle resident.

Nine lanes of motor vehicles.
  • Via City of Seattle
  • Nine lanes of motor vehicles.

That's what you wanted, right? We were going to tear down that nasty old viaduct and replace it with a new highway in a tunnel below, and then build another highway on top of it, right? With lane after lane of cars and parked cars and buses and trucks, right?

Well, that's what you're getting. The traffic engineers in charge of redesigning Seattle's waterfront in the wake of the Alaskan Way Viaduct's removal, Waterfront Seattle, have released their newest report, and it is remarkable for how unimaginative it is. And how devoted it is to duplicating the unbelievably massive streets it replaces. More, in fact; at its widest point (shown above) there are more traffic lanes than if the two decks of the viaduct were laid side by side.

The report contains all of the usual puffery we are accustomed to seeing; the pictures of laughing children and rollerbladers and leafy foliage bursting out of every corner. But, as usual, what is missing from these photos is a city. The planners know how to build roads, so they build roads, but they have no idea how to build a city, so they just airbrush it out. Photoshop a bunch of trees in front of it.

All of the amenities they are so proud of—the walkways and benches and plantings and wide-open spaces—are planned for the already-existing areas on or in front of the piers. They could do those things anyways. But where the viaduct is now is nothing but a big old ultra-wide highway. Oh, it's been tarted up like a prostitute and called a "boulevard," like they got in Gay Paree (leaving aside the fact that the Champs-Élysées is the most boring street in Paris, just as the Paseo de la Reforma is the most boring street in Mexico City), but it's a highway. Look, here's a picture in their own document of the types of vehicle this was designed for:

Idling at a stoplight near you.
  • VIA City of Seattle
  • Idling at a stoplight near you.

The problem with this highway, besides the fact that there's going to be another brand new one right underneath it (costing billions) is that a highway is a way to get THROUGH a place; it is not itself a place. It is not a city; it's a way to get to a city. The city itself needs to have life and color and commerce. The bluenoses who have always run Seattle have always hated filthy commerce, but busy, even chaotic street-level commerce is what makes cities hum: the West Village (or Flushing Main Street) in New York; Covent Garden in London; Rue de Buci in Paris; El Centro or La Condesa in Mexico City; the laneways of Melbourne; Bologna, Italy. Even here in Seattle, which is more interesting, Pike Place or East Marginal Way?

Degraves Street in Melbourne.
  • Fnarf
  • Degraves Street in Melbourne.

This project was supposed to "connect the waterfront" back to the city. But now instead of strolling unmolested under an unsightly (to some) elevated highway, you'll have to wait at not one but two traffic lights for cars and buses and trucks to pass — the intersections are so wide that you'll have to stop halfway across at a planted meridian. Yes, it's nice that there's a dedicated bikeway. But even aside from the traffic lanes, why so much nothing?

This is one of the small ones.
  • Via City of Seattle
  • This is one of the small ones.

And speaking of planted areas, the pictures show some spectacular ones, because in architectural illustrations it's always the loveliest day in summer. But in reality it's often fall or winter, and it's raining, and the plantings, like all public plantings everywhere, have been allowed to bolt and go to seed, dry out and turn brown and fall over, get covered in truck exhaust, fill with cigarette butts and trash and dog excrement (or worse). Has anyone ever struggled through places like Lake City Way or Aurora up in Shoreline, where the meridians and buffers and verges have been planted, then ignored, and thought, "Yes, this is great, I'd love to have more of this in the heart of the city"? No?

I think this is a massive lost opportunity, and a great waste. Seattle needs exciting areas full of neon lights and bright signs and cafes on the sidewalk and narrow streets. This is what makes a city: a lot of people living close. And what makes a city is not open space, not highways, but buildings smashed together in ways that leave the streets that communicate between them in an assortment of T-shapes and V-shapes and curves and narrowings and openings that send the painters of lane markings into a tizzy but the lovers of civitas into delight. If you seek delight, don't build this hideous road in the middle of your city. We have enough lanes already. Get rid of these. One lane each way, if you must, and a place to put the ferry traffic. Fill the rest with CITY.

I leave you with the words of Ivor de Wolfe, in his great book The Italian Townscape

It was, that is to say, not a matter of laying out a street and aligning buildings along it, but of arranging a building group according to its requirements and then leaving an alley on the outside between one group and another. An academic distinction so long as modern corruptions obscure the street's essential nature as a precinct, a playground, a home-from-home, an escape—almost a retreat [...] And true to its ideal as playground as well as service area the street spawned caves, inns, stalls, shops, the appurtances of leisure, and in the process took on the aspects of a fair with the appropriate accompaniment of visual hazards in aid of cosiness, gaiety, and convenience.

Thanks to Tom Fucoloro at Seattle Bike Blog for bringing this to my attention.


Comments (108) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
Matt from Denver 1
Seattle's fucked. I left at just the right time.
Posted by Matt from Denver on July 18, 2013 at 12:23 PM · Report this
NotSean 2
Don't be shy Fnarf.
What do YOU think about it?
Posted by NotSean on July 18, 2013 at 12:23 PM · Report this

Cities are vestigial structures from the 18th century and get in the way of motorized vehicles.

Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on July 18, 2013 at 12:24 PM · Report this
Fnarf 5
@4, oh, I got yer f-bombs right here waiting.
Posted by Fnarf on July 18, 2013 at 12:29 PM · Report this
Fifty-Two-Eighty 6
And just exactly how would you get all that traffic in and out of the city? Teleportation?
Posted by Fifty-Two-Eighty on July 18, 2013 at 12:31 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 7
Or we could just not build the tunnel and save a TON OF TAX DOLLARS.

But that would be prudent.

