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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I Got Hit by a Car, Here’s How to Prevent it From Happening Again

In early January I was hit by a car in West Seattle while biking home. Thankfully, the collision was minor and I got away with no physical injuries. The car may have fared worse with a scratch and a dangling mirror. In the interest of preventing anyone else from getting hurt at a key intersection, I am telling the story of what happened and what I think can be done to prevent it from repeating.

The Incident

I was biking home from a morning appointment, and it was daylight and raining. I was headed eastbound on SW Avalon Way in the right-side bike lane, just past Alki Lumber, and approaching the intersection with 35th Avenue SW. There were vehicles on my left side in the general traffic lane. Traffic was moving forward toward a fresh green light at the intersection and I passed one or two cars that were still accelerating. I was moving 10-12 miles per hour.

View of the intersection in the direction I was moving.

As I entered the intersection, the driver of a small white car made a right turn onto 35th Avenue SW and collided with me. The collision occurred at a relatively slow speed and a shallow angle. The car slowed or stopped and I continued rolling forward, and I remember waving an arm and probably dropping the f-bomb. I stopped my bike on the sidewalk on the southeast corner of the intersection. The driver of the car had put on their flashers and pulled over on 35th.

The paths of the turning car (purple) and me (blue).

I dismounted and assessed the situation. I was able to stand and did not find any major injuries or sense any major pain. My bike seat had twisted clockwise, but otherwise I didn’t find any damage to the bike right away. The driver of a pickup truck stopped next to me at the curb and asked if I was alright and said he saw the incident. I said yes and thanked him for stopping, and he departed. Since I was uninjured and a little angry, I was tempted to just head home, but sense got the better of me.

I decided to talk to the driver, who had exited her vehicle and started talking to me from across the street. I waited for a pedestrian signal and walked my bike back across 35th. She apologized and I explained I thankfully had no injuries. She said she did not see me. I told her I did not see a turn signal, otherwise I would have slowed to allow her car to turn ahead of me. I requested her insurance information and she provided this and we also exchanged phone numbers. I took a picture of the license plate. She mentioned how surprised she was at how nice I was being, and I said this was a lesson for being more careful in the future. We parted ways. I took a few pictures of the location and then biked home.

At home I further assessed my leg, not finding any cuts, bruises, or other obvious signs of injury. My wife got home 30 minutes later and together we decided I did not need professional medical attention (urgent care). I then tried to file a non-emergency police report online with the Seattle Police Department. Apparently you cannot do so, even for minor collisions. So I called the Seattle non-emergency number and I waited 25 minutes before someone finally answered, and they texted me a link that leads to reporting through the Washington State Patrol. I submitted details there and instantly got a PDF copy of what I entered.


I am extremely fortunate that a very small, sanely-sized vehicle was involved here. The car was so small that the rightside mirror was at my leg level and I smashed it off with my thigh, and my pedal left a good streak in the door. Amazingly, I stayed upright on my bike through the incident. It probably helped that I was riding a heavy e-bike with a beefy frame and wide tires.

Damage to the side of the car, sent to me later by the driver.

I hate to wonder what would have happened if it had been a freight vehicle or even today’s common pickup truck or SUV, which are increasing in size to ridiculous and unsafe dimensions and are scientifically documented to be greater risks to people walking and biking. A taller vehicle would have quite likely pushed me off the bike entirely, risking a head injury even with my helmet. And in a larger vehicle the driver may not have noticed the collision as quickly (or at all), and I could been run over by the rear wheels as they rounded the corner. That type of car-bike collision has happened time after time in Seattle and other cities and it frequently results in death.

As an urban planner and transportation safety advocate I have a duty to document the incident so that others may learn from it, including the people who have the greatest power to prevent this from happening to anyone else: the employees and leaders at the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT).

Fixing the Intersection

First, history. I reviewed the SDOT collision data for this intersection. It goes back to 2004, showing a total of 107 incidents through October 2022. Three of those were car-bike collisions, and two of those involved minor injuries. The data shows no serious injury or fatality collisions at the intersection.

