Our Sponsors:

Read more »

Our Members

Many thanks to Karen Porterfield and Jane M Savard some of our many supporters.

ALL MEMBERS »

'Ramps to Nowhere': Erasing Seattle's pro-transit past

How the doomed "Ramps to Nowhere" led to somewhere: a better Seattle.
Ramps to snowhere

Ramps to snowhere Photo: Flickr user rnrmtzgr

"Somebody has to fight the freeways. There are powerful lobbies representing the highway construction industry, the automobile, truck, tire and cement and construction equipment companies and some labor unions who push for freeways. There is no one to point out the disadvantages to our way of living."

R. H. Thomson Expressway opponent Maynard Arsove

I was not surprised, but was sickened to hear that the "off-ramps to nowhere" are slated for demolition.

Not surprised because the 520-expansion project is grinding forward and the folks who build freeways and bridges are not happy in preserving much of anything, let alone their past mistakes.

Sickened because those ramps are unofficial monuments to a time when Seattle's urbanist sanity prevailed over the conventional mid-century urbanist wisdom. They were the remnants of Seattle's great Jane Jacobs moment of saying "no" to more cars, more freeways, and neighborhood-chomping growth.

The ramps were unfinished business for road builders. They would have connected 520 to the planned R.H. Thomson Expressway, which would have been part of a massive ring-road system circling the city — some said, strangling it. Worse, the system would have devastated many neighborhoods, including Montlake and the Arboretum, the Central District, Pioneer Square and others. Opponents of R.H. Thomson described it as a "concrete dragon."

It took years to stall, then defeat it; to sway public opinion from the post-war car-centric vision of Seattle. Seattle's green, grassroots activists won the fight, like St. George with his sword. The ramps were a trophy and a statement: This is a city that speaks truth to power, that can say "no" to blind ambition.

You think Mike McGinn started a war on cars? Baloney. It was underway long before Mike McGinn even moved to Seattle. He's just in line with a city tradition of eco-activism. Battles were fought against R. H. Thomson, the I-90 expansion, the 520 bridge, the Bay Freeway and ring-road system which would have blasted through Pioneer Square and South Lake Union, the slicing of Seattle in two by I-5. All this before the downtown tunnel/Viaduct controversy. Seattle has a pro-transit, car-skeptical past that tends to get forgotten, partly because many of these battles were lost, partly because we like to think we enlightened moderns invented the wheel — at least the bicycle wheel.

But Seattle had modern, even enlightened, urban ambitions before multi-family housing, density, bike lanes, trollies and walkable neighborhoods became exemplars of 21st century urban progress. They were at various times exemplars of 19th and early 20th century progress as well.

King County voters are often bashed for having defeated mass transit, but in fact we passed it with over 50 percent of the vote. Still, it needed 60 percent. Seattle wasn't anti-mass transit, it was pro-mass transit. But the opportunity of the 1960s and '70s was lost. It was a minority of voters who held it back.

But the R.H Thomson reversal — it was going to be built, but a popular uprising defeated it — was one of the great Seattle moments of the last 50 years; a signature of progress as sure as was preserving the Square or the Pike Place Market. They stood as potent ruins of another vision for Seattle that put parking lots ahead of density, that put freeways ahead of neighborhoods.

And like good ruins, they aged well over time. They became platforms for swimmers, divers and sunbathers, they grew moss and bushes, they sheltered the homeless, and they raised questions. Newcomers to Seattle often ask about them and those who know the history could tell them the story of how Seattle said "no" to the kind of urban planning that blighted so many cities in the '50s, '60s, and '70s. I love looking at them, much as I enjoy the 18th century drawings of Piranesi showing the remnants of ancient Rome overgrown with vines, absorbed into the new cities, sheep grazing in the old temples and arenas.

I think it's a mistake to remove all vestiges of the ramps, even to gain trails. Something of the ramps should be preserved to carry this rich history and message. Sad to think that half a century after they were built, the hubris of those times is not only being forgotten, but being repeated as 520 expands to carry more cars and as our state transportation policy remains too auto-centric.

The off-ramps to nowhere — maybe one can be installed at South Lake Union Park next to the new MOHAI. They're a big part of our modern history, of a path not taken that has made Seattle a better city.

Knute Berger is Mossback, Crosscut's chief Northwest native. He also writes the monthly Grey Matters column for Seattle magazine and is a weekly Friday guest on Weekday on KUOW-FM (94.9). His newest book is Pugetopolis: A Mossback Takes On Growth Addicts, Weather Wimps, and the Myth of Seattle Nice, published by Sasquatch Books. In 2011, he was named Writer-in-Residence at the Space Needle and is author of Space Needle, The Spirit of Seattle (2012), the official 50th anniversary history of the tower. You can e-mail him at mossback@crosscut.com.


Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!

Comments:

Posted Thu, Jan 31, 9:03 a.m. Inappropriate

OMG Mossback may have it right! Much as installation directly in front of the new MOHAI in South Lake Union Park (SLUP) might compromise the object's integrity of site, one of those Portage Bay ramps would make a great mount for the P.I. Globe. It would remind us of the loss of a newspaper, the loss of great swimming hole, the automobile in Seattle, our infamous public process, our cherished patterns of community engagement and much, much more. Hey, wasn't part of R.H. Thomson slated to run across SLUP? On the other hand, I worry more about the risks of irony and humor when it comes to preserving those parts of the built environment about which we need to really care.

MJH

Posted Sun, Feb 3, 8:02 p.m. Inappropriate

Go ahead, ironic humor is always caustically appreciated. At least by me.

Posted Thu, Jan 31, 10:08 a.m. Inappropriate

Disagreement Thursday. Seattle should have built the R.H.Thomson, Bay, and other freeways and connecting road segments to the West Seattle Bridge, Highway 99, and on down past SeaTac to I-5. Today's gridlock, pinch points, and overall lousy road conditions are a drag on the economy and quality of life.

animalal

Posted Fri, Feb 1, 8:40 a.m. Inappropriate

Yes, all those things would've resulted in free-flowing traffic, Al, but not for the reasons you suggest. Seattle would've become a much less desirable place to live and work, so fewer motorists would be driving on all those roads you regret not having.

Posted Fri, Feb 1, 11:18 a.m. Inappropriate

I'm trying to think of a worthwhile city with that many close-in freeways. New York? Boston? San Francisco? Portland? Vancouver? Hmmm, maybe you can think of one.

mhays

Posted Sat, Feb 2, 5:37 p.m. Inappropriate

New York is chock full of "close-in freeways." So is Chicago. Portland has several freeways that go smack through the heart of the city. And you've obviously never been to Boston. By comparison to all of the cities I've just mentioned, Seattle has fewer "close-in freeways."

But wait! New York only has one borough, and FDR Drive and the West Side highway don't count. Nor do Manhattan's bridge and tunnel connectors to the interstates outside of Manhattan. You see, mhays thinks "New York" is only that part of Manhattan that he visited on that one vacation of a lifetime. Ha! What a joke.

NotFan

Posted Thu, Jan 31, 11:33 a.m. Inappropriate

I'm so disheartened to think that the ramps are coming down -- another landmark in my personal map of Seattle shifting from the real world to the memory world. I would have loved to see them transformed into a public park or walkway, like the High Line in NYC.

But the image of the PI Globe perched at the end of a ramp at the new MOHAI, like a high-diver before she takes off, makes my day!

sandik

Posted Thu, Jan 31, 1:33 p.m. Inappropriate

For a relatively new city like Seattle, genuine 'ruins' tend to be in short supply. These pillared "ramps to nowhere" are among the few that we've got. They have as least as much monumental beauty as the decrepit gas plants at Gasworks Park. I wish we could find a way to preserve them.

Posted Thu, Jan 31, 2:19 p.m. Inappropriate

Much as I normally respect Mr. Berger and appreciate his journalism, he errs gravely when he describes the freeway opponents as “pro-transit.”

The people who stopped construction of the R. H. Thomson highway complex were motivated mostly by selfish, not-in-my-back-yard considerations. The same motives – the NIMBY response to the raggedy-hemmed socioeconomic democracy implicit in genuinely adequate public transport – give Seattle and the Puget Sound area in general its deserved odium of bigoted and xenophobic hostility to mass transit and those of us who depend on it.

True, the influx of “outlanders” like myself has forced Seattle proper into a somewhat less anti-transit-user stance than prevailed at the time of the Forward Thrust debacles of 1968 and 1970, when the whispered slogan of the anti-transit bigots was “we don' wanna be like Jew York.” Also true, Bellingham's uniquely bold and defiant resurrection of its bus service is another indication of improvement. But these relatively small local gains are too little too late.

And any such progress is nullified by the radical, irremediable downsizing of Pierce Transit inflicted by the outspokenly hateful voters of Pierce County and Tacoma. The resultant near-80-percent reduction in service includes termination of all nighttime, weekend and holiday operations. Not the least because the cutback will probably kill the hard-pressed transit authority – thereby leaving an urban area of nearly 600,000 people without any local bus service – this atrocity has legitimately become the region's transit-defining event.

But the wretched and worsening situation in Tacoma and Pierce County situation is only one example of a 44-year anti-transit history. Pugetopolis voters and legislators have reflexively defeated at least 75 percent of all transit-improvement measures proposed since 1967. The result of that singularly dismal record is an inadequate, herky-jerky system that is a half-century behind and – given the permanent poverty inflicted by the post-American-Dream economy – cannot never achieve parity with comparable metropolitan areas in Vancouver B.C. and Portland.