And then we could afford to finish the 520 bridge. Right now we can't.
Posted by Will in Seattle on July 18, 2013 at 12:34 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 8
@6 teleportation would be cheaper than the $10 each way tolls, quite frankly.
Posted by Will in Seattle on July 18, 2013 at 12:35 PM · Report this
Fnarf 9
@6, there's a brand-new ultra-expensive freeway going in directly underneath this boulevard. But hey, thanks for contributing (nothing).
Posted by Fnarf on July 18, 2013 at 12:36 PM · Report this
Fnarf 10
@7, @8: please don't comment.
Posted by Fnarf on July 18, 2013 at 12:37 PM · Report this
katrat 12
I honestly don't get this. Wasn't the WHOLE POINT of the tunnel to avoid this? Was this in the fine print all along?
Posted by katrat on July 18, 2013 at 12:39 PM · Report this
Who is coming up with this shit? Is this the city council's doing?
Posted by chrismealy on July 18, 2013 at 12:42 PM · Report this
schmacky 14
Is there anything to be done about it? Or is the dye cast?
Posted by schmacky on July 18, 2013 at 12:42 PM · Report this
Matt the Engineer 15
@6 I think that's what the massive tunnel was for? That and that big freeway we already have going through our city.
Posted by Matt the Engineer on July 18, 2013 at 12:43 PM · Report this
You all laughed at Frank Chopp with his "enclosed viaduct with retail underneath" plan, but it looks pretty good now, doesn't it?
Posted by SuperNintendo Chalmers on July 18, 2013 at 12:44 PM · Report this
@16 It does not.
Posted by Greydon Clark on July 18, 2013 at 12:47 PM · Report this
Fnarf 18
@15, there's also First Avenue, Second Avenue, Third Avenue, Fourth Avenue, Fifth Avenue, Sixth Avenue, Airport Way, Elliott Avenue, Aurora Avenue, Dexter Avenue, Western Avenue, Westlake Avenue, Fairview Avenue, Yale Avenue Eastlake Avenue, Denny Way, Olive Way, Stewart Street, Pike Street, Pine Street, Seneca Street, Spring Street, Madison Street, Cherry Street, James Street, Yesler Way, Jackson Street, King Street, East Marginal Way, and Boren Avenue.

I'll think we could manage.
Posted by Fnarf on July 18, 2013 at 12:52 PM · Report this
After looking through the report (page 38 & 39), the top image of this post is not showing nine lanes of traffic, but actually: 2 lanes of transit, 4 lanes of general purpose, 2 lanes of ferry loading/parking, and 1 lane of general parking. And that's only for King to Yesler; Yesler to Madison would have 4-8 lanes, and Madison to Pine would have 6 (and there are never more than 4 lanes of general purpose through the whole route).

You'll also notice the dedicated bike lanes that are separated from motor vehicles.

I'm not advocating for a huge street, but did any of you think they'd be getting rid of Alaskan Way in addition to the viaduct? The plan itself looks pretty similar to how the street is now, just updated with more thought to traffic flow.

The street still needs to exist, especially for all of the ferry traffic.
Posted by pbelamy on July 18, 2013 at 12:53 PM · Report this
TomJohnsonJr 20
Beautifully done.
Posted by TomJohnsonJr on July 18, 2013 at 12:54 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 21
What is the reason, exactly, why we can't have one lane in each direction, a middle turn lane, and bike paths on each side? Add an additional right-turn/waiting lane close to the ferries. That would actually fit the space.


Posted by keshmeshi on July 18, 2013 at 12:55 PM · Report this
Fnarf 22
One thing I didn't mention here that I wish I had was to remind everyone that while the tunnel is underground the vast approaches are not, and not far from the places in these illustrations is going to be a mind-boggling, multi-acre sea of bare concrete, as many as sixteen lanes wide in places. And another one to the north.
Posted by Fnarf on July 18, 2013 at 12:56 PM · Report this
I will note to readers that you can submit comments on this plan via Waterfront Seattle's website Fnarf links in his post, and would encourage folks to do so.
Posted by lbd on July 18, 2013 at 12:59 PM · Report this
Wouldn't an elevated Light Rail/Subway running in that place (like the #7 through the aforementioned Flushing) make more sense as long as we have the new viaduct?

Posted by neo-realist on July 18, 2013 at 12:59 PM · Report this
Fnarf 25
@19, to paraphrase Charles Mudede, you're thinking like a traffic engineer. You're totting up all the things that sound reasonable, but you're missing the bigger picture, which is the amount of space it takes up. If you're a pedestrian, it doesn't really matter if all the lanes are technically through traffic; they're still lanes, twelve feet of asphalt with a motor vehicle on top of it. Notice that my caption doesn't say "nine lanes of traffic", it says "nine lanes of motor vehicles".

If instead you start from the point of the purpose of the city, and consider the vast space available for redesign, including the viaduct space, the current Alaskan Way, and the pier surrounds, plus all the vacant or grossly underutilized lots that are down there, you've got a whole neighborhood to plan.

Don't start with the streets, that's what I'm saying. Starting with the lanes means you will come up with something like this every single time. Start with the city instead. Start with buildings.

If it was up to me I would drop a bunch of buildings down there and then wend the street around them after I'd finished. One lane each way. Make it slow and annoying to drive, like Pike Place; the through traffic will find another route. There are dozens.

Build this boulevard and the projected traffic paying those tolls in the tunnel drops to almost zero. We're counting on those tolls to stave of bankruptcy from the tunnel project, remember?
Posted by Fnarf on July 18, 2013 at 1:07 PM · Report this
4Shadows 26
SUCKERS. To all you who voted for tunnel or didn't vote at all, please go to hell.
Posted by 4Shadows on July 18, 2013 at 1:17 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 27
The bigger picture is we're trying to cram twice the number of vehicles into half the capacity, with zero added transit (in fact, a reduction of transit), fewer downtown exits (as in zero), and a massive congestion already caused by the non-solution to the Mercer Mess that Gates and Allen stuck us with.

And all with $10 tolls each way - which no millionaire will pay, because we already agreed to exempt their non-profit all-electric limos and party vans.

Are you getting it yet?

One minor accident and the whole thing gridlocks.

One 200-500 year event like Rainier going (happens all the time, you just didn't live here then) or the Quake zones ripping and all the people trapped below die. All of them. The fans stop working since the power is cut and the fans overheat with scurf and debris. It's just simple numbers. No matter how you pretend otherwise.
Posted by Will in Seattle on July 18, 2013 at 1:19 PM · Report this
The point of knocking down the Viaduct was to knock down the Viaduct, so there would be more un-obstructed views from the Condos that will be built down there. That's what they meant by "opening up" the waterfront.
Posted by j-lon on July 18, 2013 at 1:19 PM · Report this
pg13 29
The tunnel never made any sense. Who would want to pay as much as it will cost to use it to go where it goes?

