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Is this even a better waterfront?

So this is the dream view of the waterfront after the deep bore tunnel project? Really? And the only big difference between this vision and the surface/transit option is that there is a $2 billion tunnel underground that costs $7 round trip and will only reduce traffic by 47,000 vehicles per day? Oh, and there’s basically no transit in this plan. And no I5 improvements.

I don’t get it. I thought the big benefit of the tunnel was that we would have this beautiful new waterfront park. Sure, there’s more space along the waterfront for a park (clearly the red space in the image is not yet designed). But there is also a big four to six-lane boulevard that is harder to cross on foot than the viaduct (the P.I. has more “before and after” pics here).

Look, I know some of you are really sick of talking about this tunnel. But I really, really don’t understand what is good about it. No one has yet to give me one good reason, and I can’t just let a mistake this large go. The best you get is, “The viaduct is ugly.” People say this will keep traffic moving, but that’s just not true. Without new alternatives (like improved transit service), the tunnel project will dump 65,000 more cars into downtown streets. That’s not a solution that drivers should be embracing. For the price tag, you should demand better!

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What is that price tag? Well, $2 billion to move 40,000 cars per day comes out to about $42,500 per car. I have crunched those numbers a bit before here, but let’s put them in perspective another way. We could build Portland’s entire bike infrastructure for the same cost we will be paying to move just 1,500 cars through the tunnel. For the cost of just 5,882 cars, we could complete the entire bike master plan.

Or think about it this way. If we spent even a fraction of that $2 billion on transit and biking, I bet we could get 40,000 cars per day off the road entirely. For example, 100,000 vehicles drive over the upper and lower West Seattle bridges every day (tens of thousands of which end up on the viaduct). What if there were light rail to West Seattle? How many thousands of people would take it instead of driving?

This is a giant investment in unsustainability. We cannot talk of big environmental dreams and waning ourselves off foreign oil if even forward-thinking Seattle invests this kind of money on a project that only encourages the movement of people and goods via vehicles. Like Martin at Seattle Transit Blog, I would rather build another viaduct with transit and money savings than build a tunnel. At least the investments in transit will provide more people with a viable alternative to driving.

The state is taking public comments on the environmental impact statement until December 13. You can send your comments to [email protected].

If you have an argument that justifies even a fraction of the tunnel’s cost, please comment. I really want to be convinced so I can stop stressing about it. And “Stop arguing and build the damn tunnel” or “It’s a done deal, fuhgettaboutit” do not count as arguments.

We have stopped terrible highway projects that were “sure things” before. I now live a couple blocks from the almost-built Thomson Expressway. I can’t thank the citizens who fought to stop that atrocity enough.

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23 responses to “Is this even a better waterfront?”

  1. daisy

    One travel lane eachway.
    Linear park on the city side and wide promenade on the waterfront side.
    Trolley tracks to get shoppers up to the Capitol hill area
    Light rail to West Seattle where it would actually get used.
    Ditch the tunnel option and take that money and fix once and for all the mess that is I5 through downtown.

    Yeah this needs to go back to Washdot’s department of Common Sense. I’m sure they will get this taken care of in a jiffy.

    1. Stephen

      I only wish this could be the solution WSDOT picked. Sigh.

  2. It’s like an alcoholic with liquor…

  3. JRF

    This is depressing, but Construction Costs for Parking Stalls shows us spending $18,000 to $90,000 for per car for garage capacity, so why should we balk at a paltry $42,000 per car of highway capacity?

    Well, we should, as should we balk at the parking costs, but we don’t because the costs are indirect and/or externalized so they escape our notice.

    If the problem is narrowly defined as replacing a segment of highway, I suppose the tunnel makes sense. If that is the extent of your understanding of the problem at hand, you then change channels and miss the details on how much it costs, and other consequences, but you don’t care because you are busy being outraged by the city spending $5000 on umbrellas.

    The more I read about the tunnel, the more confused I am about why the idea wasn’t killed long ago. The more I learn, the less any of it makes sense.

  4. Jonathan

    I don’t like the looks of the picture above either, but there’s certainly more reasons to tear down the viaduct other than the fact that “it’s ugly.”

    How about, “The whole thing will come crashing down and kill hundreds in our next earthquake.” Are you completely ignoring the state of disrepair that thing is in?

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      No, I’m not ignoring that at all. I never said to keep the current viaduct. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, the tunnel is the option that keeps the current one standing and in use the longest.

      1. Stephen

        You are not mistaken.

  5. Actually, you do get it. The powers that be in Olympia that decided on their own the fates of so many commuters didn’t anticipate this kind of reaction, obviously.

    To me their is no argument, as you aptly point out it INCREASES congestion, not helping the city one iota. Who came up with all the influence and cash to cram this garbage down our throats?

    I support another viaduct, but with mass transit and a second tier bike lane. The current one scares the hell outta me, so I try and only use the top if I can help it, seriously.

  6. One positive of the tunnel: freight mobility. With all the normal commuters and drivers on the city streets, trucks will be able to move quickly through downtown. I wouldn’t go so far as saying it justifies the cost, but it is a positive aspect of the plan, and one that business leaders like to focus on.

    1. mike archambault

      Which freight exactly? Most freight from the port is headed to I-5 and I-90. Freight is actually a very small part of viaduct traffic today (<5%), and that's including traffic to/from Ballard that will be cutoff from this tunnel. Check out pdf page 18 of this freight mobility report:

  7. Alex Burchard

    You say crossing the resulting street will be difficult, I beg to differ, crossing streets as a pedestrian is never an issue regardless of width, In fact, to me, it seems wide streets attract people (EX: N. Michigan Ave, Chicago(130-170ft. wide)).
    no pedestrian I know considers the width of a street as a barrier to crossing it.
    As for the tunnel, yeah it is looking like a less and less good idea the more I learn.
    I personally believe that the tunnel could be advantageous if they sold the land under the current viaduct to developers(thus paying a significant part of the project, or perhaps going to transit to mitigate the increased congestion) to build high-rise condos, and lower floor retail(because that is what truly livens up a place, not parks..) but seeing as thats never going to happen, building transit instead would be much nicer really.