To attempt to label this area “pro-transit” is therefore an absurd effort to rewrite history. More to the point, it denies the underlying Ayn Rand vindictiveness by which the anti-transit/anti-transit-user malice is fueled – the defining moral imbecility underscored so emphatically by passage of Initiative 1185. With an impossible-to-misunderstand, never-to-be-overturned 64-percent majority, I-1185 kills any and all possibilities of tax reform. It thereby prohibits – effectively forever – any improvement in transit or any of the state's other public services. Once again, welcome to Mississippi West – or now (with the inevitable environmental ruin and company-store oppression to be inflicted by coal-port avarice) – Sailish Appalachia.

Thus Mr. Berger's real error is his disingenuous attempt to describe as “pro-transit” a region that is so obviously its antithetical. In his characteristic Seattleite zeal he commits the journalistic sin of euphemistic deception: he employs the same sort of Orwellian perversion of psycholinguistics and meaning that attempts to hide a murderous cult of theocratic misogynists beneath the happy-faced label “pro-life.”

Posted Fri, Feb 1, 1:24 a.m. Inappropriate

Three cheers for the "moral imbecility" of I-1185, which passed in every county in the state including King County. You don't like it? Tough luck. Move. Go back where you came from. California beckons! Or New York! Or Chicago! Anywhere but here! I can hardly wait until King County Metro suffers the same fate as Pierce County Transit. Come on, haven't you people been all about walking and bicycling? You'll have your chance pretty soon!

NotFan

Posted Fri, Feb 1, 1:11 p.m. Inappropriate

When fellow New Yorkers ask me what I give up by residing out here, my answer is one word: "civilization" -- which includes the quaint notion public transport is a civil right. As to "walking and bicycling," my physical abilities have been increasingly limited by the deterioration of injuries one of Washington state's obscenely coddled habitual drunken drivers inflicted on me in 1978; by 2007 the injuries had become enough crippling I am now officially disabled. Indeed I would have returned to Manhattan years ago but for the fact I am bound here by dependence on Group Health -- the best single-payer health-care available anywhere in the United States, and the only truly good thing this viciously Ayn Randish realm has to offer. Would I could again proclaim as Bob Dylan did: "I'm going back to New York City; I do believe I've had enough."

*****

Update 4 February 2013: my greatest unhappiness with Seattle and Pugetopolis in general is its relentless betrayal of its own potential. This could have been the best, most democratically livable urban area in North America. But now, given the ever-more-miserly realities of the post-American-Dream economy, any such possibility is gone forever. Precisely because of the small-minded vindictiveness of its locally born Caucasians – surely the most maliciously inhospitable urbanites on the entire planet – Pugetopolis has sullenly defied the national trend toward expansion of public transport. Thus, as a matter of policy, Pugetopolis has remained a realm where the ruinous expense of reliable automobile ownership is truly mandatory, which at today's prices makes it one of the most prohibitively expensive dwelling-places in the United States. The message to people of lower and moderate incomes – articulated with sadistic glee in the ongoing efforts to destroy Pierce Transit – is one of sneering gentrification: “We don't want you here. Get out.”

Posted Fri, Feb 1, 11:56 p.m. Inappropriate

Group Health isn't "single payer" any more than any other HMO is. You're "bound here" only by your smugness and cowardice. New York is more civilized? Then get out of this hellhole and return to the place where your insufferable arrogance started.

NotFan

Posted Sun, Feb 3, 8:08 p.m. Inappropriate

Good grief. Go home if you're so unhappy.

Posted Fri, Feb 1, 10:44 a.m. Inappropriate

the Forward Thrust debacles of 1968 and 1970, when the whispered slogan of the anti-transit bigots was “we don' wanna be like Jew York.”

Stop lying, Loren. Old-Metro floated those two ballot measures. It was an unconstitutional local government -- that was what the 1990 Cunningham opinion held. Let’s see your evidence that anyone ever said “Jew York” in reference to either of those ballot measures.

the radical, irremediable downsizing of Pierce Transit inflicted by the outspokenly hateful voters of Pierce County and Tacoma. The resultant near-80-percent reduction in service includes termination of all nighttime, weekend and holiday operations. Not the least because the cutback will probably kill the hard-pressed transit authority – thereby leaving an urban area of nearly 600,000 people without any local bus service – this atrocity has legitimately become the region's transit-defining event

That’s nothing but false hyperbole. Who pays you to post this tripe, ATU Local 587?

I already explained the problem to you in these two comment threads, Loren:

http://crosscut.com/2012/11/07/elections/111368/election-2012-first-look-winners-and-losers/

http://crosscut.com/2012/12/13/transportation/111952/king-county-gets-rail-business/

Re-read them, and stop playing stupid.

