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Waterfront rumble: Where new Seattle confronts old Seattle

Can the industries that built Seattle survive in the new Seattle with its push for an upscale new urbanism? We better hope so, but Seattle's working class roots could easily slip away.
The Port of Seattle. (Chuck Taylor)

The Port of Seattle. (Chuck Taylor) None

There has been a lot of talk about the Alaskan Way Viaduct and Seawall Replacement Project, and how we create a waterfront for all. While these discussions rightfully focus on costs, they should also address how we might create the best public spaces for all our citizens.

All these questions are also on the front lines of a bigger discussion: Can the industries that built Seattle survive in the new Seattle along with our concern for the environment and a push for an upscale new urbanism? I offer a resounding, yes. In fact, the soul of our city depends on it.

First, we need to understand what we have.

Seattle’s waterfront is unlike any other on the West Coast and maybe the United States. We often compare our waterfront to Portland or San Francisco. There really is no comparison. Neither Portland nor San Francisco has the mix of transportation, industry, and recreation we are so lucky to have.

Consider the diversity and economic power of our waterfront: We have marine container terminals, the main terminus for the largest ferry system in the world, ship building and repair, and the BNSF Seattle International Gateway, where containers are loaded to move to Chicago and points east.

We have a major grain terminal. There are recreational boat marinas, hotels, the Victoria Clipper, and the Royal Argosy. And let's not forget the cruise ship industry. In 2009, 218 cruise ships brought over 875,000 people to Seattle. Each of these cruise ships spends over $1.7M in local provisions, goods, and services.

We also have shops and restaurants, the Seattle Aquarium, the Olympic Sculpture Park, and many other public spaces.

While all of the components are important, the working waterfront, or maritime industrial cluster, is really what separates our waterfront from other places. I have come to know this industry through my work with the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, a trade association representing marine terminal operators and container vessels that serve the West Coast. Growing up here, I always had an appreciation for Seattle’s maritime history. Having worked in two mayoral administrations, I understand the economic importance of our waterfront and the need to protect it.

The waterfront is an economic engine that provides family-wage jobs. It is a living heritage left by our grandparents and their parents. They built the infrastructure that we depend upon today.

We all want working families to be able to work and live here in Seattle. We want good jobs for our kids. The alternative to a college education should not be the minimum wage. And in Seattle, it’s not. The working waterfront provides an opportunity for those without a college education to make a great living, buy a house (yes, even in Seattle), send their kids to college, and provide taxes to maintain and build infrastructure that drives our economy.

A 2008 study commissioned by the city found the maritime industrial cluster contributed $5.6 billion to our economy in 2007. Employment grew 3 percent in 2002-2008. Actual payroll grew an astounding 20 percent.

We all know that Seattle is on a precipice. We can either hold on to our working-class roots, or we can let them slip away. The planning discussions already under way need to be discussions about our heritage, culture, and values.

We are lucky to live at this crossroads when we will be able to look back and say we were part of something great. We have an incredible opportunity that comes along once in a generation. We can build infrastructure that will ensure our economic security and preserve our unique maritime heritage for the next 100 years.

Or, we can continue to get bogged down in process.

Part of what is holding us back is an incomplete understanding of what the waterfront is and who it is for. Arguments about whether this proposal is green enough or whether that proposal is just for cars do not move us forward. Industry and mobility are not enemies of the environment and urban living. A livable, walkable waterfront can co-exist with an international trade gateway and competitive port.


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Feb 2, 12:39 p.m. Inappropriate

The key thing is keeping trucks and trains away from passenger cars. These driving styles and requirements are incompatible. The arrogance and lack of consideration by semitruck drivers, and the lack of coordination between trains crossing and rush hours make it positively mind-wratcheting even though main road thoroughfares run through Sodo. Mix it up with non-stop construction and I want to hit my head against the wall, but it still beats sitting in I-5 traffic while 6 lanes merge into 2 near Seneca Street.

