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A trail not a tunnel

While Pioneer Square is being buffeted by big projects and tough economic times, work is proceeding on an urban trail network to make the historic district more connected and foot-friendly.

The modern Washington Street Boat Landing is one of the few public connection points to the waterfront along Pioneer Square.

The modern Washington Street Boat Landing is one of the few public connection points to the waterfront along Pioneer Square. Joe Mabel/Wikimedia Commons

This 1916 photo from "The Argus" shows docks around Washington and Jackson streets from the top of Pioneer Square's Smith Tower.

This 1916 photo from "The Argus" shows docks around Washington and Jackson streets from the top of Pioneer Square's Smith Tower. Webster and Stevens, "The Argus"/Wikimedia Commons

Looking east on Yesler in Pioneer Square

Looking east on Yesler in Pioneer Square Joe Mabel/Wikimedia Commons

These are both the best and worst of times for the Victorian, and often Dickensian, Pioneer Square. 

On the "best" side of the ledger is a renewed effort to mobilize government, business, retailers, and cultural groups in a revival of Seattle's first urban neighborhood. The new Alliance for Pioneer Square is pushing to adopt the Main Street program to revive the district. Major projects are on the drawing board or moving ahead, including the multimillion dollar rehab of historic King Street station and the creation of a new adjacent plaza, and the planned development of the Qwest Field north parking lot with office and retail space and 600 new residential units.

On the "worst" side, at least for now, are disruptive transportation and infrastructure projects in the Square, SoDo, and the Waterfront that mean years of disruption. The Square lost its Waterfront Trolley connection due to the Olympic Sculpture Park project, but that was a prelude. The biggest challenge is the Viaduct Replacement Project's deep-bore tunnel. The Washington State Department of Transportation has alarmed the arts and heritage community with the tunnel's potential impact on the Square, from the threatened (but apparently averted) demolition of the artists' haven at 619 Western to the disruption of vehicle and pedestrian traffic during construction that could harm retailers. As one concerned citizen put it, for years "every day will be Seahawks Sunday," and we know what that did for anchors like Elliott Bay Book Co. The way WSDOT works to minimize and mitigate damage, from relocating displaced artists to barricading streets to shoring up the foundations of historic buildings that could be damaged during construction, is now under careful scrutiny. 

Alarm bells are ringing. So much so that the National Trust for Historic Preservation has weighed in stating its "apprehension" and "concern" for WSDOT's methods. The National Trust's involvement is a reminder that Pioneer Square is a national treasure, not just a local one, and that it has long been a leading example, a national model even, of the value of historic preservation to urban neighborhoods. The embodied value of maintaining the integrity of the historic district, while also allowing room for change and growth, are on the national radar. How Seattle keeps faith with Pioneer Square means a great deal not only to the city, but the preservation movement everywhere.

The tumult also presents opportunities. The redevelopment of the waterfront and the replacement of the sea wall, for example, could result in Pioneer Square being more connected to the Elliott Bay rather being walled off from the docks that gave it birth. Just about every person who came to early Seattle, and most of our goods, once flowed from the waterfront into Seattle's bustling commercial district which, in its earlier incarnation, also featured piers, a lagoon, and ships as part of a larger bay. Indians, immigrants, Chinese workers, and gold rushers all made their entrance here to one of the fastest growing cities in America. Linking the waterfront with the Square is a major goal of the district, a benefit of the Viaduct's removal; and as the waterfront re-design is now being conceived, how that makeover might link to the Square and at what point are timely questions.

There are other opportunities as well. Archaeological material dug up during the Viaduct replacement could generate new artifacts for display. The Square has had a goal to improve the neighborhood's walkability: safer streets and reclaimed alleys, better connections within the neighborhood. Second Avenue for example, slices off the Eastern portion of the district making it less accessible. The pedestrian corridors to the stadiums also feel a bit like a no man's land. Both the tunnel project and the surface option (favored by tunnel opponents like Cary Moon and Mayor Mike McGinn) will put thousands more cars on the downtown surface grid, and the Square will likely be heavily impacted. But, that should also shake loose some money to make improvements. 


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Jan 28, 8:39 a.m. Inappropriate

Very interesting and informative post. I was unaware of the Park Service initiative. Thank you Mossback.

Portico is excellent. I enjoy their work at places like Beaver Lake Park.

I suspect the Square is going to be hurt by both tunnel construction and its subsequent hideous traffic volumes. That will make implementing the trail even more difficult.That said, the trail concept is a cool idea. Just connect the dots as you suggest and include the ID. I wanna walk from the Coleman Ferry dock to Uwajimaya. And plant street trees everywhere to clean the air and mark the trails. oh yes, the Park Service and Mayor Moonbeam need to do a better job of informing the public about this interesting project.