The reason Tacoma has lousy transit has NOTHING to do with “hateful voters”. The reason Tacoma has poor transit service is garbage management at the TWO municipalities that are hauling in very heavy regressive taxes from you and your neighbors.

The state legislature – in an example of Enron accounting – set up two separate municipalities specifically to provide you and all your neighbors with transit. Each of them is unaccountable to people though, so you and your community can not act together to get better management.

Here are the two lousy municipalities that should be providing Loren and his community with transit: a RCW 36.57A “PTBA” (Pierce Transit) and a RCW 81.112 regional transit authority (Sound Transit). Each imposes very heavy regressive taxes. Loren and his neighbors are paying car tab fees and a 1.6% sales tax – FAR heavier taxing targeting the least well off for transit compared to every other area of the country (except in greater Seattle -- it's even worse here).

Why with all that taxing does your community have craptastic transit, Loren? Because the unaccountable political appointees controlling both those municipalities don’t give a rat’s behind about providing efficient, quality transit services to people.

I’d suggest you and your neighbors elect smarter and more frugal legislators to manage those municipalities better, but you sorry SoB’s can’t do that. That’s because the bond lawyers who set both those municipalities up ignored what the US Supreme Court has said on the key issue: Americans have a 14th Amendment right to vote local policy makers both on to and off of the boards of municipalities.

But hey, keep on dreaming up reasons not to place blame where it belongs (the flawed structure of those municipalities and the knobs appointed to their boards) – it's what you're paid to do, right?

crossrip

Posted Fri, Feb 1, 12:37 p.m. Inappropriate

Revised in response to Crossrip's most recent remarks:

Let's get right to it:

The "Jew York" reference is a quote from post-Forward-Thrust market research that was suppressed by the local One Percent because it correctly revealed the defining hypocrisy of Seattle – the fact that beneath its "progressive" facade, it is a cesspool of bigotry and xenophobia.

As to the reality of that bigotry and xenophobia, ask any New Yorker who has ever made the mistake of trying to reside in Seattle, as I did from May 1972 through October 1976. Those were the most bleak and lonely years of my life, never mind the social advantages presumably mine as one of the founders of The Seattle Sun. Indeed Seattle is the only place – the Ku Klux South included – where I was ever physically attacked merely because I was born elsewhere.

That assault, utterly unprovoked, was by an allegedly “civilized” art patron at a big party celebrating the opening of a group show at a local gallery. The assailant was a total stranger, an unusually tall and obviously athletic man my own age with whom I had hitherto not interacted at all. His first and only blow came from beyond my field of vision and took me completely by surprise. It knocked my glasses off – sent them flying across the room – and interrupted an enjoyably intense, give-and-take conversation I had been having with two women about visual thinking. His sneaky punch, which left me momentarily addled, was underscored by a snarl I'll never forget: “We don't want you people here. Go back where you came from. We...” Then my own fists silenced his invective – never mind he had at least six inches more reach than I – and bystanders broke up the fight. Welcome to Seattle.

That said, and based on your comment below -- "(n)o 'market research' ever was conducted after those votes" -- you're the one who lies. Either that or your ignorance of the subject is far greater than you dare admit. (As I said, the entire study was suppressed. Unfortunately my primary source is dead, and the extensive file I built on the topic -- coverage of public transport was one of my regular assignments c. 1976-1982 -- was destroyed in the same 1983 house fire that obliterated literally all my life's work. However the Seattle political consultant Bob Gogerty, if he yet lives, was thoroughly versed in the damning material, and it is somewhat euphemistically referenced in "Assessment for Mass Transit Seattle Case Study 1976," particularly on Page 19 and in a footnote referencing Mr. Gogarty's unpublished paper, "Attitudes Affecting the Forward Thrust Campaign." The "Seattle Case Study" is available at http://www.interstatetraveler.us/Reference-Bibliography/Assessment%20for%20Mass%20Transit%20Seattle%20Case%20Study%201976.pdf.)

But given the political company you seem to keep, I find it rather difficult to believe you have not encountered this bigotry first-hand...or maybe even propagated it yourself.

As to calling me a liar in print, to hurl such a slanderous insult while cringing behind the anonymity of a screen name reveals you to be the most craven of cowards.

Nevertheless your behavior provides a picture-perfect illustration of the 1950s high-school mentality – massive ignorance, zero-tolerance conformity and ad hominem assaults to silence criticism – that defines not only Washingtonian politics but most social interactions here as well.

Therefore I thank you for your superb service as a laboratory specimen for sociological study.

