HistoryLink has a fantastic article this week that covers the story of Washington Park and the Arboretum. The whole thing is fascinating (I never really put together that the only reason it’s an arboretum is because, duh, it was completely logged first, making room for a tree museum).
The park also played a vital role in what might be the best decision Seattle made in the 20th Century: Stopping construction of the R. H. Thomson Expressway, which would have run down MLK Boulevard through the heart of the Central District and Rainier Valley from 520 to the south end of Seattle.
But most interestingly (to me), HistoryLink notes that at the time the original bicycle paths were being created in the park (later to be known as Lake Washington and Interlaken Boulevards), there was one bicycle for every five Seattle residents. A recent SDOT survey found that two out of every five Seattle residents has access to a working bicycle today. While we have a long way to go to make bikes more available, it is encouraging that bike access is double what it was in the supposed heyday of cycling, before the advent of cars.
By 1900, the city had very little park development beyond the lands that had been reserved. George F. Cotterill (1865-1958), then an assistant city engineer, laid out a system of bicycle trails in the city to serve the riders of the estimated 10,000 bicycles in Seattle (with a population of slightly more than 55,000 in 1898). One of the bike paths started at the top of Capitol Hill near Volunteer Park and traveled down the hill through the Interlaken area and into Washington Park.
With every person who takes up cycling in Seattle, we push into new territory. Every year is the biggest year for cycling our city has ever seen. And with a new Arboretum Trail planned, biking in Washington Park has hardly even begun.