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    On the waterfront plan - contradictions abound

    One thing became clear during a recent Town Hall forum on the waterfront: Confusion reigns whenever we talk or think about the impending makeover.
    People ogling the waterfront makeover model at a public forum on the project.

    People ogling the waterfront makeover model at a public forum on the project. Courtesy City of Seattle

    The city's remake of the central waterfront is moving ahead. In March, the Seattle Department of Transportation released a refined design. The current budget for the project is around $1.07 billion dollars, which includes the seawall and the surface highway. But now that the design is 30 percent complete, SDOT is recalculating. The agency expects to have an updated budget total by mid-year.

    I doubt that the new figure will be lower.

    Already the seawall project is some $30 million more than anticipated and the makeover will likely run into new challenges here and there. Then there is the potential impact of the long Bertha delay. Not only does that draw out the timeline for the project but repairing the broken tunnel boring machine might complicate seawall work. For example, this fall traffic will need to be diverted around the area near Colman Dock where the rescue pit work for Bertha will be underway. That could create a bottleneck or conflicting needs.

    The Bertha situation raises a lot of questions, not the least of which comes from Lynn Peterson, head of the Washington State Department of Transportation, who said this week that she couldn't guarantee that Bertha could complete the job. If the tunnel had to go back to the drawing board, well, a lot that's contingent upon it would be up for grabs.

    On April 29, the Seattle Channel devoted an episode of its "Seattle Speaks" program to a Town Hall forum on the waterfront project. I served as a panel member, apparently the designated skeptic of the plans. One thing became clear during that 74 minutes of TV: There are a number of seeming contradictions in the way people speak and think about the waterfront plan. Here are a few I've noted.

    Infrastructure vs. Amenity

    When proponents discuss the waterfront plan, its purpose always sounds lofty. A "Central Park" for Seattle. A "front porch" for the city. A "waterfront for all" that is first and foremost a beautiful park. Yet when these aspects of the project are questioned, supporters quickly remind skeptics that no, this isn’t really about amenities, but about infrastructure: a necessary new seawall, for example, which will cost around $330 million, and a state highway. Some traffic diverts to the tunnel, but a lot of cars will be moving along the waterfront. In other words, there's a tension between the waterfront project's park-i-ness and its functionality as a major surface thoroughfare.

    Artist's rendering: Looking north from S. King Street.

    In some ways, it's a highway disguised as a park. Designers have tried to hide the roadways with phalanxes of cherry trees and a partial lid. People seem more willing to pay for infrastructure, so when talking cost, the waterfront makeover is pitched as strictly practical. But amenities — certainly captured in the design's emphasis on play areas, amphitheaters, porch swings, sculptures, a floating pool, an ice rink, etc. — are used consistently as a major selling point.

    Public vs. Private

    Seattle city planning director Marshall Foster is adamant that this is a public project and he shies away from any suggestions of privatization of the waterfront right-of-way that the city will have. Yet, there is concern already about a trend toward increased private and commercial use of park properties. In addition, adjacent businesses will be self-taxed, via an improvement district. That revenue will pay part of the project's cost, thus businesses will have a vested interest. Project reps also suggested at the forum that private sponsorships or donations might cover things like the cost of the floating pool barge. So don't be surprised to see naming rights, corporate funding and private contractors being considered when it comes to running the waterfront park.

    Everyone recognizes the waterfront's enormous economic and commercial consequence. But the dimensions of its nine-acres and complex design promise a high maintenance public space, one that will require constant "activation" (meaning: lots of activities and events). Bottom line: Long-term care of the new waterfront will require extensive, ongoing private investment of one kind or another.

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    Posted Fri, May 2, 7:33 a.m. Inappropriate

    Highway along the waterfront? Seven lanes of traffic? What's that about? Oh it's a "parkway."


    Hey, why not build a tunnel or a viaduct to get that traffic away from the street level so we don't have a barrier to getting to Seattle's "front door"?

    Geez, if I thought that this nonsense was funny, I'd be laughing.


    My bet is that
    1. We'll stop the Tunnel construction (because the contractor finds that it can't make money because Bertha keeps breaking down;)
    2. We'll repair the Viaduct, which of course is what we should have done right away 13 years ago (when we got earthquake fear.)

    What clowns we humans are.

    Posted Fri, May 2, 8:28 a.m. Inappropriate

    Thanks, Mr. Berger, for surfacing in better detail all the inconsistencies, and impossibilities of this project so many of us have been decrying all along. People "from Lynnwood" probably don't make the trek down to the Seattle waterfront very often (and they can correct me if I'm mistaken), and when they do I'd guess they aren't spending hours getting there on bicycles or buses. So if they do come down, it will be in cars that will have no parking, or none at a reasonable price, and they'll be able to enjoy views of all the new boxes of condos, the homeless and mentally and/or substance challenged, the tourists, and a state highway slated to be at least 6 lanes traveling by, probably so slowly they'll be treated to lots of fumes and emissions. Paradise? Not.

    I appreciate, too, your raising the issues of no plan for any trace of our first peoples here. We are trampling our heritage for the benefit of private developers and the very wealthy. So sad.