This is an average of six collisions per year and they mostly involved car-on-car incidents, which doesn’t seem that much, but anything more than zero is unacceptable, especially when vulnerable street users are involved. Six of the 107 collisions resulted in injuries to people walking. Since 2004, the area has become more populated with new apartment buildings built around the intersection.

Note that SDOT’s data may not be complete. If a police investigation is not involved, it’s up to someone in the collision or a witness to voluntarily file a non-emergency report – just like I did. This level of effort and altruism seems unlikely for the vast majority of people involved in minor incidents.

According to Google Streetview historical images, this block of Avalon had a paint-only bike lane installed sometime around 2011-2014, at which time the roadway was narrowed from five car lanes to four. The bike lane was upgraded in summer 2020, as part of the 35th/Avalon repaving project, in which it was separated with paint and plastic lane posts and the vehicle lanes were narrowed.

Next, physical observations. The current bike facility is still not truly a “protected” bike lane; with stripes and sticks, there is nothing to stop errant drivers from crossing into the bike lane at any point. This particular block is also challenged on both sides by driveways, including that for the Starbucks drive-through which often sees drivers backing up into the roadway in the mornings (stop drinking that anti-union sludge and visit a local coffee shop, people!). And the drive-through for The Habit burger joint (previously a KFC) spits out cars just inches from the Avalon/35th intersection, a very unusual and unsafe design that engenders wonder at how the plans for that site were approved.

I live down the hill and use this intersection in all modes. I’m mostly biking, sometimes driving or riding the bus, and occasionally walking. Generally, it works fine. Sometimes the traffic light timing is frustrating since it seems to prioritize north-south drivers on 35th who are racing to and from the West Seattle Bridge, but until today I had not really felt unsafe while riding a bike or walking. The corners have good visibility and it’s not especially busy during most of the day. The upgraded bike lanes have been part of the reason I bike more because they give a nice separation from traffic and make me feel safer, even if they aren’t perfect.

I see several options for improving safety here:

Sign1. Revise signage and signals to remind drivers of the presence of a bike lane and to be more cautious. This could include a flashing right-turn yellow arrow and the addition of a yield sign (better yet, do this at every unprotected bike lane intersection in Seattle).


Example of a concrete one-way protected bike lane

2. Make the bike lanes here truly protected with concrete curbs, enhancing the bike’s visibility and separation. This could include some kind of small island or nose at the crosswalk, shortening the turning radius and encouraging drivers to turn slowly. Concrete is expensive and costs need to be prioritized, so we can start with roughly the two blocks here on either side of 35th. The rest of the Avalon bike lanes down to Spokane Street work fine with buffers from moving traffic offered by parked cars and a bus lane (though some of the other intersections there can be hairy when biking downhill).

3. Add a protected signal phase for bikes. This stops turning traffic (with no turns on red lights) while letting people on bikes proceed with less worry about moving cars. This is standard practice on Seattle’s marquee and busy downtown bike lanes like 2nd Avenue and 4th Avenue, but the feature hasn’t made its way into most of the outlying neighborhoods. However, this method does usually require a turn-only lane to be present for cars, and currently the Avalon/35th location uses a combined lane that allows cars to move both straight and turn right. There is also a dedicated left-turn lane in both directions.

Signaling where bikes and turning cars take turns (SDOT photo)

Making an eastbound lane right-turn only would probably require taking away one of the two westbound car lanes, but this could provide the opportunity to mirror the protected signal phase on the other side of the intersection too. Plus, there is really no benefit to having two westbound car lanes. Avalon has one westbound car lane for its entire length except for a 460-feet stretch through this area. A concept for how to configure this is shown below.

Concept for new lane configurations with protected bike signals (blue = eastbound, purple = westbound, green = bike lanes)

Of course, driver distractions or lack of proper precautions (like looking in your mirror and flicking on the turn signal) are always a risk regardless of the type of infrastructure. It reminds me of the idea to retest young and middle-aged drivers at least every 10 years (and perhaps seniors should be retested every five years to check for physical abilities). This would help to keep drivers updated on changes in law and infrastructure design; when I went through drivers’ education around 2006-2007, I don’t recall a single mention of how to interact with bike lanes, and since that time many Washington cities have added them. In any case, the point is that safe bike infrastructure adds more chances for reducing the chances and severity of collisions amid inevitable human mistakes.

