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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An Urban Eurotrip: Part 2

This is a multi-part series. See the other pieces here: Part 1 and Part 3.

Brussels

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I knew next to nothing about Brussels, apart from the fact that is the capital of Belgium, where a friend of mine is from. Upon arrival I discovered that most public signage is in Dutch, which is much harder to muddle through than French. But I was able to eventually make a connection to the local streetcar system and get to my next hostel. Along the way I noted the mix of architectural styles and seemingly random building heights.

By this point in the trip, I was developing a pretty good routine. I’d drop off my backpack at the lodgings, find something to eat, then search for postcards to mail home. I found European souvenir shops also sell stamps, which is definitely not the case in the U.S. In Copenhagen I once tried to buy a stamp alone, but I was required by law to purchase something else with it (so I got an extra postcard). Later I’d freshen up and go out to dinner, and usually have a drink at a local watering hole to get a feel for the different restaurant and bar scenes. Sometimes the hostel staff (who all spoke English) made helpful recommendations.

I found a cafe name Jat, which had a sign out front claiming “caffeine makes you sexy”. I couldn’t pass that up, of course. Recharged, I started my recon and discovered a heavily-guarded United Nations conference facility nearby. I also ventured uphill and discovered a massive commercial street called Avenue de la Toison d’Or, which has separate lanes for parking on both sides of it, along with a tram line in places. The main traffic lanes dive underground at several points. So Europe is not immune to inner-city highway-type roads, but certainly this one fit in well with its trees, stoplights, tunnels, and frequent pedestrian crossings.

The grand waffle-with-a-view over Brussels.

Curiosity satisfied, I made my way back downhill, but not before stopping for a chocolate-drizzled Belgian waffle served out of a yellow van parked next to a Ferris wheel, perched at a stunning viewpoint looking over the city. Looking out over this vista, and realizing the city was huge, I had sudden bit of homesickness. My spirits were dampened from earlier in the walk when I accidentally walked through a massive puddle in a pedestrian tunnel – resulting in the second day in a row for soggy shoes. The waffle, thankfully, introduced itself to my life at just the right moment, and reinforced me greatly.

Pedestrian zone in Brussels.

I circled back to my hostel, and while changing socks I decided to go for a jog to see more sights. It was early afternoon and chilly, but the sidewalks were mostly clear. I stuck to the wider streets with smooth paving, and wound my way through the central business district and the royal Brussels Park. I stopped at the edge of Old Town, which is a delightful maze of pedestrian streets. I was drawn in with the intense amount of shops, eateries, and people. The place is an amazing example of medieval design, and I’m sure the amount of economic activity and tax dollars is something American town leaders can only dream of. There’s also chocolate and waffle shops in seemingly every other storefront, advertised with spectacular and colorful window displays. I picked up two bags of genuine Belgian chocolates, one of the only souvenirs I bought on the whole trip due to my tight backpack space.

The Grand Place

Anyway, I finally made it to the center of the neighborhood, a grand plaza known as…the Grand Place. It is surrounded by ancient, towering guild houses decorated with all manner of architectural ornaments and golden-colored metalwork. I late learned its origins date back some 900 years, and today the plaza is surrounded by a mix of private residences, the town hall, and guildhouses (some of which are now museums). Some of the guilds with headquarters here included the greasers, carpenters, boat builders, haberdashers, bankers, butchers, brewers, tailors, painters, and some surrounding streets are named after sellers of butter, cheese, herring, and coal. Clearly, commerce is celebrated here. The plaza also has excellent acoustical qualities, as I learned when people across the plaza turned to watch a man and woman arguing about something. Aside from the human wildlife, the space might benefit from some trees to soften its acres of pavers, but nonetheless it was once rated the most beautiful plaza in Europe.

I also investigated the Little Pissing Man, a centuries old fountain that apparently embodies Belgians’ sense of humor and independence. One may recognize it as a garden ornament used across the world.

