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It’ll be a tunnel!

In a win for the Seattle downtown, the Viaduct’s replacement is going to be a tunnel, various news organizations reported. Sure, it’ll take until 2017 (according to early estimates), but this is a major win for Seattle’s walkability and pedestrian orientation that should have knock-on effects in surrounding neighborhoods (including Capitol Hill). The more people come to expect walkability in the downtown core, the easier it’ll be to make decisions in support of those expectations. Non-obvious benefits for Capitol Hill could include more (or better) sharrows, investments in crosswalk safety, and an overall tilt in the balance between cars vs. people and bicycles.

Good comment by cheesecake, who asked: “How will building a new highway tilt the balance between cars vs. people and bicycles?”

My response: this project recovers land for pedestrian and bicycle use. The amount of walkable, bikable land in the heart of the city center will grow tremendously (80-114 feet by 1.6 miles, roughly). I’m not saying that this alone will flip the balance between walking and driving, only that pedestrians and bikers will be gaining much while cars merely get a *replacement* for what they had before (two lanes less, in fact).

Furthermore, if the project is ultimately successful (comes in without huge budget overages and creates new economic opportunity for the downtown core) then it creates new momentum behind other projects to revitalize significant tracts of core infrastructure and land. What if this early success cascades and eventually has us burying I-5 itself? Unlikely, but let’s dream a little about how awesome that could be.

This is bold. Seattle’s moving towards a less car-centric future.

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15 thoughts on “It’ll be a tunnel!

  1. your link isn’t working for me…

    We do need rail to West Seattle and Ballard, but comprehensive, fix-it-all packages never get done. I’m happy to see good movement one step at a time.

  2. As someone who lives near the viaduct and the waterfront, yes! Time to reclaim that land and revitalise the waterfront.

  3. “Non-obvious benefits for Capitol Hill could include more (or better) sharrows, investments in crosswalk safety, and an overall tilt in the balance between cars vs. people and bicycles.”

    how will building a new highway tilt the balance between cars vs. people and bicycles. this makes zero sense to me. You could say all those things about the light rail station, but last time I checked highways move cars, not bikes or peds. Building a new highway to downtown will bring more cars to the city center, which unfortunately includes Capitol Hill, period. Trying to say otherwise is just wishful thinking.

  4. I’d drop the exclamation and just make your case, Vlad, which has merit. If it is choice between bridge and tunnel, I’d tunnel too.

    I’m assuming Guv sees this as both transportation and economic opportunity. In short, jobs. If that is the case and building something of massive scope becomes part of the requirement, I’d rather have the tunnel for some of the reasons Vlad notes above but mostly because it will create a better waterfront. Can’t say I agree that this tilts the balance toward walkability but it’s an interesting notion. It doesn’t move people out of cars — but it does open the streets above to better biking, pedestrian and public transit options.

  5. “how will building a new highway tilt the balance between cars vs. people and bicycles.”

    It gives land back to pedestrian and bicycle use. The amount of walkable, bikable land in the heart of the city center will grow tremendously. I’m not saying that this alone will FLIP the balance, only that pedestrians and bikers will be gaining much while cars only get a *replacement* for what they had before (and according to some, an inferior replacement).

    Furthermore, if the project is ultimately successful (comes in without huge budget overages and creates new economic opportunity) then it creates new momentum behind other projects to revitalize significant tracts of core infrastructure and land. What if this early success cascades and eventually has us burying I-5 itself?

    This is bold. Seattle’s starting to let the city take precedence over the car.

  6. I don’t think short term gains, no matter how important they are, should be put ahead of long term benefit. And even the surface/ transit option would have been a pretty big project. Even if it weren’t, we have plenty of other massive construction projects that we could be using to create jobs.

  7. I don’t consider the tunnel to be bold, I think it’s a compromise. It’s a compromise because it makes the waterfront more ped/bike friendly, but it also makes the city as a whole more car friendly. Sure it will seem nice walking along the waterfront but the single occupancy car trips through downtown will still be there, and will still be clogging arterials North and South of downtown, whether we can see them from the waterfront or not.

  8. ‘m with cheesecake on this one. I did a little study on this here and the $2.8 billion extra being used to build this tunnel could fund the entire Streetcar Network, 5 BRT routes, add 800 new buses to metro’s fleet, finish the Bicycle Master Plan, add 1,500 new sidewalk blocks, build 13,000 affordable housing units (in transit friendly locations), cover the school operating budget for 10 years, AND buy us a few more plows for the next snowpocalypse.

    Gregoire calls this a 100 year investment but the truth is we don’t have 100 years of oil left. Even here in Washington we have a plan to reduce Vehicle Miles traveled by 50% by 2050. Thats only like 20 years after we finish this massive highway with still 80% of the existing viaduct.

    And all of this wasted money is for what? For a few measly minutes saved when going from west seattle to ballard by car. (as calculated by state’s study)

    Its a terrible waste of money and puts seattle way behind on the forth coming green economy. I’m utterly ashamed.

  9. Theory: Seattle needed a big, “shovel-ready” project to put in front of the Obama administration’s stimulus check-writing people. That’s the only explanation for how everyone magically came together so fast on this.

    JoshMahar wrote “And all of this wasted money is for what? For a few measly minutes saved when going from west seattle to ballard by car. (as calculated by state’s study)”

    I think you’re kind of forgetting the mile-long boulevard in the heart of downtown next to the waterfront. That’s rather key to the whole proposal, don’t you think?

  10. There’s already an initiative campaign to put this on the ballot… as per the “Seattle Way” there will be endless votes, and meetings about this then at the end of it all nothing will happen…

  11. I prey this actually happens but the last post is probably an accurate prediction. We will have endless meetings, townhalls, and votes….then decide on nothing. We must continue to invest in our city even if it is painful. I said the same thing in regards to jseattle article on the costco hippie, and that is I am so tired of our self righteous citizens who only complain and never contribute. I propose that each time we plan a pointless meeting, instead we go volunteer our time and help improve our schools, roads, parks, etc.