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    A bold idea to transform the ferry terminal

    Peter Steinbrueck has something different in mind for redeveloping Seattle's central waterfront. Could his Sea Center idea for the ferry terminal float?
    Peter Steinbrueck sketched this idea for Sea Center on the waterfront.

    Peter Steinbrueck sketched this idea for Sea Center on the waterfront. Courtesy of Peter Steinbrueck

    Greater Seattle deserves both props and criticism for the way it is trying to do everything at once, largely on its own: Highway 520 expansion, Sound Transit, tunnel, SoDo, South Lake Union, the waterfront redevelopment and park, etc. We are in a huge and transformative phase, despite the recession. Like all long-term and massive makeovers, it's a combination of forward-thinking and out-of-date ideas, practicalities, utopian hoo-hah. But the burdens of funding on taxpayers are enormous because federal funds are not available as they were in the good-old spendy days of Scoop and Maggie.

    I recently wrote that Seattle could not do a world's fair now. But this snapshot of the city's ambitions makes the case for why cities once did world's fairs, and why ours worked so well. World's fairs leverage multiple funding sources (city, county, state, federal, foreign, private) to make big infrastructure investments; they bring in outside investment; they help break down silos of decision-making; they create unity of purpose across partisan and bureaucratic lines. They are not just about getting "on the map."

    The fair itself is part of the equation and the reward, because the extravaganza generates local excitement and good feeling, it spreads the benefits from the top to the bottom of the food chain, and from one end of the region to another, through tourism and promotion. You can get a huge shot in the arm from new dollars coming from outside the community. Century 21 not only was a boon for local business, but it boosted tourism throughout the Northwest. The community at large makes money, gets exposure, attracts new investment, and gets new infrastructure, and it's not all on the back of local taxpayers. That was the model Seattle helped to perfect, and from which cities like Spokane, Vancouver, and others learned, and why men like Joe Gandy and Ewen Dingwall were in demand to consult on future and prospective fairs, which they did.

    Trying to do all this stuff in Seattle without a fair or an Olympic Games (as Vancouver did and London's doing), or some other multi-dimensional civic effort is trying to do it the hard way. And without a Robert Moses to muscle it all through. What's missing is civic vision that binds it all together, from funding to fun, that helps sell and spread the benefits, that energizes parallel initiatives. Century 21 helped to mobilize a can-do culture that boosted Forward Thrust and its laundry list of regional improvements from government reform to transit to water quality and environmental cleanup.

    Peter Steinbrueck has an understanding of the link between the waterfront plan and what a fair can do. He was asked by Seattle Met earlier this year to come up with a world's fair idea for the city, and Steinbrueck, whose father was instrumental both in designing the Space Needle and saving the Market and Pioneer Square for posterity and tourism, came up with the idea of what he calls the Sea Center at Colman Dock.

    What is it? His sketch looks a bit like the Sydney Opera house or a flapping manta ray, and could, Steinbrueck says, perhaps be designed to glow in the dark like a bioluminescent sea creature. It would be a signature structure, a counterpoint to the wall of high-rises that is sure to grow in the post-Viaduct city. But importantly, it would serve the practical purpose of moving people around this complex, water-bound metropolitan area: fast foot ferries (a 21st-Century Mosquito Fleet), trams, float planes. His Colman Dock would be a multi-modal marine hub for non-auto commuters. Such imaginative structures are often created for expos  (see Vancouver's Canada Place) and they embody and exude optimism and energy for years, sometimes generations.

    The former city council member and architect advises a number of clients these days: the Market, the Port, even WSDOT in making sure the tunnel project doesn't do damage to historic structures above the tunnel corridor. His Sea Center is an idea solicited by magazine editors, but it's one that raises some issues about the current waterfront transformation. Colman Dock is a mess, Steinbrueck believes, and state plans to expand it are akin to building what he describes as a bigger "freeway on-ramp" right in the middle of an area that already has too many cars. Even without the current construction, driving on and off the downtown ferry has been a headache for years. I've long thought Seattle traffic engineers actually hate Bainbridge commuters and sadistically enjoy putting them in ever-more ridiculous rat's mazes between work and home.