Bottom line is, Seattle inner-city highway options are one big idiotic cluster****

jegusa

Posted Tue, Feb 2, 1:23 p.m. Inappropriate

Jordan Royer's claim, "The $3 billion budgeted by the state for the tunnel 'bypass' (AKA deep bore tunnel) ensures congestion will not choke our waterfront and hurt businesses" is false.

The Deep bore tunnel does not accommodate 40,000 daily Interbay and Ballard-bound vehicles which will be displaced onto the new Alaskan Way and Mercer Street. Do the math! That traffic 'will' congest the waterfront and hurt businesses. The 13 new stoplights between Pike and King Streets forecast bottlenecks and bumper-to-bumper gridlock. Steep Mercer Place and Mercer Street are planned to become a thru-corridor for some of this traffic to avoid Alaskan Way, but there's already too much traffic on Mercer between Aurora and I-5. And this "Mercer West" project is a residential corridor that will suffer huge impact with more traffic.

It's a good thing Grace Crunican has left the building, but this particular project of hers is despicable. Formally reconsider a Cut-n-cover tunnel, either a 4-lane or 6-lane stacked. Either would make for the strongest seawall and the most stable Alaskan Way surface, create the most construction jobs, probably cost less, and most of all do what a tunnel replacement for the doomed AWV is meant to do, manage the existing traffic. Speaking of which, the current design for Alaskan Way, won't. Early designs that included a frontage road would.

Wells

Posted Tue, Feb 2, 2:21 p.m. Inappropriate

Jordan, I agree with much of what you say. A working waterfront is much more interesting and beneficial to Seattle than a disneyland style, tourist trap design. What would the Seattle bypass tunnel do to help achieve this? On the south end, most if not all port traffic goes directly to I-90 or I-5. On the north end, the bypass tunnel entrance is nowhere near the waterfront and will not divert any ballard or magnolia commuter traffic. There is very little port industry in the center.

One point of fact; if the bypass tunnel gets built, it will never have rail installed. Ask any transportation expert this question. Also, building the bypass tunnel will preclude or at least make very difficult any additional rail tunnel from being built under downtown.

A well designed surface option with improvements to transit and I-5 is the rational and sensible option and we can use the state money for that. No need to send it back, as you say.

andy

Posted Tue, Feb 2, 2:40 p.m. Inappropriate

Andy -- Thanks for your comment. You are correct that most of the freight coming through the terminals is moved by trucks directly to the BNSF Sig Yard. Some of those trucks also take cargo to the Kent Valley and over I-90. Seventy to eighty percent of the cargo coming through the port is discretionary and goes by rail to Chicago and points east. Some terminals also have on-dock rail, T-5 and T-18. The main reason the deep bore tunnel makes sense to our competitiveness is that it can be completed and oprerational before the viaduct is removed -- minimizing construction impacts. On the southend there is already a grade separation project facilitating truck movements from the port's terminals to I-90 without being blocked by trains. The companies that operate the marine terminals would frankly like to keep the viaduct in place. But given the alternatives they see this as the best option to minimize traffic disruption and delays in their operations.

Jordan

Posted Tue, Feb 2, 5:16 p.m. Inappropriate

Andy, why would the Deep Bore 99 would make another rail tunnel any more difficult? For part of Pioneer Square it would limit the potential geometries. But for the rest of the waterfront any tunnel would benefit from the viaduct being gone and keeping the wide ROW available as is planned. If you mean the deep part under First or diagonally to 6th & Harrison, there's a lot of depth to work with, and a street ROW could allow a new rail tunnel to be much shallower than 99. If you mean King Street Station northward to either side of Lake Union, the 99 tunnel has no effect at all.

Personally I'd like to see a second transit tunnel in addition to the 99 tunnel. It would be a ways off of course. It should be cost-effective to do this under Second despite the high volume of utilities there, 99 tunnel or not, because 99 will be very deep. Even better would be a transit tunnel under Fourth, which I'd guess would be buildable under the existing Transit Tunnel with Westlake Station remaining open during the work. This would serve Belltown and LQA before heading for Ballard. On the south things would get tougher but several options seem doable...

mhays

Posted Tue, Feb 2, 5:30 p.m. Inappropriate

Should have added....I'd like to see a heavy-rail tunnel as well.