Fixing Other West Seattle Streets

Most of 35th Avenue SW also desperately needs a traffic calming project, like was done on its south end at the city limits several years ago. SDOT (and previous mayor Jenny Durkan) had the opportunity to do this, but in 2018 they cancelled the project’s second phase apparently due to political machinations, not due to any technical or fiscal constraints that I have been able to find.

While we’re on the subject of West Seattle biking, I am also of the opinion that all of Alaska Street between 35th and California needs to replace the bus lanes with protected bike lanes. I drive that stretch and ride buses through here often enough to say that traffic never backs up enough to delay buses. The bus lanes are frankly unjustified and give drivers the opportunities of a speedway with all of the extra asphalt available. It is a popular and designated bike route through the heart of the Alaska Junction commercial district, and yet people are also forced into a lot of unsafe maneuvers. The lack of left-turn lanes and marked crosswalks are a key problem, particularly for the few blocks between Fauntleroy and California (pictured below).

SW Alaska Street has two unnecessary bus lanes, no protected bike lanes, and no crosswalks in the middle of an urban village that is about to have a light rail station.

And heck, if we’re dreaming, Fauntleroy Way south of Alaska Street has no business being a stroad with six car lanes (four for moving and two for parking). With only around 16,000 vehicles per weekday (pre-pandemic and probably less now), traffic volumes are not enough to justify this number of lanes. The sad southbound bike lane in that stretch is basically useless and I choose to ride in in the adjacent vehicle lane to avoid risk of car doors opening. There is plenty of space to add protected bike lanes in both directions here, especially since this is a particularly busy couple of blocks with hundreds of new apartments and a dozen ground-floor commercial businesses. Fauntleroy already narrows to a more reasonable configuration immediately south at Edmunds Street.

Fauntleroy Way looking towards Alaska Street.

Hopefully, some of these ideas will be implemented before light rail arrives in West Seattle which will attract even more people to walking and biking on these streets.


Since the collision that inspired this post I’ve already biked through the intersection again. In fact, in the latest trip a right-turning driver used their turn signal and very patiently waited for me to pass after a little of the one-two Seattle awkwardness (you may go, no you go, please I insist, alrighty then). I’ll certainly be more careful at this particular location and all other intersections in the future as I bike around Seattle.

More importantly, I hope the City leadership continues to use this kind of feedback to refine and upgrade bike and pedestrian infrastructure throughout the city. There is no lack of funding for this work – tens of millions of dollars are spent on automobile-centric streets and highway projects in this city every year. And there is no lack of technical understanding of the best practices in street design; we need to look no further than Seattle’s other top bike corridors and NACTO’s Urban Street Design Guide and Urban Bikeway Design Guide, which encourage the types of techniques I have listed above.

With that, I’ll sign off with some quick tips and lessons learned from this incident. Wishing you safe and happy biking and other travels on all modes of transportation.

Traffic Collision Tips

  • Be the better human (assuming you’re conscious and not laying on the pavement). By staying calm and collected, I was able to collect necessary information and constructively engage with the driver. Getting mad only escalates the situation.
  • Accept help from witnesses – at the very least, ask for their contact information. I wish I had done this with the pickup truck driver.
  • Take pictures of everything – vehicles, the scene, license plates, insurance card, and drivers license info (the latter I forgot).
  • Avoid calling 911 if there is no serious injury or no obstructions to traffic – and keep in mind the police may not show up for a long time anyway. Save the Seattle non-emergency number in your phone for easy use to report incidents later: (206) 625-5011.
  • Ride your bike defensively. Assume every car approaching an intersection is going to turn in front of you, whether they are using signals or not. And assume cars will make other unpredictable and dangerous moves, like pulling out of driveways or stopping suddenly. Make your own intentions clear with hand signals.
  • Keep your bike well-maintained for Seattle’s slick and bumpy streets. That means strong brakes, full tires, and good lights.
  • Wear a helmet when riding anywhere near cars, even with helmets no longer being a legal requirement in Seattle.