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    Posted Thu, Jul 26, 7:38 a.m. Inappropriate

    Do we really need a 'signature' building to move people in an efficent manner? Seattle has it's share of look-at-me structures, from the EMP and Library to the new Ferris wheel on the waterfront.
    I've been to Canada Place when it was a ghost town and failed to exude even an ounce of optimism. The extra costs involved to make this a unique structure will do nothing other than feeding the designer's ego.

    Also, we have the Daybreak Star Cultural Center at Discovery Park. I think our native ancestors would be happier with a museum in that lovely wooded area rather than amongst the trinkets on the waterfront.
    Honestly it sounds like a gallery you'd run by at the airport or the old Bellevue Art Museum inside the mall. This seems to cheapen the idea for me.

    A re-located ferry terminal probably would work and flow better, but it doesn't seem as imperative as other civic needs. Maybe if we plunked a floating arena down there, this project would make sense.


    Posted Thu, Jul 26, 8:04 a.m. Inappropriate

    Seattle traffic engineers actually hate Bainbridge commuters and sadistically enjoy putting them in ever-more ridiculous rat's mazes between work and home.

    --And what is wrong with that? They take big Seattle wages, get on our heavily subsidized ferries, and ske-daddle back to cheap tax town.

    I am tired of subsidizing those 1%ers. Let them eat cake.

    The Geezer


    Posted Thu, Jul 26, 8:54 a.m. Inappropriate

    Hey Geezer: Ferry riders pay a MUCH higher percentage of the cost of their travel -- at least 3 times as much and actually closer to 4 -- than transit riders.

    Posted Thu, Jul 26, 9:03 a.m. Inappropriate

    Signature building aside, the real issue with Steinbruek's proposal is separating passenger-only from auto. The has been considered before and, so far, rejected.

    The problem is that the auto ferries, during rush hour, carry thousands of walk-ons. If those boats don't go to the urban core or to an excellent transit hub, how will those walk-ons complete their commute? I suppose it's possible to put thoses walk-ons on passenger-only boats, but that would add to the infrastructure cost - considerably. More boats, new terminal facilities at the other ends.

    Frankly, there are so many walk-on commute patterns built off the existing location, that it's a logistical nightmare to even consider upsetting that. As much as I hate using precious waterfront space to queue auto traffic (and offload it), I think it needs to stay there. Either that, or put the entire operation somewhere else and add high speed, frequent transit between that and the urban core.


    Posted Thu, Jul 26, 9:57 a.m. Inappropriate

    Mr. Steinbrueck should learn to resist the invitations of magazine editors.


    Posted Thu, Jul 26, 10:47 a.m. Inappropriate

    I agree that we don't need a "signature" building, but a usable design. The 60's rebuild of Colman Terminal is a dinosaur that was adequate until the arae population exploded, but badly needs to be updated.
    Every time I catch a BC Ferry at Tsawwassen or Swartz Bay, I see true "ferry ports", and of course when I ride BC Ferries, I think of what could & should be happening with the WSF. Perhaps having BC Ferries run the WSF, or joining the two agencies into a cooperative regional ferry authority could be the answer. I've ridden WSF all my life(back when there was REAL food on the boats), my Mother was a retired crew member, but if I want to go to Victoria, I drive to Tsawwassen or PA rather than catch the Anacortes run.

    Posted Thu, Jul 26, 10:50 a.m. Inappropriate

    Just what we need, another "bold" idea. It would be nice if our civic leaders would turn some of that brain power to some practical but maybe less glamorous ways to make Seattle more livable. How many more "signature" buildings do we really need?

    Posted Thu, Jul 26, 11:35 a.m. Inappropriate

    Pragmatic is right on. Tsunamis of office workers come off the auto ferries every morning. It's an important tourist connection too. Unless we implement duplicate service in walk-on-only ferries, they pretty much need to be in the same area.

    Queing cars on Alaskan Way probably isn't the answer, particularly with its new role as a through route to Interbay. The answer might be cars entering and exiting at Pier 48, with some sort of (obviously controversial) platform connection to the current pier.


