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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

December 20, 2008 at 4:15 PM

Alaskan Way Viaduct plans

WSDOT

Concept scenario D for the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement plan. In this scenario, Highway 99 would run along the waterfront via two independent bridge structures.

This time,

do it right

Editor, The Times:

Seattle now faces a choice regarding the viaduct that will shape our city for the foreseeable future and far beyond [“Viaduct replacement gives city a chance to make waterfront unforgettable,” Times, Charles Anderson guest commentary, Dec. 14].

When I went to work for Paul Thiry in the early 1950s, the present viaduct was being completed and the freeway through downtown was being planned. As a leading architect and city planner, Thiry opposed both.

He fruitlessly argued that the viaduct would cut us off from our historic birthplace, the waterfront, and turn eastern Alaskan Way into a noisy, dirty street — something only under which to park.

His solution was a tunnel that would give the traffic going through Seattle’s bottleneck an alternative to the freeway.

The objections to his proposals 60 years ago were eerily similar to today’s. If we had spent a few million more at the time, it would have saved us hundreds of millions now.

What will happen 30, 40, 50 years from now when we project millions more living in our metropolitan area that will need to pass through Seattle? We must find the extra money to do things right this time. It is absolutely certain that of the two selected solutions, a new viaduct would be pure folly.

Every other city in the country is working to tear viaducts down. This planning solution has been thoroughly discredited and rejected everywhere but, surprisingly, here. Of the two selected solutions, then, only the surface option merits consideration, and it has glaring weaknesses.

By making Western Avenue a major one-way thoroughfare, it infringes upon and changes the character of the Pike Place Market, which we fought hard to save as Seattle’s main tourist attraction. And although Western Avenue mitigates the traffic on Alaskan Way, dumping 100,000 plus through trips on it per day would be unpleasant to live with.

The very best choice for Seattle, for now and the future, is to figure out how to pay for the very best solution, the deep-bore tunnel. It has an extra bonus, often noted, that we could use the existing viaduct while we bore it. We could easily put a toll on the tunnel to pay for the difference for as long as it takes.

Recreating Seattle’s birthplace and soul, the waterfront, as an extension of the new Olympic Sculpture Park with only minimum local traffic would give us at last a Great City Park as Paul Thiry once dreamed.

— Arne Bystrom, Seattle

Don’t change a thing

The choices have been narrowed to two: a surface-street solution or rebuild the viaduct. We have heard the barrage of propaganda from the Seattle business community and mayor pushing to tear down the viaduct in favor of a surface-street solution, which would provide new opportunities for Seattle’s downtown merchants.

However, let’s remember that the viaduct is a state highway and provides a valuable route from north to south through the city that is independent of the Interstate 5 traffic mess. We live in West Seattle and regularly use the viaduct for business in Ballard, Wallingford and the University District. We regularly use it as alternative to Interstate 5 going either north or south. We hook up with I-5 north of downtown, usually around 80th Street.

When we travel the viaduct, I don’t see everyone getting off at Seneca Street or Western Avenue for downtown. But those who do exit seem to be a fraction of the traffic.

Highway 99 is a main north/south artery for countless numbers of motorists. It is not primarily a downtown Seattle destination highway. Having to go to surface streets would be a mess. If the planned surface streets are to be pedestrian/merchant friendly, there will have to be numerous traffic lights to allow the foot traffic. How does commercial-truck traffic deal with that?

We ride transit whenever we can, but cars are not going away. Even if we are able to switch to a greener environment with more electric/hybrid cars, the traffic routes will be needed. Seattle has a unique geography, and trying to force all traffic through the downtown Interstate 5 corridor just doesn’t work.

The sensible solution is to retain the free-flowing route offered by the existing viaduct route.

— Michael Winter, Seattle

Go with the tunnel

Two years ago I suggested Seattle support replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a boulevard, similar to what has been done along the Hudson River in Manhattan. Since that time, eight viaduct-replacement proposals have been submitted for public review.

After analyzing all eight and reading the concerns expressed by Danish architect Jan Gehl and others, including the business community and Port of Seattle, I am amending my recommendation. Given that Seattle’s topography limits the number of ways one can traverse the city north and south, forcing most vehicular traffic onto Highway 99 or Interstate 5, it appears that the bored tunnel option is the best approach to replacing the viaduct.

While it will cost more and require extensive monitoring to avoid the hazards that befell Boston’s “Big Dig,” the price may well be worth it to make downtown Seattle greener and more pedestrian friendly.

With the Port of Seattle and downtown waterfront real-estate interests benefiting directly from the tunnel option, they could help shoulder some of the added cost.

— Thomas Lunke, New York, NY

Here you go

A six-lane surface, limited-access highway capped and soundproofed by a huge pedestrian plaza extending from the Bell Street Pier past the Coleman docks would give Seattle’s harbor the most tourist-attractive harbor west of Boston.

Think of covering the highway with grass, sidewalks, Seattle Art Museum sculptures, sidewalk vendors, etc. with a railing overlooking the beautiful Seattle harbor. People would approach it at several places from First Avenue as they do to the Coleman Dock now and would descend to a one-lane south, delivery-only Alaskan Way or across walkways onto the second floor of the wharf buildings and the trolley could run on top of the plaza.

The Coleman dock entrance would also serve as the exit at the south end of the plaza and funneled onto the highway south.

Capping a highway with a grassy, pedestrian plaza cannot be nearly as expensive as a tunnel or elevating a highway. Capping and soundproofing eliminates most of the environmental complaints about a surface solution, the vented air can be cleaned and tourism will likely increase.

People are calling for a third alternative, so think of this one.

— Tom Watson, Bainbridge Island

Comments | More in Transportation, Viaduct

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