More good resources and bike news is always at Seattle Bike Blog, The Urbanist, Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, and Cascade Bicycle Club.

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An Urban Eurotrip: Part 3

This is a multi-part series. See the others here: Part 1 and Part 2.


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In Part 2, I shared the comical travails of getting from Berlin to Copenhagen. After a stopover in Hamburg, the story continues.

On my last train of the day, I met a German woman named named Christina who lives in Norway. She was a hospital worker, and was returning home and cutting short a holiday to Germany because of the coronavirus. The train ride was also interesting because at one point it crosses over the 10-mile wide Great Belt, a strait that separates the western half of Denmark from the island of Zealand, the country’s most populous region and the home of Copenhagen. Trains cross half the Great Belt on a bridge, and the other half in a tunnel. Prior to this link’s completion in 1998, only ferries crossed this area. Passenger trains would be loaded onto those ferries back in the day.

Copenhagen itself is a delight. The first thing I noticed when stepping outside the station was some kind of amusement park across the street. Perhaps more so than other cities, I found there is a very large pedestrian zone and central shopping district. Commercial and utility vehicles are allowed, and private cars can go on some other peripheral streets. The buildings are all obviously old but tenderly maintained. My hostel roommates weren’t talkative at this stop, but the downstairs bar had a lively social and music scene despite (or because of?) the dreary weather.

A pedestrian street in Copenhagen.

The morning of March 11, I took a jog and found a very wide, un-Amsterdam-like canal, but it was calm enough to be swan habitat. I later learned this waterbody is actually part of several urban lakes which were dammed hundreds of year ago for defense and water supply. I visited a small breakfast kiosk recommended by a colleague and enjoyed one of the best hot chocolates I’ve ever had.

Next, I took another bike tour. The tour guide was Dutch and he loved that I chose an orange bike, it being the color of the national soccer team. Two other people from California were on the tour, and they had just visited Seattle and Vancouver. They also, tellingly, chose to ride Segways instead of bikes. We saw the royal palace, the famous mermaid statue, parliament, and other major sites. I also couldn’t help myself from snapping a picture of a DHL delivery cyclist.

Afterwards I took a trek to the industrial area to see Copenhill, an artificial ski run built on the roof of a waste incinerator facility. Not realizing there was an elevator, I hiked the 85 meters up past acres of artificial grass. The view view was stunning – you can see all the way into Sweden, including the huge Øresund Bridge – and it was dramatically windy. Next door an honest-to-goodness wrecking ball was taking down a concrete building. I stuck around a while, hoping to witness a skier climbing the series of tow bars, but I didn’t have any luck. I walked down and saw the skiers drinking at the bar, of course (this was still mid-morning).


The view from Copenhill looking over a major industrial area, wind turbines, and the Baltic Sea.

After that I took buses and trains to a residential area to see Gridvick Church, a masterpiece of Danish masonry. From afar the building looks pretty unassuming, but up close its quite a splendid presentation of massive forms made from modest materials. From there I headed back into the old center city and visited the medieval Rundetaarn (Round Tower), which has a steep spiral ramp up to the top. Climbers are awarded a great skyline view from within the city.

As I headed back the hostel during the evening commute hour, I was stunned and nearly mobbed by the rivers of cyclists. As I had experienced in the morning, even on a chilly day Copenhagen is clearly a great city to bike in. You can also find all kinds of food – near my hostel I opted for a comfort option serving enchiladas one night, and other night I had the local fish and chips.

The old world Copenhagen waterfront.

