The Case for Lidding I-5 in Downtown Seattle

A conceptual pedestrian lane over I-5 between Pike and Pine Streets. (Graphic by the author)

A conceptual pedestrian lane over I-5 between Pike Street and Pine Street, tying into the Pike-Pine commercial corridor and proximity to the busy Convention Center. Click to enlarge and see a before-and-after view. (Graphic by the author)

Amid Seattle’s rapidly growing inner neighborhoods remains the urban scar of Interstate 5, a massive concrete and steel ribbon that is the lasting legacy of 20th century transportation engineers. It helps move thousands of people and tons of freight every day through the biggest city in the Pacific Northwest, but it gives little to those who don’t drive and to people who live and work around it. The problems are obvious: noise, traffic, and poor urban design that makes people on the street feel isolated and wastes valuable urban land. The solution is equally clear but admittedly ambitious: lidding the freeway to mitigate its sights and sounds while simultaneously transforming the public realm of Downtown Seattle.

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First Hill Streetcar Opens with Lessons for Future Lines

The First Hill streetcar loads passengers on Jackson Street at 5th Avenue. (Photo by the author)

The First Hill streetcar loads passengers on Jackson Street at 5th Avenue. (Photo by the author)

Seattle’s new streetcar route, the First Hill line, finally opened on Saturday. Despite the cold and rain, months of tantalizingly empty test runs and the promise of free rides drew large crowds along the entire route. The new line runs from Pioneer Square and the International District on Jackson Street, through the Yesler Terrace public housing development via 14th Avenue E and E Yesler Way, and on First Hill and Capitol Hill via Broadway. Though over a year late due to manufacturing problems, and designed less robustly than it could have been, the line adds a new transportation link for central Seattle and provides lessons for how future streetcar lines should be designed elsewhere.

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Why I Call Myself an Urbanist

The 2014 University District Streetfair. (Photo by the author)

The 2014 University District Streetfair. (Photo by the author)

I was recently invited to to participate in a panel discussion pitting urbanism against NIMBYism (Not In My BackYard-ism). Asked to represent the “urbanist” perspective, this got me thinking about it meant to be an urbanist, how urbanism is defined, and if I actually fit the description. In this post, I will explore these questions and confirm that there are specific aspects of urban living and public policy that I believe in and will continue to advocate for.

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The Good and the Bad of Driverless Cars for Cities

Driverless vehicles in a 2012 test in Spain. (Volvo)

Driverless vehicles in a 2012 test in Spain. (Volvo)

The age of driverless cars is rapidly approaching, and no one seems to know what to do about it. The technology is picking up steam in the behemoth automotive industry while only a few states have regulations on the books for autonomous vehicles (AVs). Just this week General Motors penned a half billion dollar investment in Lyft to develop AVs, and last month Google and Ford announced a similar partnership. The implications for the world’s transportation systems and urban living is uncertain, but there will surely be a mix of positive and negative impacts. This post explores some of the more likely ideas.

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Event Notice: Seattle City Council Presentation on Freeway Lids Wednesday

The I-5 trench. (Photo by the author)

The I-5 trench. (Photo by the author)

On Wednesday, December 16 at 12pm a group of local designers will present to the Seattle City Council the case for additional freeway lids over Interstate 5 in Downtown. The event will be an informal “lunch and learn”, starting at noon and scheduled until 1:30pm at the Seattle City Hall council chamber (600 4th Avenue). The presenters (including myself) will be available for questions from Councilmembers, the audience, and the media. The event is open to the public and all interested community members are invited to attend.

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Seattle’s Draft Comprehensive Plan Takes on the Big Issues

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By 2040 the Puget Sound region is expected to have a population of 5 million, up from 3.9 million today. Seattle expects to be at the center of this growth and is planning for 120,000 new residents in 70,000 housing units, along with and 115,000 new jobs, over the next two decades. The latest iteration of the Seattle’s comprehensive plan, known as Seattle 2035, is taking public comment through Friday and is due to be adopted next year. An open house with City staff in West Seattle last week provided a glimpse into how this guiding document will shape future policies.

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Limited Madison BRT Will Still Deliver Great Benefits

The key features of bus rapid transit (BRT). (City of Seattle)

The key features of bus rapid transit (BRT). (City of Seattle)

On Monday night the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) held its fourth open house on the $120 million bus rapid transit (BRT) project planned for Madison Street. SDOT staff and consultants from Nelson Nygaard chatted with a packed house about recent survey results, technical details, and the latest concept design. The general mood seemed to be upbeat, but many people think the project can do better. Seattle Transit Blog succinctly covered the problems last week, lamenting that only a small part of the corridor will have true bus-only lanes. While this and other issues remain unaddressed, the current design will effectively improve mobility through some of Seattle’s densest neighborhoods.

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