Here's a wild idea: A deep tunnel under Fourth could stack a light rail level over a heavy rail level. The cost would be in the 10 figures easily in Downtown alone, but it would allow a big increase in local and regional rail transit while supporting industry. It could have a second Sounder Station....

mhays

Posted Tue, Feb 2, 6:16 p.m. Inappropriate

Mr. Royer wrote:
"The main reason the deep bore tunnel makes sense to our competitiveness is that it can be completed and oprerational before the viaduct is removed -- minimizing construction impacts."

I did a double take at that statement. I hope you will clarify and expand on the real costs involved and should be realized to businesses who rely on the waterfront, be it t-shirt sellers, ferry's, cruise ships or some business trying to make a gate deadline for their containers. Perhaps you would further elaborate on the potential cost burdens associated with the concurrent building of a new, and very much needed seawall.

In the long run, it would have made better sense from land use and transportation considerations to build a bridge bypass which would utilize the eastern shoreline of Elliott Bay. It could have been constructed off-site and ferried to its build sites; cost less; built quickly and have little impact on existing business and transportation.

The lack of imagination and economy that Seattle and the state of Washington have exhibited in coming to the conclusion a tunnel would solve this land use and transportion problem is utterly mind-numbing.

Bella

Posted Tue, Feb 2, 6:33 p.m. Inappropriate

Or it would be if a bridge over Elliott Bay didn't have several major flaws, such as cost (ever build bridge with legs in deep water?), permanent loss of view, needing to be high enough to allow ferries et al to travel below it, environmental issues with building underwater... Also being left with a severely below-code Battery Street Tunnel (fixing would require it to close for years so they could build two-levels, which would allow the necessary breakdown lanes), and a South Lake Union that's still divided from LQA, contributing to a dysfunctional Denny... To say nothing of the undesirable areas that tend to be below bridge approaches. Your plan would require tearing out a lot of buildings, which the current plan doesn't.

Sorry Bella, it died for good cause.

mhays

Posted Tue, Feb 2, 7:25 p.m. Inappropriate


Sorry mhays, but a bridged bypass located along the eastern shore of Elliott Bay wouldn't necessiarily require its foundations be in deep water; it would certainly be high enough for ferries et al to pass under (ever heard of GPS navigation systems?); as far as views are concerned, build something iconic. Go to Vancouver B.C. if you want to see iconic bridge design and engineering. The Canadians put us to shame. They have been building long span bridges in the Vancouver area for a number of years now, and at costs far below what we would pay for a tunnel. Lastly,
what is so special about looking at the West Seattle peninsula? You mention the spectre of environmental issues but fail to cite any specific environmental problems. This is rather difficult to address without a specific design and accompanying engineering, and you should have acknowledged this in your reply. As far a Battery is concerned, did it ever occur to you that you could also have access from street level as well as from the tunnel?

"Undesirable areas...below bridge approaches"? Please elaborate. At length would be fine.

It didn't die due to a good cause. It died due to other reasons.

Bella

Posted Tue, Feb 2, 9:14 p.m. Inappropriate

What does GPS have to do with bridge height?

But thanks for bringing up another topic: the supports would need to be massive to accommodate the high potential for ship collision. In most bridges in shipping areas this is easy because the water is shallow and they cost-effectively build an island around each support. In Elliott Bay there wouldn't be that luxury because even at relatively depth or so, the islands would have to be very large at their bases. That would be expensive and environmentally damaging.

Which brings up environmental issues. Sound and particularly shorelines are protected, and there's very high bar. Entitlements and political support are easier if you can prove need, which would be difficult in this case since other options are available. As for what's down there, try scuba diving sometime. The central waterfront is an environmental mess right now and not ideal for diving, which is why restoration is a hot topic right now.... Either way, there will be no political stomach to built islands in Elliott Bay, even relatively small ones.

