Well, our city has voted to invest an astronomical amount of money to build a tunnel for cars. It’s an investment in the past, in pollution and in continued, long-term motor vehicle use.
I can’t deny I’m a bit relieved at the thought that the debate, which had long been static, can move on (plus, there’s always the chance the tunnel plan collapses under its own bloated financial weight). But it’s hard to find a lot of positives in the vote.
The truth is, nobody was able to develop a cohesive, inspiring vision of what the city would look and feel like under a more innovative, diverse transportation solution. Maybe this is because the anti-tunnel camp couldn’t even agree themselves, with some supporting surface/transit/I-5 and others preferring a different highway project, like a viaduct rebuild. A group formed simply in opposition to someone else’s plan will always be weaker than a group fighting for a complete and exciting vision of their own.
As a way of assessing mistakes and learning lessons for future campaigns, let’s imagine what a more successful campaign might have looked like.
First off, I’m not just talking about the Reject campaign formed earlier this year, I’m talking about the entire history viaduct replacement campaigns. I wish a campaign had just come out and said straight-forward, without double-speak, what we were actually talking about: Let’s remove an urban freeway.
Aurora Ave is one of the most dangerous roads in the city. Investing in a tunnel all but assures it will remain the dangerous, duct-taped-together pseudo-freeway it is today.
We should have had mockups of Aurora Ave with the much-maligned center concrete barrier removed. Replace it with a center turn lane. Put stop lights at select intersections and show people crossing from South Lake Union to Seattle Center at a stoplight at Harrison and Aurora on foot. Or show a family crossing from the Green Lake Trail to the Green Lake Farmers Market at N 66th.
Can you imagine being able to turn left off Aurora? Or imagine an active commercial core in the middle of Fremont where today there are mostly problem hotels and billboards.
Or picture the Aurora Bridge with four wider, more comfortable lanes instead of six. Nobody feels safe driving in the Aurora Bridge’s tiny lanes. Or what about having a cycle track and comfortable pedestrian walkway on the bridge. That would make many trips faster and more possible, especially for people heading to the tops of either Fremont of Queen Anne.
All this would be within the realm of possibilities if we had made the choice to remove the freeway downtown.
Maybe, even after seeing an inspiring vision of a reinhabited Aurora, the people of Seattle would still reject it in favor of a tunnel. We won’t know because voters were never presented with that image or given that choice. And without being able to promote a promising future, joining the anti-tunnel campaign was about as exciting as getting a fifth root canal.
So, as bicycle advocates, let’s learn from this city-wide loss. More and more people are choosing to get around by bicycle every day. If we want to gather a truly powerful popular movement, we need to clearly present the welcoming promise of innovative and safe bicycle facilities. Separated cycle tracks downtown, for example, would change cycling in Seattle forever, but we need to successfully show how they would make our downtown a better, more dynamic place for everyone.
It’s time to go for a ride, shake off this loss, and recenter our efforts on promoting a positive, efficient, fun and affordable option for getting around our city that supports the local economy and promotes equality: the bicycle.
If you have ideas on how we can develop this vision, share them in the comments or, better yet, start working on them.