*****

A final response to Crossrip, the real liar on this thread:

Again you show your ignorance and dishonesty. Forward Thrust and Metro were two different entities. But that's a minor point given your nasty disrespect for the truth. If indeed you were capable of truthfulness, you would merely state, truthfully, that you do not believe my statements. That is far different from calling me a liar, more different still from cravenly hurling such insults as you cringe in anonymity. Again if you were capable of truthfulness, you might also admit you are ignorant of the study of which I speak. Most people are; it was, just as I said, suppressed because of its uncomplimentary findings. But that does mean it did not exist; humanity was ignorant of the existence of Pluto until astronomers discovered it in 1930.

Yes, Mr. Gogarty's unpublished paper addressed only the 1968 defeat. If memory serves me, the suppressed study was conducted a year or two after the 1970 defeat. Like Mr. Gogarty's paper, it sought to identify why Seattlites were so fiercely opposed to any sort of transit that runs on rails. Based on my recollections, which are surely supported by the quote on Page 19 of “Seattle Case Study” – “(t)he major theme...was that Forward Thrust through rapid transit was trying to take away or alter the 'way of life' in the Pacific Northwest” – this was precisely the context of the “Jew York” quotes in the post-1970 study: that (white) Seattlites feared rapid transit would somehow magically inflict on Seattle the often rough-edged ethnic and socioeconomic democracy (formerly) characteristic of New York City.

I never saw the market study itself. Its contents were described to me in off-the-record detail by my most trusted Seattle source, the late Walter Crowley. They were also confirmed by one of Mr. Gogarty's closer associates, a person presumably still living and whose identity thus remains protected. In any case it is obvious Mr. Crowley had no reason to fabricate such damning findings about the city he served so long and well. But his tragic death has freed me from our off-the-record agreement. Hence I write of the study because I believe it explains – as nothing else does – this region's long, demonstrably irrational and obviously now irremediable hostility to adequate transit. Moreover, the climate of bigotry and xenophobia documented in the study is surely confirmed by the reality of the Seattle Freeze (for which Google), not to mention the contents of the comment-threads generated by reports in The News Tribune on the defeated Pierce Transit ballot measures.

As for you, Crossrip, by continuing to hurl tantrums of insults protected by the dishonesty of anonymity, you demonstrate not just your own toxic cowardice but precisely the sort of conduct I recognize as characteristic of Seattle at its worst, whether now or 40 years ago. Indeed your anonymity alone suffices to prove you the real liar, thereby discrediting anything you might say, now or ever.

Posted Fri, Feb 1, 1:09 p.m. Inappropriate

It wasn't an ad hominem insult. I accused you of lying about that "Jew York" thing because it made no sense. I asked for evidence. You just responded with some nonsense about "market research" -- that's complete BS. You are a liar.

No "market research" ever was conducted after those votes.

No "market research" established that any anti-Semitic comments ever were made about those ballot measures.

You made the assertion, Loren -- back it up, or my characterization of you as a liar will be proven true by your failure to provide evidence.

------------

Update in response to Loren's update:

I read that "Assessment" paper you referenced. First, the reference to Gogerty's 1968 paper on page 19 shows that it was just a summary of his beliefs about why some of the old-Metro ballot propositions had failed four weeks previously. That paper is not evidence of any "market research", let alone any evidence that some kind of campaign against transit was conducted on the grounds that it would turn Seattle into "Jew York". Second, Walt Crowley would have written about it if were true -- he wrote volumes about old-Metro.

You're the one in these comments waving the bloody shirt of anti-Semitism. Your inability to substantiate that nasty claim shows you're full of garbage.

crossrip

Posted Sun, Feb 3, 8:14 p.m. Inappropriate

Loren, you lived in Seattle for only 4 years, from 1972 to 1976 ... nearly 40 YEARS AGO?? And you have the nerve to criticize Seattle today?

At least you're not a Seattle voter. Hateful or otherwise.

Posted Sun, Feb 3, 8:10 p.m. Inappropriate

Calling any voters "hateful voters" is ridiculous.

Posted Fri, Feb 1, 11:23 a.m. Inappropriate

Sound Transit and Metro do very well in votes.

And it's paying off. To use your Portland comparison, we have dramatically higher commuter transit usage than Portland (percentage of workers that use transit to get there) by metro and city numbers.

mhays

Posted Fri, Feb 1, 12:37 p.m. Inappropriate

Sound Transit and Metro do very well in votes.

Sound Transit has put four propositions up for votes, and two were approved. Problem is, Sound Transit lies by omission -- it doesn't even hint at the tax costs of the financing plan its board intends to set into place after those votes.

Take the 2008 measure that passed -- you understand nothing in that measure even hinted at the amount of taxing the board would decide to do as it set up its financing plan, right Matt? Indeed the financing plan was not even described to voters.