    IMO Seattle needs more shopping in the style of Pike place, little tiny 15 ft wide X 40 ft long shops stacked above each other and lined up tight together. Dense shopping = dense sidewalk life.

    Also, whatever they do, they should include some sidewalk restaurants/cafes.

    But as I said, barring all that, WestSide Rail would be really nice (please not portland style, while it is nice, it is kind of slow, build an elevated line, or put it entirely west of alaskan way (in a trench, or something?) downtown so that it has no grade crossings.

    PErhaps they should straight up turn the DBT into the DBST (Deep bore Subway Tunnel), I’d be all for that!

    1. Jeremy Mates

      Wide streets are always a barrier for any pedestrian whose speed is below that required to cross the expanse. The old and injured come to mind. That they are not seen is perhaps because they know the wide streets to be utterly impassable barriers.

      A tunnel has the advantage of isolating the noise and toxic emissions of motor vehicles away from non-drivers. Barring that, mid-road islands to assist slow pedestrians and increased driver training to bring pedestrian death by motor vehicles more in line with other developed nations would likely help reduce the carnage (see Am J Public Health. 2003;93:1509–1516 for details).

    2. Stephen

      It depends on how the public realm is set up. But, generally, the larger the width, the less pedestrian-friendly it is. As a full time pedestrian that traverses all sorts of intersections on a daily basis, I can attest that streets that are smaller definitely make me feel safer. Moreover, they don’t usually act as a barrier as I don’t have to wait at crosswalks (if I’m inclined to use them on thin streets) very long.

  8. alexjonlin

    It is much better!!! They have hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on the Waterfront Park, so obviously it will have to be heavily programmed with lots of things to draw people in, not to mention the fact that there are already lots of attractions on that side of the Waterfront and there will only be more when the Viaduct comes down. The issue with the Viaduct isn’t that it was “hard to cross on foot,” it’s that it made being a pedestrian anywhere within a few blocks of it is extremely unpleasant. Crossing a four-lane road is no big deal. For instance, look at First Ave around Pike Place and the Art Museum. It is arguably one of the most pedestrian-friendly places in the city, and yet it has 5-6 lanes over most of it. As long as there are marked crosswalks at every intersection with good signal timing for pedestrians, that boulevard will not be an impediment at all to pedestrians.

    1. Stephen

      I wonder what will happen with excess land after it’s torn down. I know the masterplanning effort isn’t showing any sale of land, but I have to imagine that at some point that Seattle will either surplus good portions or conduct public projects for development.

  9. rich

    Worst case scenario: Chris Gregoire and the Seattle establishment get their way and start building the tunnel. The inevitable cost overruns begin to come in. Then a future Republican governor (and at this point I think this is something you can count on) pulls the plug on the whole thing. End result. Lots of money spent. Nothing to show for it. Horrendous traffic in downtown Seattle. And no political leverage to do anything about it.

    1. I think that any Guv would be in for the long haul once the boring machine is down; remember, they seem to have a habit of getting them stuck here.

      We know there will be overruns, so how much has anyone exactly willing to state?

    2. Stephen

      Nah, Republicans love roads. Even costly tunnels, as long as they’re not meant for public transport. Plus, zero chance for a Republican governor.

    3. How exactly will doing nothing result in “horrendous traffic”? Either the viaduct will keep standing, and thus traffic stays as it is, or the viaduct comes down with nothing to replace it and the traffic disappears. I fail to see how the second is a worse option.

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  11. AiliL

    I agree entirely with the arguments presented and have been commenting and letting both Olympia and Seattle know my opinions ever since the plan was first presented. Scale it back, add the badly needed mass transit options, pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure and see how many don’t need their cars any longer. I saw how many, one?, bike lane or facility in all the mock-ups! This area is also a major bike corridor for cyclists heading into town from the South and Southwest and cycle travel N/S. There’s been virtually no acknowledgement about this need at all, nor ideas about how to route cyclists to/from the waterfront into downtown from WADOT. SBAB has been proactive about this issue and they have been given little merit so far. WADOT is steamrolling this through – they are ignoring Seattle’s Bike and Pedestrian plans and ideas for traffic calming and pedestrian corridors (north portal); WADOT has not only been involved in planning the tunnel but the streets connecting to it as well, streets belonging to the city. I fear that people do not understand what this means and by the time they get angry it will be too late to change it.

  12. Null

    Maybe someone here can answer this question for me: I have heard that the new tunnel, with only 2 lanes in either direction, will carry 47,000 cars/trips a day. This has allowed the Mayor his talking point of saying that it won’t carry as many cars as the Ballard Bridge, among many other comparisons.

    But then I also hear that the Battery Street tunnel currently carries 63,000 cars/ trips a day.

    If one 2 lane tunnel carries 63K a day, why does the new tunnel only carry 47K a day? Or are we using the “designed for” number, which is exceeded on almost every major highway in the city at this point?

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      The 47,000 figure factors in people who will avoid the tunnel in order to skip the toll. It will cost about $4 one-way at peak times, so anyone with time might as well save their cash.

      Also, the battery st tunnel leads to the viaduct, which has downtown exits. The tunnel will not have those exits, so fewer vehicles will find it useful.

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