The Cascade Bicycle Club has remained neutral on the proposed deep bore tunnel, saying they want a solution that makes the city better for cycling. Today, the club announced on its blog that it endorses voting “no” on Referendum 1:
The Club has taken the position that any chosen alternative should improve bicycle access to and around the Seattle waterfront. Either a surface/transit/I-5 or tunnel alternative could have achieved this goal. However, when WSDOT changed the purpose of the project from moving “people and goods[i]” in a variety of ways, to providing “essential vehicle capacity[ii]”, we saw a move away from improving bicycle, pedestrian and transit access in favor of improving car capacity.
Since elected officials chose the deep-bore tunnel as the preferred choice, study of how improvements to surface streets, transit and I-5 can accommodate transportation demands has been inadequate. The state’s own traffic model shows that the project would divert thousands of additional vehicles per day directly onto adjacent streets. This produces significant new traffic from SODO, downtown and the waterfront to South Lake Union and does not create bicycle-friendly streets. If the deep-bore tunnel moves forward under the current plan, we question whether there will be funding available to make critical complementary investments that make the areas impacted by the project safe for bicycling and walking.
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This is pretty big news. This very large organization has somehow made it this far without really weighing in on the debate. But in light of the state’s environmental impact statement and the state’s change of focus from moving “people and goods” to “vehicles,” the bicycle club has determined the deep bore tunnel would make the city worse for biking.
I have argued several times on this site against building the tunnel. It is a massive investment against our goals as a city, and the state’s own studies show that the tunnel will actually make traffic worse than the more reasonable and flexible streets/transit/I-5 option. In fact, the tunnel would result in similar traffic compared to simply tearing the viaduct down and doing nothing to replace it.
It is still worth it to fight the tunnel, no matter how sick you are of hearing about it. The scale of the mistake is enormous. To put the cost in perspective, you could buy every resident in the state of Washington a $300 bicycle for the cost of this tunnel. You could buy every resident of King County an Orca pass for a year and still have money left over. The state estimates a measly 47,000 vehicles per day will use the tunnel. That’s $42,000 per daily tunnel user.
So the arguments about mobility for those people who need to get from the south to the north without going downtown (or using I-5, a huge north-south freeway not that far away) don’t hold water. Is it worth $42,000 to move one motor vehicle (likely one person) per day on this route? That is subsidizing transportation on an astronomical scale and it simply does not make sense.
Politicians are doing mental gymnastics trying to justify this thing. The Seattle Times’ argument for the tunnel is basically: “The mayor lied once and also there is bureaucracy in state funding.” Those are not good reasons to build a $2 billion tunnel (in fact, one is not even a valid argument).
I was particularly disturbed by what project manager Ron Paananen told the Seattle Times in a recent story:
Anti-tunnel campaigners have gone so far as to argue, “The tunnel is no better for traffic than letting the viaduct fall down and doing nothing to replace it.”
Highway 99 project Administrator Ron Paananen says that sound bite defies logic. A tunnel that can move 90,000 cars a day would be better for overall traffic than simply losing a highway, he said.
Defies logic? It is more than clear that building more highways to improve traffic is an exercise in futility. It does not work and will not work. Here’s a video from StreetFilms about it. Even Car & Driver Magazine sees this to be the case. This is backwards thinking left over from the 1960s and has no place in the efficient, liveable and responsible city Seattle could be.
The experiment of urban highway construction was tried in every city in our county and failed miserably every time. We have hindsight to see that it has not worked so far, we have foresight in the state’s study to see that it will not work in the future. In the meantime, we have examples like the removal of San Fransisco’s Embarcadero to show us that removing an urban highway can be successful in our city.
In some ways, this debate boils down to whether you have confidence in Seattle or not. To say that we must invest $42,000 to move a car from sodo to northwest Seattle because we cannot possible find another way to make that trip happen efficiently is to admit defeat in our principles. We want to reduce carbon emissions, we want to be innovative and we want our city to be livable, but not if it means a bunch of people will have to take the bus or drive on I-5 or a street with stoplights.
We can make smart choices that would, for at least $1 billion less, make those 47,000 vehicle trips (or more!) per day simply disappear. We can invest in transportation diversity and choice instead of a personal vehicle monoculture that is already on the decline in our city. We are smart people with an opportunity to invest in the future instead of the past.
Vote No on Referendum 1.