Would you agree with me that had that measure contained an honest estimate of the tax costs of the financing plan it would not have passed?

It's just like what the monorail authority did -- it didn't tell voters about the tax costs until after that vote, and when the truth came out the public wanted it gone. Do you think Sound Transit's board should disclose now the tax costs that will be imposed on the public due to the bond sale contract security terms, Matt? I think it should.

crossrip

Posted Sun, Feb 3, 8:05 p.m. Inappropriate

Loren, no kidding. NIMBY's who hated the idea of Seattle being vibrant.

Posted Sun, Feb 3, 8:07 p.m. Inappropriate

Agreeing with your first paragraph only however.

Posted Mon, Feb 4, 10:13 a.m. Inappropriate

Beautiful work assessing the truth behind psycholinguistic balderdash, Loren. Transdisiplinarian is my new favorite stupid word recently uttered by an over-educated and therefore supposedly progressive member of the waterfront planning committee. The means by which automobile-related business interests undermine implementation of practical, effective transit service includes design arrangement proposals that will assuredly fail promoted by well-paid college graduate numbskulls deceitfully misled to aspirationalistically believe the opposite. Destabilization of waterfront soils beneath vulnerable downtown buildings is accellerated by the permeable seawall treatment proposed. Those responsible for the basic infrastructure design of the waterfront, wsdot & sdot, label the treatment "soil stabilization" fully intending the opposite and hiding the horrific truth behind deceitful lies. The proposed bored tunnel will be a catastrophic failure and its related street reconfigurations guaranteed to increase the statistical average of traffic accidents and their severity.
Washington State DOTs are murderously anti-transit.

Wells

Posted Thu, Jan 31, 5:48 p.m. Inappropriate

Knute conveniently forgets his own war on transit while also attempting to white wash the real story.

Whether by state legislative action by the oil and asphalt industry,downtown property owners, NIMBY activists, a tunnel-seeking mayor, ignorant voters or mismanaged transit agencies, Seattle has killed some form of transit in every decade of the 20th Century, and doubled-down in the first decade of the 21st. Street cars and commuter rail criss-crossed the city and connected Everett with Tacoma. West Seattle still has three "Junction" neighborhoods as well as "Endolyne" - all signifying the importance of local rail routes.

While the beautiful Olympic Sculpture Park added desperately needed green space and acreage, it displaced the waterfront streetcar, which carried more than a million people that many don't want to count because it is wrongly assumed those were all tourists. Did we forget that the City Council PROMISED to return the streetcar to service? We are still waiting.

Yes, we are inching along with the most-expensive light rail system in the galaxy (woe be any Sound Transit Board Member who challenge the cost). Yes, we've built the new SLUT -- thanks in part to a LID tax nd the benefaction/demands of Amazon and Vulcan. And the new Rapid Ride Buses aren't.

While bonafide transit activists continue to desperately seek viable, high speed and safe options, the last real chance of quick, grade-separated transit crashed with the "new" monorail. The new projects don't add significant transit ridership simply because they shifted riders from Metro to something shiny and new.

The city continues to fiddle while the air burns. With Knute Berger lighting the flame at every opportunity.

Posted Fri, Feb 1, 1:22 a.m. Inappropriate

The "beautiful Olympic Sculpture Park?"

That place is a goddamned eyesore. The best solution to the "beautiful Olympic Sculpture Park" would be about half a dozen backhoes and a weekend. I used to be a $1,000 a year contributor to the Seattle art museum until they hit us all with that outrageous ugly stick.

NotFan

Posted Mon, Feb 4, 10:52 a.m. Inappropriate

You got that right, Notfan. Sculpture Park is an embarrassing disappointment. Gravel path, lack of shade trees and seating, ground cover where unneccessary, lawn where uninviting. Insulting objects passed off as sculpture, hah! Giant traffic cones! A metallic eagle that mirrors metallic cranes. A giant robot turd in the woods. A metal tree. A medieval torture device. A large land-scraping plow wave. It's all very artsy-fartsy avante garde Salvidor Dali fatalism that almost completely detracts from the spectacular view west of Elliott Bay and the Olympics. Another irresponsible Seattle agency staffed by idiots and design decisions made by the parking garage club.

Wells

Posted Mon, Feb 4, 6:35 p.m. Inappropriate

Thing is, I actually like a lot of contemporary sculpture and modern art. I'm a huge fan of Jack the Dripper Pollock, and a bunch of the abstract sculptors of the 20th century. So it's not like they've got to put some representational statue up there.

But what they've done with that sculpture park is just hideous. It's as if someone hauled out what they were told was the "World Class Catalog," and placed a big order from the Home Depot up on Hwy. 99. Whoever pulled that scam must be laughing at Seattle every time they take a shopping trip to Whole Foods.