Posted Fri, Jan 28, 8:56 a.m. Inappropriate

Great article.

Mr. Berger says, “One outcome to worry about: Will tunnel and other projects result in new traffic patterns that stick the district in semi-permanent gridlock or with streets that are less safe for pedestrians?”

He’s right...and further, what impact does it have on commuter travel around and through the core area? More gridlock?

The fact that a multi-billion dollar transportation project could ever get this far and still is open to questions like this is really astounding. It’s what happens when projects are advanced in the dark by self-appointed visionaries with agendas other than transportation. Pioneer Square is also a victim of the giant shift of focus and favoritism to South Lake Union

The options for the waterfront including refurbishment of the existing viaduct should be re-considered.

Still time to do the right thing.

jmrolls

Posted Fri, Jan 28, 9:20 a.m. Inappropriate

Knute, the problem is not how and where to go in the Historic District, it's getting people to come to the District. The coming mega-projects and their impacts are overwhelming. The impacts start all over the Nation, where people hear of the construction disruption and risks and all things associated with it and they make their plans accordingly....which may include NOT going to the District.
The other issue is keeping building and business owners viable during this disruptive period which will be decades. WSDOT never mentions compensating them for loss of business. Nor is there any compensating capital improvements in the District to offset the negative environment that WSDOT/SDOT will create.

So, yes, a trail is nice and will keep peoples interest active in the history and interpretation of the District, but it won't have an impact on what is coming down the road....or tunnel.

It's time for ALL of Pioneer Square to "stiff-arm" the Tunnel project and tell WSDOT/SDOT it is time to renegotiate the terms of these impacts and include compensatory funding, activities and other mitigation that REALLY will address the long term impacts of the District.

Do the right thing!

Posted Fri, Jan 28, 10:50 a.m. Inappropriate

I love the idea of a trail following the old waterline. Most people have no idea how far east the water used to extend.

Posted Fri, Jan 28, 11:33 a.m. Inappropriate

Pioneer Square is the heart and soul of Seattle, it illustrates the city's and region's history of optimism, crass commercialism, neglect, calamity, and civic regeneration like nowhere else. Even in 2011 Pioneer Square is still the same boomtown it always was. It has narrowly escaped destruction several times not by miracles, but through concerted efforts to save or rebuild it.

At best WSDOT should be ashamed of itself for intentionally not disclosing structural risks to the neighborhood. It is a historic district of National significance and recognition. At worst, this the beginning of recognition of their lack of aptitude and ability to complete the project without catastrophic consequences to the people it is intended to serve.

Score: Historic Trail 1, Deep Bore Disisaster 0.

Posted Fri, Jan 28, 2:52 p.m. Inappropriate

The other problem with Pioneer Sq is the drunken fights and muggings that go on after dark. It's not that a city should shut it self down but there needs to be more foot police on Friday & Saturday nights. You can see the results of the problem in Harborview where we sew up the crime victims. It would cheaper to patrol the area.

GaryP

Posted Fri, Jan 28, 3:33 p.m. Inappropriate

I am not certain about the "trail" idea. Does one's visit to Pioneer Square need to be so choreographed? Given the multiple layers of history, and the fact that many visitors may not know where to begin, perhaps a series of interpretive signs that one would encounter along the sidewalks would allow different visitors to come across different parts of Pioneer Square history.

It is definitely true that physical representations of some key historical events could help people understand what happened, where and when. For example, the boundary of the burned area could be marked to show which 32 blocks were destroyed on 6 June 1889.

The layers of history in Pioneer Square are quite varied. For example, to understand the significance of Pioneer Square to Seattle's gay community, one should refer to early chapters in Gary Atkins's GAY SEATTLE (UW Press). To get a sense of the significance of Pioneer Square to the early Japanese American community, one should refer to Monica Sone's NISEI DAUGHTER (UW Press).

The challenge in providing some kind of interpretative framework will actually be how to condense an extraordinarily rich history into accessible messages of depth and substance.

Posted Fri, Jan 28, 9:43 p.m. Inappropriate

"Trail boosters seem to recognize that any historic trail system will have to have a narrative and be coherent, interactive, and multi-modal."

Totally sounds like a tourist trap. Will this trail include a ride on the clownish, are we having fun yet, Duckboat?

The bored tunnel jeopardizes the structural integrity of EVERY building it passes beneath. Consider the subsurface hydrology. How will the pressurized underground water affect building foundations and surface streets as it is forced up and over the tunnel in altered circuits of flow?

Activist Seattlers consider these issues as trivial next to the money to be made dazzling tourists with cheap thrills.

Wells

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