Will Seattle Blow Its Chance to Reclaim Its Waterfront?

This is Seattle's vision for its waterfront -- hardly an improvement over the raised highway it will replace, says Seattle Bike Blog. Image: Waterfront Seattle
Nine lanes of traffic. This is Seattle’s vision for its waterfront, hardly an improvement over the raised highway it will replace, says Seattle Bike Blog. Image: Waterfront Seattle

It’s bad enough that Washington DOT is building a huge underground highway by the Seattle waterfront at enormous expense and financial risk. Now the city is poised to ruin the one benefit of the highway tunnel — better pedestrian connections to the waterfront.

Advocates have been warning against replacing the current elevated highway with a highway-like surface street. But that’s exactly what the agencies planning the future of the waterfront are poised to do, reports Tom Fucoloro at Seattle Bike Blog:

Waterfront Seattle, lead by Seattle along with regional and state partners, released its final environmental impact study Monday, and it shows that planners chose to completely ignore the advice of [advocacy] groups. Their vision for Seattle’s waterfront “boulevard” remains the same as before: Up to 37 yards of motor vehicle traffic separating our historic downtown from the waterfront.

It would take as long as 30 seconds for a fit and able-bodied person to walk from curb-to-curb between Pioneer Square and the new waterfront promenade. For our slower-moving neighbors — including many kids, seniors and people with mobility challenges — the walk may take so long that they will only be able to make it to a mid-street island before the light changes. They will then need to wait in the middle of this highway for a second round of traffic to go by before continuing their journey to the waterfront.

This is a slap in the face to these neighbors. It is an institutionalized insult that tells people walking on the waterfront (or to the ferry terminal) that they are not important or valued, especially if they are not physically able to race fast enough to beat the signal countdown.

This plan is wildly counter to the vision most people want from their revamped waterfront, I’m pretty sure. The multi-billion-dollar tunnel highway was supposed to allow us to reclaim our waterfront. Instead, we’re also getting a highway on top of our tunnel highway. If this surface highway plan is constructed, our future waterfront will be less accessible from most of downtown than it is today with the loud, shaky and unsightly Viaduct.

We cannot let this happen.

Elsewhere on the Network today: The Urbanist takes down the purported climate change argument against Seattle’s ST3 light rail measure. Twin Cities Sidewalks says all drivers should be as cautious as they on Halloween every day. And Plan Philly examines the forces at work in the SEPTA strike, now entering its second day.

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