With this boulevard (which I certainly don't mind as much as Fnarf does), I can't imagine anyone ever using the tunnel. Never could, really...but this boulevard seems to seal its fate.

If put to a vote: I'd have chosen this boulevard over the tunnel. Who would ever vote for both of them?
Posted by pg13 on July 18, 2013 at 1:21 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 30
And then they put a surface road above that, as if that would help.

It might if it was truck only and transit/bike only.

But ... it isn't. It's going to be tourists. Lost tourists, trying to figure how to turn.

Human behavior is predictable.
Posted by Will in Seattle on July 18, 2013 at 1:21 PM · Report this
TomJohnsonJr 31
@25, Detroit just filed for bankruptcy a moment ago.
@26, the legislature's vote is the only one that mattered.
@27, you and the word "scurf" were made for each other.
Posted by TomJohnsonJr on July 18, 2013 at 1:22 PM · Report this
Dude, you are obsessed with Australia
Posted by ian on July 18, 2013 at 1:23 PM · Report this
Abe Frohman 33
Hear effing hear. As a West Seattle resident that commutes downtown for work, the entire tunnel is a boondoggle. However, if we're tearing down the viaduct and building that boondoggle, please please please do something intelligent with the waterfront. Does anyone really get misty-eyed about, for example, Lake Shore Drive in Chicago? Because that's what that sounds/looks like. Eegads.
Posted by Abe Frohman on July 18, 2013 at 1:24 PM · Report this
Kudos to FNARF. It looks like the highway engineers took a lesson from Mercer Street, the brand new waterfront highway in south Lake Union. More than twice the width of Aurora Avenue.
Posted by Citizen R on July 18, 2013 at 1:24 PM · Report this
Gordon Werner 35
there's like 3 blocks where there will be more than 4 lanes for traffic ... and that is because they won't relocate the ferry terminal and need to have a place where cars can feed into the ferry terminal. From Columbia north ... only 4 lanes ... just like they showed us at the Open House last month.
Posted by Gordon Werner on July 18, 2013 at 1:26 PM · Report this
TomJohnsonJr 36
Sorry to have not llinked.
Detroit—The city of Detroit filed the largest municipal bankruptcy case in U.S. history Thursday afternoon, culminating a decades-long slide that transformed the nation’s iconic industrial town into a model of urban decline crippled by population loss, a dwindling tax base and financial problems.…
Posted by TomJohnsonJr on July 18, 2013 at 1:26 PM · Report this
Catalina Vel-DuRay 37
I find that I really can't get that excited about this either way. I have no non-work reason to go to the north end, and the waterfront makes me itch. But I do appreciate Our Dear Fnarf's passion.
Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay on July 18, 2013 at 1:27 PM · Report this
Dougsf 38
Totally agree. This plan makes San Francisco's Embarcadero look like Rue Montorgeuil.

Leave the bike path, make dedicated light rail lanes down the center, but the rest pavement should be dedicated to moving the bare minimum of of cars to-and-from ferries or to business and industry in the neighborhood with few other options. People traveling north and south already have a ton of alternate routes.

Don't like stop-and-go traffic? This is downtown. Use the tunnel. Use the freeway.
Posted by Dougsf on July 18, 2013 at 1:30 PM · Report this
schmacky 39
@35: Four lanes is two too many.
Posted by schmacky on July 18, 2013 at 1:31 PM · Report this
The illustrations in that report are ridiculous.
Posted by shotsix on July 18, 2013 at 1:32 PM · Report this
@25 I mostly agree with what you're saying, except for one thing: this is a Street and Transit Update developed by, one would think, traffic engineers. Their job is to manage traffic, not create neighborhoods.

Now that isn't to say they couldn't work around a different objective if one was presented, but I don't think any part of the viaduct replacement plan included construction of new buildings and mass rezoning of the area. The plan was to build a tunnel, tear down the viaduct, and update Alaskan Way.

I think they can get away with removing a lane or two, but more than that and you'll be losing transit or ferry lanes, both of which would impact traffic of all other lanes (as well as traffic through the downtown corridor). Since there aren't dedicated lanes for mass transit throughout Seattle any failure point would cascade through surrounding areas which is bad for everyone.

@35 Yep. From a general sense, any area where people will actually congregate only has four lanes.
Posted by pbelamy on July 18, 2013 at 1:35 PM · Report this
Be suspicious when the renderings look like they were done by Thomas Kincade.
Posted by shotsix on July 18, 2013 at 1:38 PM · Report this
Akbar Fazil 43
Knowing something like this would be done anyway, this is exactly why I voted against the tunnel.
Posted by Akbar Fazil on July 18, 2013 at 1:48 PM · Report this
I wonder if this plan has anything to do with that study that determined that no one is going to use the tunnel on account of the tolls.
Posted by Rhizome on July 18, 2013 at 1:53 PM · Report this
Fnarf 45
@41, there aren't any dedicated transit lanes downtown? I could swear that not that long ago we built yet another giant fucking tunnel for buses (and now trains). Must have been a dream.

"Only" four lanes, huh? Look at that Seneca intersection again. Four lanes of THROUGH TRAFFIC, yeah, but also an acre of "buffers" and parking and so on, adding up to seven lanes of pavement, whether there are moving vehicles on them or not. Plus enormous sidewalks.

The point being that this street is not a place; it's a way to get from one place to another. No one will want to "congregate" here at all, because there's nothing there, or almost nothing.

That's because the people in charge of this city don't know what cities are for, and what suspicions they have, they're against. Think of how the city deals with the subject of signs, or advertisements, all in the name of pearl-clutching "good taste".

@32, I used a pic of Melbourne because I have it, and it sorta-kinda represents what I'm talking about. I wasn't able to get other pictures that were better because of rights issues. I have pictures I took of London and Paris and Sydney and Mexico City, too, but they unfortunately suck donkey balls. I could drop a ton of Google Streetview links but no one would look at them.
Posted by Fnarf on July 18, 2013 at 1:57 PM · Report this
I have an idea - and I don't know if this has ever been considered or discussed before - but could we build some sort of structure on the surface above the tunnel, something with two layers (one for each direction of car traffic), under which pedestrians could walk to the waterfront without crossing a busy street?
Posted by Jude Fawley on July 18, 2013 at 2:00 PM · Report this
@45 The bus tunnel is great, and if we could get more of that I'm all for it. But even the bus tunnel exits to surface streets, and plenty of busses still move through downtown at all hours of the day.