Back to design options. It might be cheaper to span the entire length of the waterfront, say Pier 48 to Pier 66, with a very expensive single bridge. Sometimes a series of smaller spans is cheaper but in this case the supports would have to be very deep and very tall above water, so maybe not in this case. With a single main span allowing just two supports in shallow water, the span would be nearly twice that of the Tacoma Narrows, plus more lanes. I don't know what estimates came out for 99, but using some basic extrapolations it sounds like the bridge could easily be in the $1.5 billion range, except....

Except the 4,500'(?) span I suggest wouldn't be possible unless you broke the lease for Pier 46 and kicked out the shipping company. That would raise utter hell because shipping and the many thousands of spin off jobs are just a wee bit important around here, and land is scarce.

I see the architect in Ballard with the idea for massive Elliott Bay landfills (in place of shipping) and experimental ideas on bridge structure. This is a political "no chance" proposal, because the no-freeway, save-Puget-Sound, save-the-view, anti-spending, and pro-seaport constituencies would unite against it. Not that we're talking in reality of course...if we were we'd have to get into funding starting all over again, another couple years of process to get to where we are now, and so on.

Are you suggesting one direction of 99 be on the surface through Belltown? That would be a disaster...avoiding traffic for Greater Downtown surface streets is why I'm a tunnel supporter. Of course, even if Battery took one direction on the surface (with the related fatal flaws, such as the volume of cross traffic), the current tunnel still wouldn't be up to code without being substantially rebuilt. I'm not sure how much would be necessary, but it would require closure for a long time. In part, it would require a major project to connect the two halves north of Denny. It's easy to see what that idea doesn't pass the first BS test.

Apparently the view doesn't matter to you. West Seattle, the Olympics... Suffice to say a sizeable population would consider blocking it heresy as I do.

Regarding the areas beneath bridge approaches, the only good one I can think is the Aurora bridge. Otherwise they tend to be less desirable, such as the Ballard Bridge, the West Seattle Bridge, etc. Same in most other cities, with some exceptions when the underside is a park or something (Harbor Bridge in Sydney on both ends). Basically they tend to be like the underside of the viaduct.

Of course you can't build a bridge without closing off what's below it. Usually they demolish what's underneath, at least to make construction logistics easier. This would mean demolishing housing, offices, Bell Street Pier, and possibly the Marriott. At the south end simply getting rid of the shipping company would do it...each end at great cost.

Politicians and WSDOT showed good cost control by skipping the detailed studies on this one. It's their job to narrow things down and focus on ideas with more promise, and they did.

mhays

Posted Tue, Feb 2, 10:50 p.m. Inappropriate

And people think my advocacy for 'Tunnelite' is a hair-brained idea. At least a cut/cover tunnel makes for the strongest seawall and most stable Alaskan Way, less expensive to build than the Deep-bore, creates more construction jobs, handles traffic way better. Wake up! It's one thing for the illuminati to say the cut/cover construction will be terrible, but it's another thing to detail just how so. The truth is, building a cut/cover tunnel is a manageable construction process that the waterfront would survive. It's doubtful another rail tunnel is needed, and it's ridiculous to consider an Elliott Bay bridge any more than another viaduct. Cue Twilight Zone theme music....

Wells

Posted Wed, Feb 3, 7:47 a.m. Inappropriate

While this discussion has quickly veered back into the usual Seattle-style transportation design charette, Royer's most compelling point relates to the character of the city, and how the economy relates to it.

Our neighborhoods were built for working people with modest incomes, many of whom worked, and still work, in port, industrial and freight-related activities. If we want to retain economic and social diversity within the city limits, we need to retain the jobs that allow those same workers to find quality employment without advanced degrees. Our industrial base provides a good portion of those jobs and protecting that element in our economy is going to be critical to retaining the "diversity" that causes many of us to love this place.

