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A traffic jam on Seattle’s new Belltown Neighborhood Highway

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?

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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.

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18 responses to “A traffic jam on Seattle’s new Belltown Neighborhood Highway”

  1. Lisa

    Who won here? The concrete companies.

    1. Mitch

      You contradict yourself several times, with one being, traffic volume has dropped on 1st Ave then right after you say “why didn’t they think of making 1st safer”? um, what?

  2. Bob

    The problem is there is way too many lights. Thats why its plugged up. Especially along the waterfront.

    1. Greg Hunicutt

      Bob, I’m no grammar expert. Indeed, I tried tapping out “I’m no grammatician,” but “grammatician” isn’t a word.

      And you should’ve typed “The problem is there are too many lights. That’s why it’s plugged up, especially along the waterfront.“

  3. More Logical

    You’re forgetting that they closed the connection at the south end of this new “highway” to Alaskan Way so that the Aquarium could work on their project unfettered.

    Let’s not jump to conclusions that things won’t even out once that reopens later on. Truck traffic in particular will be pushed back onto Alaskan way which will help greatly.

    1. Mitch

      he does have scientific evidence of a video. lol

  4. Benjamin

    Geesh even the video just shows a normal downtown street level worth of traffic. And that makes sense because the new ramp is by no stretch of imagination a “highway”.

    By this logic every street downtown qualifies as a highway and is constantly “jammed”

    1. Mitch

      agreed. people these days just love complaining. his scientific facts is a video?

  5. Donna

    I live at Western and Broad. Very noticeable the increase in traffic since the new connector has opened. Makes me sad that the main thing the city touts is that freight will not have to endure wait times for the trains. We need a liveable city that provides for the residents as well as commuters and visitors that come via cruise ships. Not sure we have an equal vote.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Yep, and none of the vehicles in my video are moving freight. It’s all private cars, mostly carrying one person.

  6. Fnarf

    I predicted this.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Yeah, it’s frustrating that there were people saying all these things and they were ignored.

  7. Abram Moore

    How was it riding a bike ? Were you worried that someone was going to get frustrated and pull into that car sized bike lane or a tourist not knowing anything ?
    Could I pass someone on there beach cruiser with my road bike going 40km/h and them feel safe?
    I think what you’re really going to see is new licensing for the motorized bicycle like the old two-stroke 50cc back in the day, but the E version. Has anyone heard of GoGoro? in Seattle can write laws to fit the already standard battery and power output. Speed can be limited in zones over Wi-Fi

  8. MarkMark

    Lenora between Western and First is also a clogged up mess. For northbound traffic coming up from the waterfront, it is now the first opportunity to turn into the city, but not properly. Instead, eastbound cars are stuck at First, forced to turn right or left. So Lenora is backed up and full of cars, in both directions, because of folks at each end holding up traffic while waiting to make left turns.
    Why the traffic engineers thought that was a good idea is beyond me.
    They did not connect Blanchard, the next street down, which would have worked much better since it is one-way into the city.

  9. Orion

    Cars delivering food and packages to the rich downtown “15 minute city” people who don’t want to go outside.

  10. S. Viola

    I agree. We’ve proven time and time again that facilitating vehicles leads to more traffic. We built a tunnel so expensive that you could fill it to the top with quarters and it wouldn’t cover the cost. We have great transit options, with the pricey LINK stations just blocks away. There are 8 lanes at the south end of Alaska Way to accommodate ferry traffic. Why facilitate more traffic? We should make driving frustrating enough to incentivize alternatives to single-passenger transport. Why? Climate. Health. Noise. Respect for people who choose to live in or visit walkable places.

  11. Al Dimond

    Yesterday I was meeting some friends at Pike Place so I took a detour down Elliott (south from Broad) to check out the new stuff. Of course, the old part of Elliott is as miserable as ever. If anyone ever says these fancy new bike lanes are empty that’s the reason: the main way to get there is a door-zone lane on a street with relatively heavy and fast traffic where the parked cars routinely encroach on the bike lane.

    Since I was familiar with the old arrangement I didn’t think about turning to stay on Elliott as it merged up to Western to get to the market. I just followed the bike lane down to the waterfront and had to climb the Pike Street stairs to get back on course. The Western/Elliott couplet has always been confusing, maybe especially so since they aren’t streets you want to spend time getting familiar with. Maybe the new arrangement would be less confusing if I got used to it… but it doesn’t seem to have fixed the major reasons I didn’t use it before, so I probably won’t.

  12. eddiew

    the week the Elliott Connector opened, Alaskan Way was closed, so traffic was diverted to the new road. I biked it on two days. The second day, there were construction vehicles parked in the outside lanes, so it is not yet complete.

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