You lost me with the Seneca intersection. What's wrong with a sidewalk? Or a promenade? Or a buffer to keep bad Seattle drivers (and tourists) from running over pedestrians?

Seeing as how the point of a waterfront is to be on the waterfront, I don't see the problem with having a big strip running along the piers for people to walk up and down, which also pushes the traffic (and noise) further away.
Posted by pbelamy on July 18, 2013 at 2:12 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 48
@45 wrong - it was built as a tunnel for light rail and I convinced the ST finance and pols to allow bus traffic until capacity usage on light rail was high enough.

Which ends when the Capitol Hill and UW Husky Stadium stations come online.

No bus tunnels then.
Posted by Will in Seattle on July 18, 2013 at 2:12 PM · Report this
CC-Rob 50
Look on the bright side - all the rich land developers (the same ones who helped kill projects like the monorail) will soon have property with unobstructed views of the waterfront, which in turn will increase their wealth. See? The system works!*

(*The corrupt system, that is.)
Posted by CC-Rob on July 18, 2013 at 2:19 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 52
@ 49, read the byline. This might be published by The Stranger, but it wasn't written by any of their staff.
Posted by Matt from Denver on July 18, 2013 at 2:21 PM · Report this
Kudos Fnarf. Well argued and spot on.

Christ this thing is a monstrosity. Dougsf mentioned the Embarcadero and that was my first thought too. It's like someone looked at the Embarcadero and said: "ah that's not quite right, let's make it a little bigger".
Posted by gnossos on July 18, 2013 at 2:28 PM · Report this
Fnarf 54
@48, "I convinced the ST finance and pols to allow buses"


Except that it was called "the bus tunnel" from the start, with the (false) promise of future rail. I say "false" because the dummy rail they put in was unusable and they had to rip it and the whole line out and lower the floor and rebuild everything when the time came.

And Sound Transit had nothing to do with the planning or construction of the tunnel, and indeed did not exist until years after it was built. So there were no "ST finance" people for you to convince. And no pol has or had the faintest idea who you are, other than "oh, that guy, what a creep". And you couldn't convince a starving man to eat a sandwich. Other than that, yeah, totally plausible.
Posted by Fnarf on July 18, 2013 at 2:40 PM · Report this
Clara T 56
There should be a way to integrate an elevated park with traffic flow that can let some of the commerce coming from/through Ballard toward the Port or West Seattle flow through the waterfront with reasonable efficiency without creating untenable choke points. An elevated park doesn't need to span the entire waterfront afterall ...
Posted by Clara T on July 18, 2013 at 3:02 PM · Report this
There's only one candidate for mayor who has both the vision and the planning credentials to get the waterfront done right -- Peter Steinbrueck. He gets a bad rap from the Stranger because his knee doesn't jerk Yes for every high-density development scheme that comes along, but Peter's smarts are what's needed here.
Posted by Citizen R on July 18, 2013 at 3:05 PM · Report this
seandr 58
I'm with fnarf on this one. How do we fix this?
Posted by seandr on July 18, 2013 at 3:10 PM · Report this
treacle 59
W.T.F. ?! Who the fuck green-lighted this bullshit?
How do we fix this car-tastrophe #2?
Posted by treacle on July 18, 2013 at 3:15 PM · Report this
sikandro 60
Great post, Fnarf.
Posted by sikandro on July 18, 2013 at 3:19 PM · Report this
south downtown 61
@13 "Who is coming up with this shit? Is this the city council's doing?"

This has come from McGinn's DPD and SDOT and Parks Department.

Let's give him 4 more years so we can build this billion dollar fuck up.

Or dump him.

The Stranger Election Board is just too stoned to see what a loser McGinn is and how he is JUST FUCKING UP THE CITY.
Posted by south downtown on July 18, 2013 at 3:38 PM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 62
Here's a VERY stupid question. Why can't we build this proposed mega surface street and then BUILD ON TOP OF IT? Walkways, shops, a park -- whatever. Cover the damned thing.
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on July 18, 2013 at 3:41 PM · Report this
Fnarf 63
@62, you mean...with, like...a...viaduct?
Posted by Fnarf on July 18, 2013 at 3:50 PM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 64
@63, nope. Well, not exactly. Just a way to make it less unsightly. Which, I suppose, might meet the technical definition of a viaduct, but not like ours.

Street Level: this monstrosity as proposed by whatever clown
Above that, build a ceiling.
On top of the ceiling, put pedestrians.
And bicycles.
And a nice walkway to connect to the Market.
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on July 18, 2013 at 4:00 PM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 66
@65 I think WSDOT owes at least goats at this point.
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on July 18, 2013 at 4:25 PM · Report this
@64, sounds an awful lot like the cut and cover tunnel design.
Posted by ChefJoe on July 18, 2013 at 4:37 PM · Report this
litlnemo 71
Fnarf: amen, amen, amen.

All the people who complained that the viaduct "cuts off the waterfront from the city" -- what crack were you smoking? The viaduct is ugly, yes -- but the traffic lanes needed to make up for the broken tunnel design (no downtown exits, only two lanes each way, access to Elliott and NW Seattle no longer easy) will cut off the waterfront more thoroughly than the viaduct ever could. You can at least walk under the viaduct.