Really appreciated Royer's discussion during the campaign about costs and other challenges for families with children and older people on fixed incomes. Very disappointed that our electorate thought greenhouse gas issues were more important for new City Council to focus on than electricity and water cost increases and their impact on low and middle income Seattleites. I hope Royer tries again, as someone on the Council needs to lead and speak to the local economic issues...the Council laid down for a 14% rate increase and no one spoke to its impact on the middle class families???!!!

Posted Wed, Feb 3, 10:50 a.m. Inappropriate

Retrofit or replace the existing viaduct. The rights of ways already exist. The configuration already can handle 110,000 vehicles a day. It already provides a bypass for downtown and off ramps for the core, Ballard and West Seattle. It already meets the demands for commercial vehicles. It absolutely can be structured with modern seismic protections and other enhancements for noise abatement, bikes, pedestrians and aesthetics. We can afford it.

In fact, it already exceeds alternative new solutions in every single transportation related requirement except that it’s just not “purty” enough.

jmrolls

Posted Wed, Feb 3, 11:08 a.m. Inappropriate

Why spend that kind on money on a temporary fix?

mhays

Posted Wed, Feb 3, 1:53 p.m. Inappropriate

What is the definition of a temporary fix? 10-20-50 years? What kind of immortality do you believe any transportation element has? They all need maintenance and upgrades. Do you propose poorly designed, over priced, inefficient solutions because they can deliver inferior service for longer periods of time?


jmrolls

Posted Wed, Feb 3, 2:15 p.m. Inappropriate

I've heard the 25-year figure for any retrofit that isn't really a rebuild.

Personally I advocate for a well-designed, reasonably priced, efficient solution...the deep bore. Well designed and efficient because it gets the pass-through traffic out of Downtown's way, while maintaining easy connections for those headed Downtown. Reasonably priced because once disruption is factored in it's probably the cheapest of all alternatives...

mhays

Posted Thu, Feb 4, 5:11 p.m. Inappropriate

Nice article Jordan...way to go!

Very interesting quote:

"We all know that Seattle is on a precipice. We can either hold on to our working-class roots, or we can let them slip away. The planning discussions already under way need to be discussions about our heritage, culture, and values."

hmmmm...do I detect a veiled attempt at class warfare?

'working class' roots are evoked but none are actually explained nor contrasted against the heritage and values of other classes, that are presumed to be lesser?

What are Seattle's 'working-class' roots? anyway. The values that defeated initiative 13 in 1978, or the values that evicted the Chinese in 1886?

Which values are worth holding onto...which ones should be discarded, and how will that shape the waterfront to come?

The current waterfront is living history. A frankenstein-like-patchwork of what the city needed to grow and how it has perceived itself over the decades.

Now that the this Seattle is hip & cool, we want a hip & cool waterfront. That's not dominated by industry...but we dont want to sell out to a Disney effect either. Seattle's constant internal struggle.

Whatever the waterfront becomes it needs to function. I have faith that Seattlites won't settle for less.

Posted Sat, Feb 6, 1:34 p.m. Inappropriate

Seldom has a comment thread more aptly illustrated an author's point about the Seattle 'process' than this one.

Why is it 'class warfare' to point out the obvious- that the Seattle Art Museum can shut down the Waterfront Streetcar on a whim, that the U of W rivals the Port of Seattle in economic clout, and that the downtown business interests have few (if any) maritime industries included.

Royer, of course, didn't point this out, but apparently somebody needs to. Royer is discussing the working port, which is not "living history...A frankenstein-like-patchwork". The modern port, which can be plainly seen by anyone who cares to look, is a wonder of mechanization that can unload and reload a half dozen container ships in less than a day. The central waterfront, which has been obsolete for shipping and fishing industry use for over three decades, has assumed an appropriate role as a public waterfront.

But if you wanted to see a Waterfront Frankenstein created, just imagine the fruition of current efforts by the ferry system to increase the number of cars and trucks boarding at Colman Dock, multiplied by the McGinn desire to divert all of the current AWV traffic to the surface roads on the waterfront. Just as the Seattle Process put McGinn in as mayor, it could also lead us to this nightmare future.

That should be your wake-up call.

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