After happening upon a local restaurant that served lasagna and amber beer, and a night cap at a gothic-themed basement pub, my day in Brussels came to a close. It was a surprisingly pleasant city and I wouldn’t mind visiting again, although I’m told next time I’m in Belgium I must visit the even more beautiful cities of Bruges and Ghent.

Amsterdam

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With a quick trip on another red Thalys train, on March 7 I emerged onto the Centraal Station plaza on a beautiful blue sky day. From the station architecture and my vantage of the city skyline, I was instantly struck by the amount of red brick and colorful facade details. I was going to be checking out the famous bike paths here, of course, but I would soon see how much quality urban design Amsterdam has to offer as well.

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An Urban Eurotrip: Part 1

One year ago today I woke up at 3am and boarded a plane at Stockholm Arlanda Airport, reluctantly evacuating myself from the closing jaws of European borders. I was just 15 days into a planned 30-day continental tour, the adventure of a lifetime, when a terribly timed pandemic cut the trip short. As we hit the one-year mark of the COVID-19 era, I finally feel up to writing about my trip and casual observations on European urban design and planning.

There’s a lot to share, so I’m breaking this post into several parts. This is Part 1, which goes through the first six days of the adventure including London, Paris, Normandy, and Brussels. Part 3 will take us to my five days in Berlin, Amsterdam, and Copenhagen. Part 3 ends with the final four days in Oslo, Stockholm, and my return trip home.

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CascadiaCast Episode 9: Laura Goodfellow

This episode of CascadiaCast is with Laura Goodfellow. A runner since middle school, she started combining her workouts with transit routes when she moved to Seattle and took advantage of citywide and regional connections. With marathon training, most of her runs are six to eight miles but often reach into double digits. She has started attending Seattle’s pedestrian and transit advisory board meetings to get the inside scoop on local projects.

“What makes it fun is I don’t have to take long, expensive vacations to faraway places because a weekend feels like a mini-vacation,” Laura says. “I go on this running adventure to Vashon Island, to Bainbridge, or to Gig Harbor.”

We talk about the urban marathon circuit, pedestrian safety, the state of Seattle transit, King County’s new Trailhead Direct service, and multimodal funding constraints. While it’s easy to get lost in project details, Laura says, “What’s important to me is pushing the shift of seeing transit as desirable.” For example, “To get from a meetup, people would offer me a ride home…they thought, ‘that poor girl, she has to ride the bus home’. I know it’s very generous of them, it comes from a place of kindness. But it also reflects that our society sees transit as an undesirable last resort.”

Follow Laura on Twitter and check out the Seattle Transit-Oriented Runners group on Facebook, Twitter, and Meetup.com. She was also recently profiled in a blog post by Sound Transit.

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CascadiaCast Episode 8: Hunter Bevis

This episode of CascadiaCast is uniquely co-hosted with Hunter Bevis, my older brother and producer of the aviation podcast Time In Flight. By coincidence, for both of our podcasts this is episode eight!

Hunter spent his formative years in North Bend, Washington and now resides in Pasadena, Maryland. He recently made a career change from consulting to flight instructing. We both recently acquired our commercial drone pilot licenses, leading to a great discussion on why I chose this route to expand my skill set. We also talk about recent changes in the unmanned aircraft industry and the regulatory environment. We cover drone applications for urban planning, potential safety and sky clutter impacts as drones become more widespread, and the relationship with manned aircraft.

We also touch on my own passion project of lidding I-5 and Hunter’s perspective on how rapidly cities are changing and facing affordability crises.

Visit the Time in Flight website and Instagram page for more on the world of aviation and Hunter’s daily adventures of in the life of a flight instructor.

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Public Risks Being Left Behind as Downtown Seattle Land Runs Out

“Buy land, they’re not making it anymore.”
– Mark Twain

As Seattle’s development boom continues without any sign of stopping, the city is rapidly approaching a point where Downtown is completely built out and there is no land left to build on. In many ways this is a desirable situation. Urban density has clearly documented benefits for environmental sustainability, economic vitality, and public health. However, as Downtown sees more jobs and residents arrive, decades of sluggish planning are catching up and exposing voids in important public infrastructure and services. Downtown’s housing stock grew 127 percent between 1996 and 2015, now totaling over 24,000 homes, but residents have not been supported by parallel growth rates in capital facilities like schools and parks.