And where is the waterfront streetcar, and why do the powers that be seem so determined NOT to bring it back? The fix is in, somewhere.
Posted by litlnemo on July 18, 2013 at 5:20 PM · Report this
south downtown 73

Waterfront Seattle is a civic partnership led by the Seattle Department of Transportation, the Department of Planning and Development and the Department of Parks and Recreation and includes the following project team members:

Marshall Foster
Department of Planning and Development

Steve Pearce
Seattle Department of Transportation

Hannah McIntosh
Seattle Department of Transportation

Nathan Torgelson
Parks and Recreation

Design Team: james corner field operations

Project Management / Engineering Team:
Shiels, Obletz Johnsen & CH2MHill
Posted by south downtown on July 18, 2013 at 5:42 PM · Report this
Motherfuckers, this was the plan the whole time. I voted against the tunnel, but now we get this monstrosity on top of it. The combination of these two project is one of the most colossal civic fuckups and waste of taxpayer dollars of all time. Baby Jesus, help us.
Posted by deign_to_say on July 18, 2013 at 6:00 PM · Report this
Kinison 77
Hahahahahaha, hilarious. More more!! More roads, more tunnels! Cant wait to move out of Seattle.
Posted by Kinison on July 18, 2013 at 6:33 PM · Report this
south downtown 78
@74 David, i know that the administration has been publicly presenting this plan. hopefully council will question it. funding for this fiasco? good question.

wonder if the mayor or council will tell us not only how this beast will be funded, but the $2B (at least and growing) deferred roads maintenance, $270M parks backlog, the unfunded pension liabilities, the new SLU substation, the northern portion of the seawall, etc.
Posted by south downtown on July 18, 2013 at 6:51 PM · Report this
People, you're smoking crack. The new waterfront is going to be rad. As a pioneer square resident, I'm super psyched to have an honest to goodness beach access in my neighborhood, a new entertainment pier for concerts, a SWIMMING POOL barge, and no viaduct dripping oily sludge on me when i go for a run. Would it be nice to also have an entire new neighborhood? Sure! but the city doesn't have money for that. They are being extremely creative with the small amount of money we do have, after most everything is being spent on the tunnel, to make something cool. The development of this plan has been years in the making, involving huge efforts to include public input and engage the city in the dialogue. There have been opportunities to participate in the process all along the way. It's disappointing that the Stranger would give voice to this totally unproductive and misleading rant. It is so painfully difficult to get anything done in this city. Please, rather than riling people up, misleading the public into thinking that there is money for some grand non-existant plan, and tossing out the years of money and planning that have already gone into it, let's just make it happen and move on to making more cool shit. I hope there is someone planned to make a slog post about all the cool shit the plan has going for it. Otherwise this seems totally irresponsible.
Posted by sari on July 18, 2013 at 7:08 PM · Report this
@79 Exactly! But people expect rants here...
Posted by AB_Sea on July 18, 2013 at 8:26 PM · Report this
Q*bert H. Humphrey 82
Can't we get them to re-aim the tunnel machine and have it come out in Interbay or something? Then we could at least run trains through the stupid tunnel.

Also, @79, where's the pony paddock going?

Posted by Q*bert H. Humphrey on July 18, 2013 at 8:36 PM · Report this
@78, some of it is from "later phase" Seawall projects. There's links to the budget for that at including a "new surface streets" item.
Posted by ChefJoe on July 18, 2013 at 9:02 PM · Report this
got MVET for transit service and capital? got south pathway? no.
got two freeway interchanges next to downtown? check.
Posted by eddiew on July 18, 2013 at 9:20 PM · Report this
@79: You're the one on crack I'm afraid. Sure all sorts of fun stuff along the waterfront itself would be great, but if you put this monstrosity between the city and and the water it's a disaster. You create a huge deadzone between each. Wasted, empty meaningless acres of concrete.

Just curious: have you ever seen the Embarcadero?

We've got a one shot opportunity here and you're willing to settle for this garbage? Just doing nothing at all and letting it rot would be better.
Posted by gnossos on July 18, 2013 at 9:36 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 87
@54 I was there. It was a party downtown. You missed it.

It took you forever to realize I was right about the SR-99 Tunnel being a Very Bad Idea. When Sound Transit pulls the plug on bus service in the tunnel when the next stations come online - as planned - don't come crying to me that you didn't read the fine print.

But, yes, it was my idea. Sorry if that shatters your fragile ego.
Posted by Will in Seattle on July 19, 2013 at 12:59 AM · Report this
Time for a massive campaign to take back beautiful Seattle design. NO to streets on streets. NO to this idea. Yes to pedestrian and tourist flows and background flows of pedicabs, bicycles, tourist buses and King County Metro Transit!
Posted by jitterbalm on July 19, 2013 at 1:11 AM · Report this
TLjr 89
I just checked the configuration of the Embarcadero.

It has two traffic lanes in each direction for most of its length. Maybe three in a few places. And it has bidirectional light rail.

I don't see why that shouldn't work in Seattle.
Posted by TLjr on July 19, 2013 at 5:50 AM · Report this
How do we make sure this doesn't happen?
Posted by Becka on July 19, 2013 at 10:30 AM · Report this
goatfarm 94
Yawn..everybody unclench. The section Fnarf chose is the one with dedicated Ferry waiting lanes south of Yesler. All of the other sections look less horrifying. Look here (download it, file size is large) and examine the whole plan:…

If we get rid of car transport via ferries, and maybe the Port of Seattle while we at it - problem solved!
Posted by goatfarm on July 19, 2013 at 12:18 PM · Report this
Wow, this sounds like the construction time will bankrupt every business currently doing business on Alaskan. But, I'm sure that the plans for the developers who are pushing this through.
Posted by tiktok on July 19, 2013 at 12:43 PM · Report this
This is why I favored rebuilding the Viaduct. It would have been cheaper, and people could have walked under it to get to the waterfront just like today. Add some lighting and some paint and it could even have been reasonably pleasant down there. As I said all along, the only people who benefit from a tunnel are property owners who get to build a new swath of view condos.

Incidentally, you know those interesting-looking brick commercial buildings there that have been around for a hundred years or so? You can expect those to be replaced with character-free luxury condo towers.
Posted by Orv on July 19, 2013 at 1:06 PM · Report this
New things are never perceived to have "character", unless they mimic hundred-year old designs. Fifty years down the road, people are rallying to save bowling alleys and Denny's locations.
Posted by tiktok on July 19, 2013 at 2:40 PM · Report this
Fnarf 99
@94, I'm surprised to hear that Seneca is south of Yesler now. Something to do with the magnetic poles reversing or something?

Here's a quote from a great new book I just picked up, Walkable City by Jeff Speck, that gets to the heart of what I was saying:
Rome, at first glance, seems horribly inhospitable to pedestrians. So many things are wrong. Half the streets are missing sidewalks, most intersections lack crosswalks, pavements are uneven and rutted, handicap ramps are largely absent. Hills are steep and frequent (I hear there are seven). And need I mention the drivers?

Yet [...] this anarchic obstacle course is somehow a magnet for walkers [...]