What complete suckers the tasteless "progressives" of this city are! They are no more discerning than the one guy I saw on a "60 Minutes" program who had bought something like a hundred Thomas Kinkaid creations and stored them in a special climate-controlled vault somewhere. Between that sculpture park and monstrosities like the central library and Paul Allen's amoeba and those hard-edged, tiny-windowed, deliberately malproportioned miniature office building echo chambers masquerading as contemporary houses, these people are truly laughingstocks!

In an odd way, it reminds me of a time I was in the Detroit airport in 1984. I had a layover on my way to Boston, and went over to look at a car sitting on top of one of those revolving turntables. It was the latest Cadillac: the Cimarron, a rebadged Chevy Nova. Okay, today every self-respecting car nut laughs at the Cimarron, but in the fall of 1984, GM was actually trying to sell that fraud to customers who were running as fast as they could in the other direction.

I'm standing behind a couple middle aged guys who are telling each other how beautiful the car is. I couldn't believe my ears. I had had a couple of bourbons with dinner, so I spoke up and told them that I'd overheard them and that the car was a joke that wouldn't ever fool anybody, and that if this was the best General Motors could do then maybe they should just close up shop right now.

They looked at me like I had just landed from Neptune. Every time I read about how the American car companies and their executives spent decades inside a bubble of their own creation, I think of that conversation standing next to that horrible, ugly, insulting hunk of metal. It was one of those moments, never to be forgotten. I can only hope that someday I'll find myself standing near whoever inflicted that grotesque sculpture park on our city so I can tell them that I've been all over the world and that someone had truly hit them, and us, with a big ugly stick.

This being Seattle, they'll be too polite to give it right back to me, but I'm sure they'll figure that I'm just another philistine who will never understand their genius. They'll need to pick up one of their art magazines in 20 or 30 years and read the review by someone unbeholden to anyone. And then they'll get it.

By the way, just to put a coda on the GM part of the story, a couple years after that encounter with upper-middle management in the airport, I found myself in a semi-intimate cocktail party also attended by Roger Smith, the CEO of General Motors at the time. I spotted him about 20 feet away. My greatest moments are often inspired by Maker's Mark, and this one was too.

"Hey, when are you guys going to make a good looking car, anyway?" I asked Smith, and about 15 other appalled people who couldn't believe how someone could display such effrontery. I'm telling ya, folks, life is a bunch of moments, and that was a great one. If only Michael Moore had been there with a video camera.

p.s.: I'm wondering how long it will take for some patronizing arts jerk to wander in here to tell us that the "sculpture park" is a success because it pisses people off.

NotFan

Posted Tue, Feb 5, 7:03 p.m. Inappropriate

The context surrounding the EMP is modernist, therefore it's in an appropriate setting. I was at the chrome bean in Chicago on a sunny day a year ago -huge crowd- and figure its context was likewise appropriate. I do not support the Waterfront plan at all. There's no historic context to its modernist amenities and its boulevard design will not manage the expected traffic.

Wells

Posted Tue, Feb 5, 11:54 a.m. Inappropriate

I look for context in urban sculpture. Contextual surroundings in this case is the view west but Sculpture Park does next to nothing to enhance that view. I believe Hammering Man should be moved to Gas Works Park where industrial history and playground are a more fitting context than 1st Ave wealth and its tourist trap.

Wells

Posted Tue, Feb 5, 1:16 p.m. Inappropriate

I like the Hammering Man, but I think you might be right that Gas Works would be a better place for it. Too bad Picasso is dead. Otherwise, someone could commission him to replace Hammering Man with sculpture evoking the corrosive effect on Seattle of Paul Allen and his money, in the same vein as the modernist baboon sitting outside of Chicago's "Richard J. Daley Center" city hall.

But even if Picasso was alive, it wouldn't have a chance. Not here. Seattle's self-congratulatory "progressive" powers that be would never, ever have the courage to allow an artist to tell that kind of truth about them.

NotFan

Posted Fri, Feb 1, 9:36 p.m. Inappropriate

And why not a park? It's a solid structure over the water. It will cost significant money to remove a pre-made recreational area. Put up some landscape plantings to screen the traffic, let the young show off in the summer sun and the old reminisce.

Posted Fri, Feb 1, 11:15 p.m. Inappropriate

What a great idea to put one of the ramps infront of the new MHOAI. I would suggest using the ramp as an expansion of the parking lot since the current ~30 spaces available for MOHAI visitors are going to put a serious crimp on attendance.

While we are at it we should find another way to remember R.H. Thomson

WSDW

Posted Sun, Feb 3, 7:52 p.m. Inappropriate

Don't laugh at the Ramps to Nowhere because now it seems we may have a Bridge to Nowhere. I wonder if the expansion of the Seattle side of the freeway is really going to happen, given reduced traffic levels and the general lack of funding.