Downtown – and more broadly the Center City – is the thriving cultural and economic hub of the region. It encompasses and borders a variety of high-density, mixed-income, and diverse residential neighborhoods like the International District, First Hill, and Belltown. It is home to important institutions, entertainment venues, and social services used by people from across the region and state. Because Downtown affects the health and success of so many people and places it must become a more complete neighborhood.

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The Benefits of Living Car-Free

I am often met with awestruck wonder when people learn I don’t have a car. After all, driving everywhere is the American way. There are too many explanations to keep a good party conversation going, so it boils down to cost and abundance of transportation options. But I don’t get too far before I’m assured I’ll buy a car eventually or I’m declared to be a quixotic car-hating lunatic.

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Redesign the U District / Wallingford I-5 Scar on September 16

Have you been looking for a way to get directly involved with the Lid I-5 movement? Now is your chance!

Join us on Saturday, September 16, for a design charrette focused on the segment of Interstate 5 dividing Wallingford and the University District. At this free public event we’ll build a vision for reconnecting these two neighborhoods which have been divided by the Interstate 5 freeway for more than half a century.

Community ideas–that is, your ideas–are needed to help broaden the conversation and build public support for this important campaign. Pedestrian links and lids for parks and affordable housing are expected to be popular concepts in a rapidly growing area that recently underwent a major upzone and is expecting a new light rail station in 2021.

The event will include a brief presentation on the origins and goals of the Lid I-5 community effort, along with a summary of two previous charrettes focused in the downtown area. Participants will be divided into small teams to identify problems caused by the freeway and develop design solutions.

Here are the details:

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER
Saturday, September 16
12:30 PM – 4:30
University Christian Church, 4731 15th Avenue NE
Facebook page to share (optional)

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CascadiaCast Episode 7: Laura Bernstein

On this episode of CascadiaCast I had a wonderful conversation with Laura Loe (Bernstein), a queer educator, musician, and gardener from Colombia, New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago who has lived in Seattle since 2009. As an advocate for fair housing policies, she adapted the YIMBY (yes in my backyard) movement to Seattle and has more recently taken on the YIOBY (yes in our backyards) perspective.

Laura came to Seattle as a musician and a science teacher, and got involved in local politics during the 2015 City Council race as a campaign manager. She discovered significant barriers to getting engaged in government decisions on land use, and found herself jumping headfirst into housing advocacy citywide.

She attributes the Seattle YIMBY movement’s success to Washington’s Growth Management Act, which sets a framework for concentrated growth, and the region’s light rail expansion stimulating conversations about high density development. We also dive into why certain housing messages are effective (for instance, emotions win out over data) and the tension between free market and social justice urbanists.

In 2017 she was elected to Sierra Club’s Washington State Chapter Executive Committee and also serves on the Seattle Group Executive Committee.

She receives half of her income through the generous support of individual patrons. Women urbanists are welcome to join her Facebook group intersectional densinistas (#yimby #yioby #seattle) to discuss the future of growing cities. Follow her on Twitter @YIMBYsea. And catch her keynote speech at the YIMBYtown 2017 conference!

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Seattle Primary 2017: Vote Farrell for Mayor, Mosqueda for Council

With crowded races in two important Seattle city elections this year, The Northwest Urbanist is weighing in with endorsements for the first time. Ballots for the August 1st primary are in your mailbox this week, so make sure to research the candidates and vote!

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First Fast Ferry Run Impresses, Leaves Room for Improvement

On Monday Kitsap Transit’s new Fast Ferry officially started operations between Seattle and Bremerton, offering a faster transit option for commuters and visitors. Read our previous coverage of the launch for background information and scheduling details. First impressions on were favorable, but the service has a number of kinks to work out before it can be a positive force for change in the Puget Sound region.

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