    Posted Thu, Jul 26, 12:35 p.m. Inappropriate

    At this point this is a conceptual proposal, one free for discussion, not to mention worthy.

    Toward that end let me reiterate another conceptual proposal that would add to this one - a pedestrian tunnel from Downtown to South Capitol Hill with elevator access to First Hill. Though this distance is not great, the hill makes for a big obstacle and a pedestrian tunnel could make much more of the city walkable, allow for the removal of several bus routes from downtown streets, not to mention connect well to a proposal such as Mr. Steinbrueck's.

    Posted Thu, Jul 26, 4:06 p.m. Inappropriate

    Knute writes: "I've long thought Seattle traffic engineers actually hate Bainbridge commuters and sadistically enjoy putting them in ever-more ridiculous rat's mazes between work and home."

    As someone who for many years commuted to Seattle via Bremerton (albeit on foot) I can tell you for a fact that Bainbridge passengers are treated like royalty compared to the service Bremerton riders receive. The waterfront trolley, for instance, was perfectly timed to pull away from the station just as disembarking Bremerton commuters hit the sidewalks in front of Colman Dock. But before the car ferries are moved, reliable, regular passenger ferry service is going to need to be established. The vast majority of foot traffic on the ferries is on car ferries.


    Posted Thu, Jul 26, 9:02 p.m. Inappropriate

    Like most Seattlers, Peter Steinbrueck shows no real sense for transportation planning with his "Uh, just put the car ferry someplace north of here, wherever, Pier 91 maybe." The most logical & effective site for both car ferry and passenger-only ferry is Coleman Dock. Minimizing the queue lines to the south lot is good. The north side could accommodate retail, dining and cultural venues (mezzanine & ground-level) while the south side designed to 'look over' the parking lot. WSF's sketch of a square flat warehouse on stilts design looks like the highway boys don't give a damn.

    Steinbrueck advising WSDOT to insure the tunnel doesn't damage historic structures above is a lie and a shame. Berger exposes the truth with his prediction for a wall of high-rises sure to grow in the post-Viaduct city. Historic Pioneer Square buildings, including the Underground are doomed to the wrecking ball if the DBT is built. Don't worry your fuzzy little Seattler heads about it. Replace with modern stuff and teach the next generation nothing about YOUR horrendous mistake. The myth of Galloping Gerty - the Wsdot bridge that blew down - never happened. Wsdot wouldn't do that. We all love the wonderful job Wsdot does ably managing traffic just like Disneyland!


    Posted Thu, Jul 26, 9:46 p.m. Inappropriate

    pragmatic is correct. the auto ferries carry many walk ons. the passenger only boat notion is flawed due to a lack of service subsidy. WSDOT should consider peak period surcharges on vehicles to manage the demand for vehicle storage. they already vary fees seasonally; it is a modest step to vary them by time of day.

    there are many bold concepts. what are needed are bold funding concepts and reliable streams of funds for transport maintenance. my favorite infrastructure investment would not be bold and visible across the Sound but under foot: sidewalks on the transist arterials that lack them.


    Posted Thu, Jul 26, 10:58 p.m. Inappropriate

    Regarding the pestrian tunnel to First Hill Douglas Tooley mentioned, I'd say a skybridge is much more feasible.

    The county parking garage on 6th across from Harborview already has a flat entry from 5th. With a taller stair/elevator tower, it would only need a skybridge for a flat walk to the Harborview park. This would cost in the tens of millions but that seems reasonable with the dramatically higher population envisioned at Yesler Terrace and the south half of First Hill in general.

    As for the north half of First Hill, the convention center and Union Square make it easier than it is to begin with.


    Posted Sat, Jul 28, 12:07 p.m. Inappropriate

    A brief aside to Martineaux: we just rode the Anacortes ferry to Sidney and the Tsawassen back....we had identical experiences of efficiency, professionalism, and "true ferry ports" on both. The problem with the Coleman dock is its location on a very busy, construction-heavy, narrow piece of property.

    Posted Sun, Jul 29, 11:56 a.m. Inappropriate

    So, littledeer, how was the food on Washington State Ferries? Van de Kamp 'Beanie weenies" & Ramen from the vending machines, still?

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