This tumltuous urban landscape, which fails to meet any conventional American measure of "pedestrian friendliness," is a walker's paradise. So what's going on here? [...] The main thing that makes Rome--and the other winners: Venice, Boston, San Francisco, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Prague, Paris, and New York--so walkable is what we planners call "fabric," the everyday collection of streets, blocks, and buildings that tie the monuments together. Despite its many technical failures, Rome's fabric is superb.

Yet fabric is one of several key aspects of urban design that are missing from the walkability discussion in most places. This is because that discussion has largely been about creating adequate and attractive pedestrian facilities, rather than walkable cities. [emphasis mine] [...]

If walking was about creating safe pedestrian zones, then why did more than 150 Main Streets pedestrianized in the sixties and seventies fail almost immediately? Clearly, there is more to walking than just making safe, pretty space for it.
This waterfront plan fails to meet the basic standards for walkability, because it LACKS INTEREST. Plants are not interesting; buffers and bollards and blank open spaces are not interesting. Traffic lanes are not interesting. What's interesting is attractive, friendly building faces, curiosity-inspiring street angles, useful shops and amenities.They're not here.
Posted by Fnarf on July 19, 2013 at 6:34 PM · Report this
litlnemo 100
Well, again, what Fnarf said. Wide pedestrian plazas, big wide sidewalks and setbacks on wide American streets do not a walkable, livable city make.
Posted by litlnemo on July 19, 2013 at 8:28 PM · Report this
Fnarf 102
@101, I can't stop laughing.
Posted by Fnarf on July 19, 2013 at 11:41 PM · Report this
I just checked the configuration of the Embarcadero.

It has two traffic lanes in each direction for most of its length. Maybe three in a few places. And it has bidirectional light rail.

I don't see why that shouldn't work in Seattle.

Because it doesn't work in San Francisco either. The Embarcadero is one of the worst dead zones in that entire city. They got rid of the terrible viaduct, then rebuilt it as a place to similarly hurry through, rather than a place to be for any reason.

And the Embarcadero is not just a few lanes and a streetcar. It's also a needlessly wide buffer flanking the streetcar, plus super-wide and utterly barren sidewalks to fill out the massive right-of-way. It's a mile of wharf buildings of almost zero interest on one side, and mostly dull pocket parks on the other. And there's little market-based impetus to fill in the wharves with activity, since the Embarricadero makes them such a pain to access.

Meanwhile, the streetcar stops between Beach Street and the Ferry Building are barely used, thanks to an access penalty created by the unappealing thoroughfare combined with the sheer and exacerbated distance to any worthwhile destinations inland.

Recreating this barrier and this sense of vacancy in Seattle -- which the current plan largely does -- would lead to the very same failure.
Posted by d.p. on July 20, 2013 at 2:00 AM · Report this
raindrop 104
Good article Knarf. It shouldn't be a nightmare of waiting and scurrying to get across all those lanes.
Posted by raindrop on July 20, 2013 at 11:52 AM · Report this
DOUG. 105
This isn't a "hideous road in the middle of your city", it's a hideous road on the edge of your city. The ferry traffic has to come and go somehow. And isn't Manhattan ringed by roadways such as this?

If the powers that be want to build this thing, I'd like to see some concessions made for the streets that truly are in the middle of the city. Give the cars their waterfront space (though not nine lanes of it) and their stupid tunnel, but make 1st Avenue pedestrian-only, make 3rd Avenue actually just for buses, build separated bike tracks on 2nd and 4th, close off Pine at Westlake Plaza, etc.
Posted by DOUG. on July 20, 2013 at 1:32 PM · Report this
Doctor Memory 106
@105: Manhattan is ringed by roadways like this, courtesy Robert Moses, and they are also disasters, in exactly the way that d.p@103 accurately described San Francisco's Embarcadero: other than a few locations where there are huge tourist draws (Fisherman's Wharf in SF; the Intrepid museum and the Circle Line Dock on Manhattan's west side), the waterfront goes largely unused during the day and actively avoided at night, because nobody wants to go to a park that you have to walk across a highway to get to.

The Bloomberg administration, to their credit, has spent a lot of time and money improving Riverside park, but it's a ghost town compared to Central Park. (The lack of subway service west of 8th Av doesn't help matters, to be sure.)

There have been plans floated on and off for decades now to bury the West Side Highway in a tunnel; sadly the cost has always been prohibitive. It's possible that the 7 line extension will help matters a bit, but even that is going to terminate at the Javits Center and not get you across the West Side Highway.
Posted by Doctor Memory on July 20, 2013 at 2:26 PM · Report this
Doctor Memory 107
And, of course, if Will in Seattle can produce so much as a single Sound Transit employee who will admit in public that he used WiS as any sort of source for anything other than cheap laughs, I will butter, salt, sauté and eat my hat.
Posted by Doctor Memory on July 20, 2013 at 2:29 PM · Report this
Actually, Doug., a diffuse street grid is very good for pumping life into a city. As long as the streets aren't blindly optimized for 35mph car travel, and as long as those who want to be in the city (rather than just pass through it) aren't treated as an afterthought.

As an added bonus, diffuse grids are actually better for traffic than freeways and channelized arterials, which are only as good as their worst bottlenecks. Diffuse, urban-scaled grids (see: downtown Portland) are win-win!

Closing off Pine to become a windswept hobo village is ironically one of the worst things you could do for downtown's pedestrian experience. Read the passage Fnarf quotes @99.
Posted by d.p. on July 20, 2013 at 2:33 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 109
@107 I don't have to, I know the three people involved in that choice, and they either were elected officials or are still in public service.

Now, you're trying to distract from the main question: Is a surface boulevard - not a highway but something for truck off-peak and pedestrian/bike/carpool/bus usage - a better choice than the continued monstrosity that is the SR-99 tunnel design?

And the answer is yes. That or a rebuilt viaduct.
Posted by Will in Seattle on July 20, 2013 at 2:56 PM · Report this
Doctor Memory 110
@109: "I know the three people involved in that choice"

Name them.

