It is the year 2023, and Seattle just opened a new highway through the dense and walkable Belltown neighborhood. For five years, there was no connection between Alaskan Way on the waterfront and Western Ave in Belltown, and traffic was working about at well as it ever does. But this month, Seattle opened a new highway connection, and the result is sadly predictable: a multi-lane traffic jam in the middle of a neighborhood.
In video I shot just a couple weeks ago, you can see what it was like before. And now it’s yet another multi-lane street that gets clogged up during busy times and encourages speeding and dangerous driving during the off-hours.
We did not need to do this. This was a choice. The new highway connection was enormously expensive, and for what? To fill this neighborhood street with idling cars and make it uncomfortable to cross the street? Are the people sitting in these cars enjoying this? Who won here? The oil companies?
The decision to create this neighborhood highway was made years ago. And frankly, everyone involved in pushing for this design should be ashamed. Seattle’s Office of the Waterfront made this timelapse over multiple years showing them tear down the highway that Seattleites wanted gone and replacing it with, well, a different highway. This is nothing to celebrate. This does active harm to our city, it works against our climate and traffic safety goals, and it makes Belltown a less pleasant place to live and work. Meanwhile, it seems that traffic volumes have dropped on nearby 1st Avenue due to this new Western highway. Why weren’t there plans to make 1st Avenue safer when traffic moved over to Western? The people shouldn’t need to beg for safe streets, it needs to be standard practice within our transportation agencies.
But it doesn’t need to stay this way. Just because a decade-old decision was bad doesn’t mean we have to live with it. I suggested before this project opened that we only open one of the lanes and see how things go, and I still think that’s a good idea. We know that the vast majority of traffic deaths and injuries on city streets happen on streets with more than one lane in the same direction, so why are we repeating that mistake again?
We also need the city and state to expedite road safety project on Western Ave beyond the Elliott Way highway project. This is a bike route, believe it or not. But it is also a street that people need to feel safe around.