The next morning on March 12, I woke up to information about the United States restricting Europeans from entering the country. I had a flew of worried emails from family. I quickly read the news and State Department websites myself to find that the restrictions did not apply to US citizens or nor to flights arriving from Britain. Since I wasn’t affected, I decided to go onward with my flight that morning to Oslo. Fortunately, I had chosen a relatively late flight leaving at noon, so I had plenty of time to relax and commute in the morning. I found a cafe with excellent hot chocolate and a maple croissant, and later took a subway train to the city’s beautiful airport.


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I could have technically taken a train from Copenhagan, but I decided that any trip that took eight or more hours by train was best to fly instead. My March 12 flight to Oslo was uneventful except for heavy wind on takeoff. Upon landing and looking out the plane window, I saw patches of snow, fir trees, and low-lying mountains that gave me a vague reminder of the American west, maybe Colorado or Idaho. I was definitely bound for a colder leg of the trip as I advanced towards the north pole.

Getting from the airport to central Oslo was a bit more challenging than I expected. I later learned the airport is over 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the city center by train, and choosing its location was a local controversy in the 1980s. At the time I was traveling there was not a direct line and I had to transfer, with the first train ticket costing $20 and the next one costing $11. Of course, I can imagine a taxi ride would have been twice as much.

Emerging from the south side of Oslo Central Station, I could immediately see the city has a stunning waterfront and busy harbor. There are a large number of sleek, low-rise modern buildings including the massive Operahuset. The main part of town where I was staying, though, had a surprisingly regular street grid with a mix of historical and contemporary 4-6 story buildings. In fact, during the rest of my time in Oslo I was constantly impressed with how wide the sidewalks were and the long sightlines (straight streets) to help me get oriented – something that wasn’t easy to find in the cramped medieval centers of other cities on my trip.


Part of the Oslo waterfront district.


A number of passenger ferries serve Oslo.

I suited up for a cold, windy jog to check out the shoreline. The number of ferries plying the harbor reminded me of Seattle, and in the distance I even saw a cruise ship juxtaposed with a grain elevator, but the resemblance stopped there. The downtown waterfront, particularly the Tjuvholmen and Aker Brygge districts, is developed intensely with high-quality residential and commercial buildings, a grand harborside promenade, and a small grid of pedestrian shopping streets. Among it all restaurant seating spills outside.


Grabbing a coffee at Kaffebrenneriet.

I found a wayfinding sign showing the Havnepromenaden trail extends 9 kilometers, which was further than I had time to explore, but it seemed like a great civic amenity from my brief visit. I also came across piles of pavers and construction equipment for a street project that was converting two major diagonal streets into a pedestrian zone, which apparently opened in February 2021. I didn’t notice at the time, but the site was using electric construction vehicles. On my way back to the hostel, I also found a transit-only street filled with buses and streetcars.

At my usual postcard gathering, I saw some paintings that reminded me Norway (and other Scandinavian cultures) its steeped in troll mythology. Netflix users might know the “documentary” Troll Hunter, which follows a group of college students trying to prove the government is covering up the existence of real trolls. It’s a delight, and makes we wish I had time to visit the countrywide on this trip. I definitely want to visit the famous fjords someday, which are a couple hundred miles northwest of Oslo.


A quiet street scene in Oslo.

I nearly seriously injured myself after dinner that night. I was tired of carbohydrates (despite passing by a bright restaurant called Texburger) and found a place offering eccentric salads with a variety of grains and vegetables. Leaving the cafe, I didn’t notice the single step down to the sidewalk, and I rotated my ankle. I was instantly worried about the implications of seeking medical care in a foreign country, not remembering how my insurance would handle a hospital visit. But after resting and some tentative steps, I found the joint could still bear weight and didn’t hurt much. Still, I decided to find a pharmacy to get some provisions.

In another forewarning, there was a long line outside the pharmacy and a security guard letting in a limited number of people at a time. This was the first such restriction I had seen on my trip. I was happy to find some instant cold packs to treat my ankle.


Stylish public restroooms in central Oslo.