Then we'll verify.
Posted by Doctor Memory on July 20, 2013 at 3:28 PM · Report this
DOUG. 111
@108: There was nothing resembling a "windswept hobo village" when Pine was closed pre-1995. In fact I would say Westlake Plaza is more of a hobo village now then it was then, perhaps because tourists and shoppers are now less likely to cross Pine Street from the mall.
Posted by DOUG. on July 20, 2013 at 3:32 PM · Report this
@111: I didn't live here pre-1995, but I've heard that it was pretty dead, if not quite as disastrous as the pedestrianization scheme that killed State Street in Chicago and 150 similar failures.

I've also heard that it was terrible for anyone who needed to make transit connections from Pine Street routes to elsewhere.

You're arguing for exactly what Fnarf (and any other experienced urbanist) decries: hyper-segregation of uses, and vast empty expanses that claim to serve pedestrians but really offer little more a desert to cross should you dare to seek out actual city life on foot.
Posted by d.p. on July 20, 2013 at 7:41 PM · Report this
Doctor Memory 115
(Sudden, uncharacteristic silence from Will in Seattle is duly noted.)
Posted by Doctor Memory on July 21, 2013 at 9:25 AM · Report this
DOUG. 116
@113: Yet Fnarf praises Covent Garden (a pedestrian-only space in the middle of London) as an area that "hums". Car-free spaces like Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square and Leicester Square aren't deserts, they're islands.
Posted by DOUG. on July 21, 2013 at 9:26 AM · Report this
Fnarf 117
@116, "Covent Garden" is not just the pedestrian space in front of the market buildings and St. Paul's (not the cathedral), it is used as a shorthand for the entire district. The plaza is a bit tiresome, being usually filled with jugglers and stuff like that, but the area around it is fantastically lively. Floral Street, Seven Dials, Neal's Yard -- these may not all be technically part of Covent Garden but they're close enough.

Look at lovely Rose Street here:

@107, the bus tunnel was not built by Sound Transit, which did not yet exist. And regardless of what politicians you may have met in your lifelong harassment campaign against sense, you have never had as much influence on this decision or any other as a cat fart did on the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge.

@103, Another one: Octavia Avenue, built on the site of the tail end of the elevated Central Freeway, frequently lauded by flyover planners as a huge improvement, but in reality just the kind of flyspecked auto-dominated dead zone I described. See here: If you look closely at the planting strip along the way, you'll see exactly the ripped trash bags and cigarette butts, empty bottles and condoms that I described above. The surrounding lots were supposed to be eagerly filled with new buildings, but they're still, a decade later, empty, surrounded by chain link.
Posted by Fnarf on July 21, 2013 at 4:48 PM · Report this
Fnarf 118
@116, to make my point clearer: even Rose Street allows car traffic -- though the narrowness means that it will be very slow, thus maintaining safety for pedestrians.

Today's American standard of 12 or 14 feet lanes nothing so much as reckless speeding, especially when there are rows and rows of them next to each other. Who wants to be the first to volunteer to be the first person killed by a car on the new boulevard?
Posted by Fnarf on July 21, 2013 at 4:52 PM · Report this
Fnarf 119
You can't get to Neal's Yard via Google Streetview; it is indeed pedestrian only, for the simple reason that the alleyway that leads to it is narrower than a car. But I encourage you to do a Google Image search for it. Notice how attractive and inviting it is even in the rain.
Posted by Fnarf on July 21, 2013 at 5:17 PM · Report this
Fnarf 120
On the subject of Westlake Mall I am unimpressed. It certainly wasn't an effective park or pedestrian zone when it was closed off. The mall itself is a disaster, its only benefit coming from its very failure, keeping rents low enough for cheaper shops, which sometimes struggle in an area that resists the poor like downtown Seattle does.

As for pestrianized streets more generally, they are in fact one of the great American urban design failures of the 20th century. Pedestrianized zones can work when the city that contains them has astronomical rates of walking and cycling, far beyond what even the busiest American downtowns can support. New York is an exception; they've got enough people on the street to support the pedestrianization of a portion of Broadway -- but New York has more people walking there on any given day than the entire downtown of Seattle, even including Capitol Hill, Belltown, LQA, Pioneer Square and the ID. I'm talking numbers in excess of what we have around the stadiums on game day.

More John Speck, from Walkable City:
When I arrived at the NEA in 2003, my office was stocked with a collection of publications describing past NEA successes. One of them, in quaint 1970s lettering, celebrated dozens of Main Streets across America that had been pedestrianized using NEA funds. As I flipped through it, I was treated to page after page of failure. From Baltimore to Buffalo, from Louisville to Little Rock, from Tampa to Tulsa, from Greenville, North Carolina to Greenville, South Carolina, almost every Main Street that was closed to car traffic in the sixties and seventies failed almost as soon as the NEA book hit the presses.

In all, of the two hundred or so pedestrian malls created in the United States, only about thirty remain. Of those, most are moribund low-rent districts like Main Street in Memphis where, despite the presence of an appealing streetcar line, empty storefronts abound. The exceptions are almost all in college towns like Boulder, Colorado, and Burlington, Vermont, or in resorts like Aspen or Miami Beach.
As he puts it, "the solution to obesity is not to stop eating". He suggests areas made temporarily car-free, like on weekends, with portable bollards and so on.
Posted by Fnarf on July 21, 2013 at 5:32 PM · Report this
I've been meaning to come here all day to say what Fnarf said about large-scale pedestrian-only schemes.

To be successful, a pedestrian-only street must have:

1) An overwhelming volume of pedestrians both passing through and lingering in the space, for a variety of purposes, at pretty much all hours; and

2) A street whose scale does not dwarf even that high volume of pedestrians.

If your sidewalks were not already bursting at the seams before you quintupled them, your pedestrian zone will fail. If your street is not on the way to a major transit hub and myriad other destinations, in addition to being an unique focal point of commerce and culture itself, your project will fail. If it was not already the crown jewel of your city, you will kill it.

And even you have all of the above pre-requisites, you still may kill your target area. As Jeff Speck says above, you can't will a special place into existence. For every successful example in a major global capital or medieval village or American college town with a captive student audience, there are fifty desolate disasters (in Europe as well as here).

Despite sitting on a major subway junction and consisting of colonial streets of less than 40 feet building-to-building, Boston's Downtown Crossing is the sketchiest intersection in the otherwise-safest major downtown in America. The sense of deadness and the lack of eyeballs on the street repelled people from the moment the pedestrian zone was enacted. A block away on Tremont, pedestrians and cars bustle together late into the night.

