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Here’s what designing a new lid over I-5 between Capitol Hill and downtown looks like

On Saturday morning, Capitol Hill’s 12th Ave Arts was buzzing with a different type of creative energy as local architects, designers, and urban planners, as well as interested neighborhood residents sketched out their visions for what a lidded I-5 would look like.

“Look at all these designers go!” John Feit, chair of the Pike/Pine Urban Neighborhood Council, architect, and a key organizer within the Lid I-5 campaign, happily quipped as he moved amongst the work groups observing their discussions.

Powered by coffee and sweet and savory pastries from High 5 Pie, and armed with markers, tracing paper, and maps of central I-5, eight groups of around six people tossed around ideas and sketched out concept designs for several hours on Saturday morning. Feit said that there were around fifty attendees (which was more than they had originally hoped for), a third of whom didn’t come from professional architecture or design backgrounds.

The eight work groups’ visions were big and ambitious. All shared the baseline and assumed goal of creating a large, winding green space atop I-5, accessible to pedestrians, cyclists and cars alike with bike paths, fixed recreational equipment and trees.

John Feit, center in green, was happy with the larger than expected turnout (Images: Josh Kelety for CHS)

John Feit, center in green, was happy with the larger than expected turnout (Images: Josh Kelety for CHS)


The event, organized by the Lid I-5 campaign — the group that has been advocating for lidding the central portion of I-5 that separates Capitol Hill from downtown to reconnect the two neighborhoods and create a new green space in the city’s urban core — was dubbed the “lid I-5 design charrette,” and served as a chance for both the public to weigh in on the potential project and for the campaign to showcase the general public’s interest in the idea.

‘A lid that extended all the way from Olive Way down to Yesler Way’
Most groups chose to conceptualize a lid that extended all the way from Olive Way down to Yesler Way, while some shorted the lid length to keep it closer to the Pike/Pine connection. The majority also opted to keep the existing grid of streets that cross over I-5 in their concept designs to continue those downtown-Capitol Hill connections for general traffic (though there were some thoughts about how to activate those streets for pedestrians such as sidewalk markets for nearby shops). Some floated the idea of building a elementary school and a school recreation field at the southern end of the lid—citing downtown Seattle’s lack of elementary schools—and many included some sort of amphitheater or arts space in the center of the lid for public programming like concerts and dance performances. One group opted for a centralized water feature.

Including affordable housing and mix-use development was also a common theme throughout the workgroups. Many opted to incorporate affordable housing and mixed-use projects throughout the length of the I-5 lid. The groups allocated land to residential and commercial developments in varying degrees if close proximity to one another, some opting to keep the lid more as a long urban park while others chose to design it more as a dynamic green neighborhood that could be both easily navigated and lived in.

Former City Council member Tom Rassmusen, who has supported the concept of lidding I-5 during his tenure on the council, made an appearance towards the end of the charrette, telling the crowd he was excited to see what they came up with. Former Mayor Norm Rice also visited the proceedings. Donovan Rivers, candidate to represent the 43rd Legislative District, arrived at the same time and endorsed the charette’s undertaking as well.

The Lid I-5 campaign, has been angling for the city to require that the Washington State Convention Center — which is working to purchase the property housing the King County Metro Convention Place station to allow for its massive $1.4 billion planned expansion — pay for a feasibility study of lidding I-5 as part of the “public benefits” that the city could require the developer include in their project as a component of its approval.

The campaign plans to present the concept designs from Saturday’s charrette to the Seattle Design Commission ahead of it’s June 7th meeting where the public benefits of the Washington State Convention Center expansion will be talked over.

“The idea is to show the design commission is that there is a public desire and what the range of benefits could be along the I-5 corridor,” said Feit.

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8 thoughts on “Here’s what designing a new lid over I-5 between Capitol Hill and downtown looks like

  1. The paradox here is that 520 in montlake was supposed to get a lid, but the toll $ is not enough to pay for it so we get nothing (compared to the vast lids on the east side portion)

    But hey, let’s propose an even bigger unfunded scheme and then figure out how to grab some more property tax dollars.

  2. Thank you to those leading this effort. Make it a big open greenspace. There won’t be an opportunity again for a park of this scale. ballfields take up way to much space to prioritize in downtown. A school and affordable housing is needed, but it can be accomplished on a different site through development incentives (I.e, additional floors).

  3. Were there any plans that included lidding I-5 and then selling off the property to developers? A park sounds nice but I’d prefer selling the land and using the proceeds to build light rail faster and better.

    • The trouble is, the lid gets exponentially more expensive to engineer the more you expect to build on top of it. A simple lid with dirt and greenery is heavy enough; replace that with buildings and the mass increases enormously. So the money that the I-5 airspace might earn goes right into building a more robust lid itself. In order to actually generate enough revenue to matter for funding other things like light rail, I’d imagine you’d have to build and zone the lid for a row of 30 or 40 story (or more?) buildings walling off Capitol Hill from the rest of downtown. That might be nicer than the current trench full of noise and fumes, but it’s not exactly what most of the “lid it” folks are trying to accomplish.