I work up early the next day to return to the same train station for a 5:56am departure to Stockholm. This was my longest train ride of the trip, at 6.5 hours, and it was quite relaxing to take my mind off the itinerary for a while. My window scrolled through a long landscape of farms and forests under an overcast sky, reminding me a bit of the sparse Russian wilderness I have only seen in movies (which must have been in roughly the same latitude). Helpfully, the train conductor announced when we crossed the border.


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On my walk from the train station to my hostel, I noticed that compared to Oslo this city has wider streets and more car traffic (including a lot of Volvos), but that didn’t make it any less pleasant to walk in. There is plenty of the necessary infrastructure for people walking and cycling, and the ground floors of buildings are stuffed with shops and cafes and carved with all variety of architectural nuance. I also got a view of this priority when passing underneath some kind of viaduct near the train station; it seemed the conversation had gone, “We need to have an elevated street here? Fine, let McDonald’s open up shop beneath it then.” As terrible as elevated highways in American cities are, maybe they could be a little better with this kind of creative thinking.


The long Drottninggatan pedestrian street in Stockholm.

After dinner that night, I took a long stroll down Drottninggatan, possibly the longest pedestrian street I had encountered so far. It was at this time I started thinking I would probably need to seriously revise my trip because of the pandemic situation. My family who planned to join later in the trip were showing signs of backing out. Back at the hostel that night I learned that the Czech Republic, my next destination, was locking down and its national train company notified me of the cancellation of my Prague-Vienna ticket.

So, I cancelled my flight to Prague and booked a flight directly from Stockholm to Vienna.

Two hours later I got an alert from the U.S. Embassy in Vienna advising against travel in general, and later I found news Austria was going to require a medical certificate from anyone who had traveled to France in the past two weeks. I also got an email from the U.S. Embassies in Bern and Madrid that Switzerland and Spain were introducing some border controls. Denmark closed its borders to tourists two days after I left. Later I would learn the Switzerland ski resort I planned to visit for three days was closing down. I was also reading about restaurant and museum closures that would degrade the tourism experience.


While the ending of my trip was saddening, I at least had a cozy space to work in at the hostel.

I felt confused and devastated as my plans began to fall apart. I stayed up late thinking things through. It didn’t seem fair. There’s no way I could have predicted that a once-in-a-century pandemic would coincide with my dream trip that I had saved and planned for five years. But that seemed to be what was happening in real time.

I had another private room at this point in the trip – which I was thankful for as I considered all the logistics of cancelling my trip and working through the emotions. While the miniature washer and dryer at this hostel left something to be desired, the comfy basement computer room was a blessing. It’s much easier to do urgent travel research and re-bookings on a big computer screen than a little smartphone.

After sleeping on it, in the morning I finally determined it wasn’t worth my time and effort to attempt wiggling through an ever-tightening maze of restrictions and cancellations. I sadly booked a British Airlines flight back to the United States, from Stockholm to London to Chicago. The flight wasn’t for two days later; that timing was decided because of a lower price, a chance to fly on a Boeing 747, and a desire to spend one extra day in Europe while I could. Or, perhaps I was a victim of Stockholm syndrome.

My mood didn’t stop me from going out and enjoying the city, which was providing blissfully blue skies. I found a place that offered a British-style breakfast with eggs and beans, plus a healthy side of bacon. The weather was chilly and sunny as I set out to explore and pick up my last set of postcards. I remembered that Stockholm is situated on several islands, and this was apparent from how often I would encounter water during the day. I stumbled onto Stockholm City Hall, a centuries-old brick building with a large waterside lawn. Here I recorded a video narrating my decision to end the trip early.


The Slussen renewal project.

I wandered southward across a major bridge that also seemed to be part of a major infrastructure construction project. It was hard to tell exactly what I was looking at in the waterway between islands, but I recognized a coffer dam and some kind of prefabricated roadway structure positioned nearby on a barge. Nearby on a closed street, what looked like a train tunnel was being dug through a bluff. I found a staircase built into the bluff and found a handy overlook over the project site, crowded with other visitors. It turns out the transport bridges here actually sit on top of an aging lock between a lake and the sea called the Slussen, and all of the pieces here are being redone in a public works project intended to add new space for buildings and parks.