Crucially, Doug.'s London examples includes only skinny streets, carefully selected and excised from the road grid in a way that does not remove eyes from the area wholesale. Cars may be inconvenienced -- much as they would be on a slower and skinnier Alaskan Way -- but they are not rendered completely absent. This is important, since moving and jostling and the tension between lingering and hurrying keeps cities feeling vibrant. Make motion invisible, and your city will feel lifeless.

Fnarf mention's New York's Broadway, but forgets to point out that nowhere was that street completely closed. Former travel lanes were taken for pedestrian lingering. Segments were redesigned to force through traffic toward adjacent streets, ending Broadway's life as a thoroughfare for distance travel. But nowhere was the entire right-of-way simply closed. Even New York City hasn't quite enough people to fill that width.

And while Fnarf is right that San Francisco's Octavia Boulevard offers scant improvement over the former freeway, he neglects to mention that a single, final block of Octavia Street, between Fell and Hayes, has succeeded in becoming a communal living room and has sparked a renaissance in the surrounding Hayes Valley... and that it still allows cars through on a single flanking lane in each direction.

Because pedestrian amenities are about quality, not quantity!
Posted by d.p. on July 21, 2013 at 8:57 PM · Report this
DOUG. 122
@117: I saw "Matilda" at the Cambridge Theatre two months ago, and Seven Dials is indeed lively. But I don't see how that applies to the region in question (the Seattle waterfront) which teems daily with automobile ferry traffic, and cruise ship passengers in the summertime. The cars at Seven Dials (and there aren't many of them, despite the seven streets) are mostly taxis taking tourists and locals to theatres and restaurants.

@120: How many of those failures can be at least partly attributed to the flight we saw from downtowns to the suburbs in the 70s and 80s?
Posted by DOUG. on July 22, 2013 at 9:00 AM · Report this
goatfarm 123
@99 The section between Spring and Seneca has six lanes, one of which is parking, which BTW provides a very effective safety and noise barrier for pedestrians in addition to street trees. Again if you want to examine the plan yourself (download it for a quicker view):… Maybe there is a different version of the plan everyone else is looking at (am I taking crazy pills?).

I find Port infrastructure interesting (check out the views from Jack Perry park). When the majority of slog readers realize there are still blue collar jobs that employ interesting people, and those jobs require cars/freight/boats in certain areas of the City - I will be amazed.

Posted by goatfarm on July 22, 2013 at 12:14 PM · Report this
@122: None of them can be "attributed" to urban flight alone.

As Fnarf and I are trying to impress upon you, the rare successful pedestrianizations have required a lot more than happening to be in a thriving city. Geometry is paramount. So is luck. You can't concoct a great urban space on a planner's easel, and if there are any flaws in the functioning of the area in question, enforced segregation of uses will expose those flaws immediately.

To be sure, if your city is already dying, a misguided pedestrian scheme will deliver the coup de grâce. Thus, Buffalo's desolate example is deader than Calgary's desolate example. But "least disastrous" is not an achievement.

Meanwhile, downtown Boston and Ottawa have never experienced significant flight. In each, the pedestrian zone is the hands-down least thriving part of its respective urban center.

The UK and Continental locales like Belgium have not been immune to pedestrianization failures, either. Generally, their disasters have taken place in otherwise-healthy "new towns", where the 20th-century street proportions and segregation of residential areas away from commercial zones have left the streets devoid of anything resembling the necessary critical mass. Wide and vacant is wide and vacant, no matter where in the world you are.

I invite you to hang out in front of Westlake center at midnight on a weekday, and report back about how comfortable you feel. Closing the street would roll that empty and foreboding feeling back to about 7:00 pm.
Posted by d.p. on July 22, 2013 at 2:51 PM · Report this
...while doing nothing to improve or activate it at other times.
Posted by d.p. on July 22, 2013 at 2:52 PM · Report this
derrickito 126
I just ate an egg burrito as big as my head
Posted by derrickito on July 23, 2013 at 2:44 PM · Report this
Fnarf 127
@123, you say "six lanes" like it's a good thing. Better than nine, I grant you, but it's still a blight.

A agree that parking lanes provide a buffer -- all the buffer you ever need -- and have said so here many times. Even better, though, is to slow traffic so that buffers are not necessary. One way to do that would be to narrow the traffic lanes to, say, seven feet, instead of 12 or fourteen. Oh, but that would mean a Hummer H1 (7' 2.5")wouldn't fit!

I also love the working waterfront. That is, in fact, the only thing that makes waterfronts "vibrant", which everyone assumes is automatic once the viaduct comes down. But that boat sailed long ago. There's still plenty of action on Harbor Island, and south of Jackson Street, sort of. Pier 48 south of Colman Dock has been empty for ages, cleared for the project (another historical waterfront building destroyed). None of that is where I'm talking about.

I've seen the project. I've seen the beautiful slides. They are lies, as are all beautiful slides prepared by architects to sell projects like this.

Jack Block Park? I love Jack Block and the other industrial waterfront parks, and have even written about them on Slog, if you will cast your mind back to Freaky Friday 2007, when ordinary Slog commenters were allowed to take over the blog for a day:
Posted by Fnarf on July 24, 2013 at 12:38 PM · Report this
I am late to this discussion, I am struggling to understand what the plan actually is.

I think the tunnel was a good idea but it needed to be the original plan with three lanes each way and exits to downtown, Elliot and waterfront. Then the waterfront area should be developed in an organized thoughtful way with greenery, walkways and bike path. Create space for people and commerce to come together in a clean, safe environment. Now that we are building a tunnel lets not insult the residents by building a freeway on top of it. Let it be developed with thoughtfulness so that people will want to visit, live and enjoy our city. What are our options at this point?
Posted by A Seattle Resident on August 25, 2013 at 5:04 PM · Report this
So we're building 4 underground lanes for 3.5+ billion, and then another 9 lanes right on top of it? I thought the whole point of the tunnel was to keep the surface free of traffic. Seattle taxpayers got ripped off.
Posted by jcgmich29 on June 4, 2014 at 5:07 PM · Report this

Add a comment

Commenting on this item is available only to registered commenters.

All contents © Index Newspapers, LLC
1535 11th Ave (Third Floor), Seattle, WA 98122
Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Use | Takedown Policy