Seattle Pedestrian Advisory Board
July 21, 2002
Members of the Seattle City Council Transportation Committee Richard Conlin, Chair. Heidi Wills, Vice Chair. Richard McIver Nick Licata
600 - 4th Avenue
Dear Council Members:
Re/Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement (AWVR) Alternatives to be considered by the City:
The Seattle Pedestrian Advisory Board (SPAB) supports Resolution #30497 adopted July 15, 2002 by the Seattle City Council recommending the AWVR tunnel alternatives extending north to Roy St.
SPAB advises the City Council and Executive that the Tunnel Plan combining Alternative C and Alternative D be supported by the City for the following reasons.
SPAB supports the creation of an excellent pedestrian facility separated from bicycle and motorized vehicular traffic along the central and northern sectors of Seattle's Elliott Bay waterfront. Landscaping, adjacency to transit and to thriving businesses are the keys to a pedestrian-oriented waterfront serving both tourists and the stakeholders of Seattle.
Among the "Key Issues" which were presented to the Mayor's AWVR Leadership Group at their June 18, 2002 meeting were three present issues critical to pedestrians, all inter-related.
The first issue is whether to replace the viaduct with a tunnel or elevated structure.
SPAB unquestionably supports tunnels in the central and northern sectors of the AWVR project. Visiting a city's waterfront is probably an obvious choice for any tourist. However despite our alias as the "Emerald City" our waterfront is dark, dirty, and foreboding during even times of light viaduct and surface traffic. At rush hour or around game-time a stroll along the waterfront will leave ears ringing from the roar of cars overhead and throat raspy from trying to yell over the pervasive noise.
A replacement elevated structure may be able to mitigate some of these issues, but the fundamental problems will remain. In addition to the physical impacts it should not be dismissed that pedestrians are turned off by the simple psychological impact of knowing that cars rule the waterfront. Regional traffic needs can't be the only transportation goals served by the waterfront improvements replacing the existing, damaged viaduct, or we will be sacrificing downtown Seattle needlessly for the sake of outlying communities.
Second, SPAB recommends that the north portal connecting the AWVR project with SR99 North be located as far north as possible. The listed alternatives show the northernmost tunnel portal at Roy St. It is impossible to over-estimate the beneficial effect an extension of the north tunnel to Roy St. will have on the neighborhoods lying on either side of the SR99 Aurora trench.
At this time it is extremely difficult to get from one side to the other. Today's east/west connectors across Aurora, Broad and Mercer Streets, offer narrow sidewalks along fast-moving, depressed vehicle lanes. Reconnecting as many as possible of these local streets as possible over Aurora is vitally important to both the Uptown Urban Center and the South Lake Union/Cascade neighborhoods.
The third issue deals with street improvements. The conceptual maps displayed at the June 17th AWVR Open House, and in more detail to SPAB on July 12th, for surface street improvements were eye-opening due to the range of possiblities that will be presented, if the elevated structure is removed.
Creation of a world-class boulevard with improved streetcar service and a connection to the Denny Triangle, Seattle Center, and the south end of Lake Union via a new street and through a re-utilized Battery Street Tunnel will allow for reduced car trips by encouraging pedestrian use of the waterfront. An expanded streetcar system would serve more mobility needs and become something more than a joy ride. The Waterfront Trolley Extension Study by SPO staff (now availible from SDOT) provides an overview of this and other possible streetcar service extensions.
Beyond the "Key Issues" SPAB asks the City to consider an issue which seems to have gone unmentioned. With SR99 turning to a raised structure in the AWVR southern sector just south of King Street, the combined effect of I-5, I-90, SR519, and SR99 will be to wall off the south end of Downtown. A visit to the areas under I-90 west of I-5 reveals barren dirt, temporary storage for vehicles towed from the freeway, fenced off lots, parking for unused state vehicles, storage for long-forgotten construction materials, and trash and feces from homeless camps. Presumably the new construction will increase this type of under-utilization of State land.
While the stakeholders in the Duwamish Industrial Zone may appreciate this physical barrier to further encroachment southwards into industrial land uses, it is possible to utilize the spaces beneath these elevated structures between Pioneer Square, the International District and the Stadium neighborhood.
There are potential pedestrian connection and open space uses for some of this land. The International District and Pioneer Square continue to be filled with dense residential development, but there is no corresponding increase in usable open space. Simply finding a place to walk a dog that isn't covered in broken glass or pavement can be challenging. With landscaping, access, and appropriate lighting some recreational uses could be made possible.
Although AWVR surface street improvements are only in the conceptual phase, SPAB would like to present a number of points to keep in mind as the discussion develops.
In the central sector of the AWVR project the access roads abutting structures on the sides of the Alaskan Way right of way can easily provide for local uses such as parking, tour buses, and delivery trucks while still feeling like part of the pedestrian realm between medians and sidewalks.
Placing wide medians between the access roads and central Alaskan Way surface roadways with streetcar stops, street vendors, densely planted strips of trees, and other amenities will encourage heavy pedestrian usage, even if the actual sidewalks on access roads are relatively narrow.
The exits from the SR99 below grade highway should be as low impact as possible. They could emerge from median strips as in Parisian parking garage exits leading onto boulevards.
Traffic from the below grade highway should be encouraged through engineering to move into Downtown, not onto the waterfront.
The Center City Open Space Plan's concept of connecting "blue space" (Elliott Bay) with "green space" should be incorporated into AWVR designs.
Additional mobility by water should be envisioned at some points on the central waterfront. Connections to the east from those water mobility points should be designed.
Thank you for considering our citizen point of view. SPAB members look forward to participating in Council Committee discussions of the AWVR issues.
Please let us know when an opportunity for us to join in arises.
cc: Amy Grotefendt, Brooke Belmen, EnviroIssues