Eriksdalslunden park.

Eventually I came across a large plaza called Medborgarplatsen, or Citizen Square, packed with people and cafe seating. I grabbed a snack and then wandered off the beaten path, downhill into a large park in a dense residential area on the south end of this island. The park, called Eriksdalslunden, included a large community boatyard and a community gardens (people must “put their name on the waiting list and hope for the best”, a sign advises).


The Stockholm skyline.

Later on in the day my phone battery started to die, so I don’t have a lot of photographic memory to rely on. I do remember making my way back to the north end of Södermalm island and discovering a kind of urban hiking trail, a wild-looking dirt route perched on a cliff overlooking the city center. I enjoyed the sunset view with locals, including one who launched a drone.

Some pedestrian quirks I also noticed: Many of the sidewalks and stairs near hillsides had pre-positioned boxes of sand, apparently available for public use during the icy winter months. And instead of piling cardboard on sidewalks or in dumpsters, it looked like many businesses and apartment buildings collect recycling in huge, sturdy bags that can be picked up by trucks. Throughout Stockholm the streets were spotless and safe to walk on, so they’re doing something right with pedestrian mobility.


The menu at Pub Anchor.

Back on the main island, I took a beer stop at a local cafe, and later that night found myself in a music bar that played right into the Swedish metal culture; the menu was printed on an old vinyl record and whiskey was piled atop some Marshall amplifiers behind the bar. I’m told that metal music is so popular in Sweden because people there otherwise leave very peaceful and idyllic lives, so who can blame for wanting to let off some steam and rage? And in another staple of Sweden, the next day I would stumble into a small Ikea showroom.


One of the many waterways at Stockholm.

My last full day, March 15, was very windy. Braving the chill, I took a morning jog and explored more of the residential area around my hostel. I also walked through a subway station out of curiosity, noticing that the concourse had a number of retail shops built into it (again, a common feature throughout Europe). A small grocery store was nearly out of toilet paper, a funny parallel from news back home. And at one of the city’s many ferry landings in a small harbor, I found another reminder of Seattle: A piled of crusty shared bikes and scooters pulled out of the water. I also walked through a flea market, with offerings ranging from menorahs to Super Nintendos. That night, I dined at a small cozy place and ate a fancy version of bangers and mash, reminding me of one of my first meals in London two weeks earlier in the trip.


Final train of the trip, heading to Stockholm’s airport.

By 3:30 the next morning, I was on a train platform headed for the airport. It turned out being three hours early for this flight was excessive, the airport being nearly empty when I arrived. Compared to Oslo, price and navigation to the Stockholm airport were a breeze. And while I was sleepy, I could appreciate that the airport station was stunning, underground and showing off bare bedrock all around.

Stepping onto the plane, I bid farewell to Europe and hoped to be back again another day.


I had a long layover at London’s Heathrow, giving me some time to explore it this time around. The passengers on my flight then boarded the plane via buses that took us out to the tarmac, which was the first time I had experienced that process. I was excited to finally fly a 747, the queen of the skies, though of course with my budget I sat in the second to last row of the plane without much of a view. I chatted with some of my fellow passengers, which included Americans who were leaving Europe because of the coronavirus concern. Looking back, I remember this was still a time before we started wearing masks on planes, trains, or anywhere else.


A makeshift screening center set up at Chicago O’Hare.

I landed at Chicago’s O’Hare airport nine hours later, and went through a screening process with staff from the Centers for Disease Control and the Chicago Fire Department. My body temperature was read and I filled out a health declaration confirming I had no virus symptoms.

In hindsight, I should have caught the flight from London directly to Seattle. But I did eventually make it back home via one final leg on American Airlines (and of course, to top it off, I booked what was described as a window seat that had no window).

Arriving back in Seattle, a strange mood had certainly settled in over the city. I was overjoyed to see my partner again, but there was some awkwardness over keeping distance due to my potential for infection. During my absence, what was being called a lockdown had been ordered and my employer had ordered all staff to work from home. It would be several days before I was able to get a computer and re-insert myself into a daily routine.

