The airbrushed sketches for a glittering new Seattle waterfront lack rain, authenticity (as Crosscut’s Knute Berger notes) and maybe (as the Times’ Danny Westneat joked) a few Disney princesses. They also lack any hint of the Alaskan Way Viaduct that has dominated the waterfront for 60 years.
That’s why my ears perked when Seattle planning director Marshall Foster said at a briefing to Times staff on Tuesday, “We’ve been looking at ways to preserve part of the existing Viaduct.”
“We don’t want to wipe the slate clean. We want a reminder of how Seattle was.”
Saving a hunk of the Viaduct once it is replaced has been batted around for years, but Seattle has consistently batted it away as being too unstable to save, even as a park.
Upon further review, the city still is. Foster said planning for a future waterfront, currently about 30 percent designed, may incorporate Viaduct columns into plans for overlook viewpoints at Seneca and Columbia streets downtown.
But saving a piece of the Viaduct itself – even a small piece, such as the Seneca offramp – would be too expensive because of the state of the structure. It’s too rickety to go farther, he said. “You’re talking hundreds of millions of dollars to just keep it up, before you improve it,” he said.
I’m a fan of keeping at least some of it, and like the work that Kate Martin, who ran for Seattle mayor last fall on that platform, is doing to force a public vote on preserving the Viaduct. Her group, parkmyviaduct.org, is putting together a feasibility study – including engineering, cost, economic impact and design sketches – for a potential fall ballot initiative.
I’m not sure her plan for saving the upper deck of the full 14 blocks is doable, given the plan for a new Alaskan Way to run under the existing Viaduct, but I appreciate her contrarian streak against the airbrushed waterfront plan.
Foster’s suggestion, of incorporating a memento of the Viaduct into the new waterfront, “is just to shut us up,” Martin said. In her view, the city plan by famed architect James Corner is over-designed, out of scale and caters to tourists at the exclusion of residents. Referring to a 30-foot-wide sidewalk proposed on the waterfront, Martin said, “Don’t put 30 feet down there. Put it 30 feet up there.”