Posted Sun, Feb 3, 8 p.m. Inappropriate

The years that Knute glorifies (and rallied for) distressed me then as much as the current resulting devastation against personal mobility and business sensibilities he helped fester for today.

Posted Tue, Feb 5, 12:46 p.m. Inappropriate

I'm not sure why all the disdain directed toward the sculpture park.
It's a park afterall and a big improvement over what was there previously.

One might not like the particular artwork chosen, and certainly not re-instating the waterfront streetcar was shortsighted, but I'm happy and proud to have the OSP in my backyard.

jeffro

Posted Tue, Feb 5, 1:19 p.m. Inappropriate

I don't think it's any improvement at all, and it should have been. "One might not like the particular artwork chosen" is an understatement. "The particular artwork chosen" makes the "park" an eyesore, not to mention a laughable one except for those of us who have to live with it. I await the day when some enterprising vandals solve that particular civic problem.

NotFan

Posted Thu, Feb 7, 8:32 a.m. Inappropriate

I've enjoyed the dialogue about the Olympic Sculpture Park and I'll suggest an 'explanation' for it: the land's airspace offered transferable development rights, under a city TDR ordinance adopted in 1995. Some bright minds figured that airspace could be cashed in as bonus floors in constructing a commercial office tower - not at that location but in the downtown district. And so it was (becoming the WaMu now Russell Investments building) -- and included expansion of SAM's theretofore rather cramped exhibit space.

But the transfer of that airspace required the land that is now OSP house a qualifying use, such as a cultural or arts institution, from which airspace could be transferred (sold). So presumably to satisfy that requirement, SAM rushed into the plans for the OSP. And you get to live with that result.

btw - prior to this, TDRs had been part of the financing of Benaroya Hall and the preservation of the Paramount Theater. Much of the Benaroya site's airspace (and some over the YMCA building) was used as a bonus by developers of the IDX Tower, which houses the Preston Gates & Ellis (now K&L; Gates) law firm offices. It's possible they were also employed in conjunction with the new library, but I have no data on that. I left the area before tracking that down.

Posted Thu, Feb 7, 8:58 a.m. Inappropriate

So tell me: Did the financing documents require that the result be Jed Clampett's laughable, pathetic, and ugly attempt to show that he was just as cultural as them folks in the real cities back East?

NotFan

Posted Thu, Feb 7, 8:31 a.m. Inappropriate

I've enjoyed the dialogue about the Olympic Sculpture Park and I'll suggest an 'explanation' for it: the land's airspace offered transferable development rights, under a city TDR ordinance adopted in 1995. Some bright minds figured that airspace could be cashed in as bonus floors in constructing a commercial office tower - not at that location but in the downtown district. And so it was (becoming the WaMu now Russell Investments building) -- and included expansion of SAM's theretofore rather cramped exhibit space.

But the transfer of that airspace required the land that is now OSP house a qualifying use, such as a cultural or arts institution, from which airspace could be transferred (sold). So presumably to satisfy that requirement, SAM rushed into the plans for the OSP. And you get to live with that result.

btw - prior to this, TDRs had been part of the financing of Benaroya Hall and the preservation of the Paramount Theater. Much of the Benaroya site's airspace (and some over the YMCA building) was used as a bonus by developers of the IDX Tower, which houses the Preston Gates & Ellis (now K&L; Gates) law firm offices. It's possible they were also employed in conjunction with the new library, but I have no data on that. I left the area before tracking that down.

Posted Fri, Feb 8, 11:40 p.m. Inappropriate

TDR's are an interesting scheme.

Thanks for the refresher on that property, I had forgotten some of that. The art however could be negotiated and replaced. Perhaps, a TDR creative forest/art swap to the forests east of Duvall, and a forest at Olympic Sculpture Park planted. Any violation of air space would be offset by the carbon gobbling city forest, tho small.

Posted Sat, Feb 9, 6:14 a.m. Inappropriate

So much of the last decade and a half has been a downtown real estate game. TDRs and other building 'bonuses' are only a part of it. The waterfront tunnel is another. And, so too is Sound Transit's light rail, both for downtown and along the line in the Rainier (TOD).

Years ago, I computed that if the city imposed GMA-based transportation impact fees on new downtown office towers (like school fees are imposed in suburban school districts), a developer would have to come up with over $100,000 for each new individual workspace (think cubicle), just to recognize the cost of Sound Transit providing downtown greater access. Thus, a downtown office building with 4,000 workspaces would require an upfront impact fee of $400 million. !!! Can you envision the mayor or city council going down that road?

Login or register to add your voice to the conversation.

Join Crosscut now!
Subscribe to our Newsletter

Follow Us »