Parting Thoughts

Even if the trip was cut short, I had a wonderful time in Europe and found it to be a fascinating place. The cities and landscapes are beautiful and can be endlessly explored. As readers will have noticed throughout, I was also fascinated by the continent’s approach to urbanism: compact, walkable, vibrant, transit-rich, and people-first. It’s interesting that Americans love to visit these cities and towns and spend money there, and then return home to suburbia to complain when parking spots are removed for bike lanes or when apartments are proposed in their neighborhood.

As COVID-19 finally seems to ebb and with safe practices now established, I anticipate attempting the same wild itinerary in March 2023. On the next round I may substitute some destinations (e.g. Utrecht instead of Amsterdam; Finland instead of Sweden), but still have the same goals of skiing, riding as many trains as possible, and eating my way through the Mediterranean.

With that, thank you coming on this journey with me, and I wish you safe travels wherever they may take you.

Scott Bonjukian

P.S. I have dropped some tips and tricks throughout this series. To summarize for future travelers, here they are collected:

  • Book hostels and train tickets on a single service like and These websites are very easy to use and provide consistent information. It is also helpful to deal with only a single provider in the case of travel changes or refunds.
  • Take trains everywhere – both for the intercity trips where you might otherwise fly, and for the local trips. They’re fast, show up frequently, and are surprisingly affordable.
  • When booking hostels with shared rooms across a long trip, give yourself a private room every few days. This may mostly apply to solo-traveling introverts. It’s a great stress reliever to relax, refresh, and spread out in your own space.
  • Hostels vary in amenities. I found it helpful to book hostels with laundry facilities and complementary breakfast every few days.
  • The U.S. State Department guidance and map for country-specific advisories is helpful, if conservative. You can also sign up for country-specific embassy email news.
  • Research your international cell phone service options well in advance. I was not entirely satisfied with a France-based company called Orange, where I purchased a European phone number and SIM card and later had unexpected charges. I might have been able to get away with only using a Google Voice number for calling and texting. A key need is access to maps, transit, and restaurant information when you’re out of wi-fi range.
  • I got along fine being an English-only speaker, as nearly everyone I encountered speaks it fluently and most signs have it. The most trouble I had was in France, where restaurant servers seemed uninterested in speaking it. Spend enough time in Europe, and you’ll also start to recognize similarities between various written languages on menus and maps that help aid your journey. Nonetheless, I kept a little translation book handy and tried out local phrases when it felt appropriate (especially outside the main tourist areas).
  • Bring lots of cash. It’s surprisingly handy for transit tickets, small souvenirs, paid restrooms, and restaurants that may operate cash-only. Tipping is not the norm.
  • Bringing a paper copy of every reservation and ticket may have been overkill, but it did give me peace of mind. It is recommended to bring a printout of critical information like a copy of your passport, itinerary, and emergency phone numbers (including U.S. embassies). Put printouts in a plastic sleeve. I also brought backups of everything digitally (PDF files) on my smartphone and on a flash drive.
  • If you’re backpacking like I did, carefully plan your clothing choices. I selected some outdoor/adventure style socks, underwear, and shirts that in theory didn’t need to be washed every day, but I did laundry as frequently as I could. Extra socks are essential during the winter/rainy season. I wish I had brought at least one nice button-up shirt for dining out.
  • Shoes take up a lot of space for backpackers – I ended up only bringing one pair, my running shoes, which also work great all of the walking you’ll do. It was also helpful to go for a run every day to keep up my exercise and cover more ground in scouting my surroundings.
  • For backpackers, stash your big pack in a locker at the hostel during the day (good ones should have those; bring your own lock) and use a small stuffable pack with your essentials for bopping around town. Taking a load off enabled me to explore farther. The small pack is also what I kept at my seat during plane and train trips.


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An Urban Eurotrip: Part 2

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


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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.

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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 2 will take us to my five days in Berlin, Amsterdam, and Hamburg. Part 3 ends with the final four days in Copenhagen, 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 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:

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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