A group of philanthropists will fully fund a $45 million set of upgrades to the downtown waterfront north of Pier 62, where the existing under-construction Waterfront Park project ends. The Elliott Bay Connections project includes cove and park improvements in Centennial and Myrtle Edwards Parks as well as a new walking and biking trail along the defunct Benson Streetcar rails.
The new trail will exist alongside the city’s planned protected bike lanes on the waterfront side of Alaskan Way, which is part of a larger street safety project for the relatively low-traffic street. The usability of the planned trail will rely heavily on whether Alaskan Way feels safe to cross.
The group hopes to begin construction in early 2025 so that it can be complete before Seattle hosts the 2026 World Cup in June. Expect a lot of community engagement this fall and winter.
The press release (PDF) claims the project “will be undertaken at zero cost to taxpayers”:
Elliott Bay Connections would construct a new pedestrian and bicycle greenway connecting the new Waterfront Park to the Olympic Sculpture Park (from Pier 62 to Pier 70) and would restore and revitalize Myrtle Edwards and Centennial Parks, including the restoration of public fishing at Pier 86. Private funding will underwrite the estimated $45 million cost of construction. Philanthropists Melinda French Gates and MacKenzie Scott, The Diller-Von Furstenberg Family Foundation, and the Expedia Group are the donors to the EBC project.
The private funding helps close a frustrating gap in waterfront planning. After so many years (decades, really) of planning and construction, ending the Waterfront Park project at Pier 62 rather than connecting it to Myrtle Edwards Park has stood out as a major missed opportunity to finally have a cohesive and connected waterfront. It took an enormous amount of bicycle advocacy work over many years just to get the city to commit to connecting the existing Elliott Bay Trail to the new waterfront bike path. Now, unexpectedly, we are set to end up with two connections.
“Cascade Bicycle Club is excited about this historic investment in making Alaskan Way more bikeable, walkable, and safer for all users,” said Cascade Executive Director Lee Lambert in the press release. “Along with the planned bike lanes on the western waterfront side, the green space and additional bike path and better sidewalks on the eastern side of Alaskan Way will support multiple user groups—leaving the western side for transportation and the eastern side for recreation.”
The proposed walking and biking trail will cross the street near the bend where Broad Street and Alaskan Way meet at the entrance to Myrtle Edwards Park near the sculpture park. From there, it will replace the abandoned streetcar rail line, which is adjacent to active freight rail lines. This will require a new barrier of some sort, effectively extending the reach of public space further northeast from the waterfront. It will help connect Belltown to the waterfront, reducing the railroad crossing distance at each intersection.
The park improvements include a much-needed kids play area, something I have found oddly lacking there as a parent. It will be a huge hit, especially great for biking parents. I smell a new Kidical Mass hotspot in the making.