    Posted Fri, May 2, 11:26 a.m. Inappropriate

    To answer this mspat quote, "When the Lynnwoods do come down, in cars and no parking, none at a reasonable price, to enjoy views of new box condos, the homeless, mentally ill, substance challenged, the bored tourists, they'll face 6+ lanes of highway traffic slogging by slowly. They'll be treated to lots of fume, noise and emissions. Paradise?"
    You guys should consider again what I've said about Bertha being over. Several new engineering elements are producing grave concerns, the latest regarding the "Drill-fill Sea-fence".

    DO NOT BUILD the SEA-FENCE arrangement/thing. Bad idea.
    Now, you can IGNORE this perspective,
    or youz can yuz yer own pointy little bearded and unbearded heads.
    The BOX Cut/Cover/Seawall, as I'll here repeat,
    is indeed still possible and being considered otherwheres. WTFU!
    Quite a few DOT & Trans/Agency department heads should see pink slips soon.


    Posted Fri, May 2, 11:21 p.m. Inappropriate

    Oh me oh my. Shiver me timbers!


    Posted Fri, May 2, 9:25 a.m. Inappropriate

    The architect for the Waterfront Development gets a lot of credit for the Highline in NYC but that was actually a citizens initiative that saved the old train tracks in order to create a pedestrian park. The architects skill was in putting in benches and plants and concrete in an aesthetic way. I think this is why the Waterfront Plan lacks any real vision. Floating hot tubs excepted. Ha.
    On a side note the units of senior housing in the New Pike Place Market are subsidized housing, not new affordable senior housing. Important difference whenever one talks about housing.

    The lack of uze of regional aesthetics via the local indigenous tribes imagery and artwork is unacceptable. A whole encyclopedia of imagery and forms exist waiting to be tapped into. And it is our history. Lets use it.


    Posted Fri, May 2, 11:05 a.m. Inappropriate

    You are totally correct, Chapala21.

    The genius in the Highline had NOTHING to do with the designers. The designers came years later when the decision to save the Highline had been made in the political process.

    The genius was in two neighborhood guys who saw the potential magic of the old RR line and were able to persuade (great great salesmen!) a lot of powerful people (Mayors, celebrities etc)that saving the Highline made sense.

    The designers were hired hands to locate benches and choose plantings.

    Oh that is an exaggeration but not much. The genius was in the very idea of saving the Viaduct and not in the details.

    Posted Fri, May 2, 10:16 a.m. Inappropriate

    Hey Knute,
    It's time to revisit our proposal to Retrofit the Viaduct.
    Let's talk soon.

    Art Skolnik. & Vic Gray

    Posted Fri, May 2, 10:16 a.m. Inappropriate

    Nice insights, Knute. I'm wondering if there are lessons to be learned from the 1962 World's Fair and creation of Seattle Center. That's the only project of this size that I can recall in Seattle--and the waterfront development vision is clearly more complex given the road infrastructure involved. The 1962 Fair had a core team of interested people. So if the primary drivers of this project is the city council, the architect firm, and WSDOT, then maybe what's really missing is a true leader.


    Posted Fri, May 2, 11:49 a.m. Inappropriate

    And now I'll finish off with a few choice descriptions of Seattlers and their kin. Your worst are in the Highway and Transportation Bureaus. It is indeed likely, honest people are sorely misled by conservative road construction directors, public and private. Your progressive bunch suffer from a condition known as
    "being over-educated" ie, too smart to consider being wrong.
    Too smart to not miss the world passing by,
    not staring at a hand-held, neither drunk nor drunk on power.


    Much of the important Waterfront designwork is second rate.
    Not that good for pedestrians/bicyclists.
    Most probably not that good for traffic management.
    The plaza architecture fails to combine New while respecting Old,
    yet images dazzle with fairy tale sweetness. Hire other designers.
    IMO, the finished streetcar line proposal may not be possible.
    The Frontage Railroad Way proposal got no fair hearing. Imagine that.
    But do trust your unquestionably trustworthy spin doctor friends,
    you just do that, or, WTFU, little Seattler dears and landholders.
    You're being lied to and put in danger, again, tra lah.
    Let's run the trucks through Queen Anne! Whee!
    They told us it would be okay? What went wrong?
    Besides Bertha, SeaFence must go, MercerWest must go.
    Keep Battery Street Tunnel and Broad Street Underpass.
    BOX Cut/Cover/Seawall will cost more. Get over it.
    Pay the bill but employ a new staff of competent planners.


    Posted Fri, May 2, 3:13 p.m. Inappropriate

    I hope you can take a look at the Park My Viaduct May Newsletter. It has some ideas about harmonizing the upper deck of the viaduct (remove lower deck) into the plans. Thanks. http://eepurl.com/TUX6X

    Posted Fri, May 2, 3:19 p.m. Inappropriate

    Kate Martin.
    I am so curious.

    After years of talk about the Viaduct "separating Seattle from its front door", are you truly suggesting that we keep it? Strengthen the Viaduct (many $$$ millions) to enable people to walk on it safely in case of an earthquake?

    Do you see the humor?

    Posted Sat, May 3, 12:46 p.m. Inappropriate

    Only a completely misconstrued suburban subdivision mindset would wish their own waterfronts built into freeway overpasses filled with whizzing surface traffic. Wheee! All properly viewed from behind the 'safety' of the darkened windshields and locked doors.
    Still possible, Strong seawall, Less street traffic,
    removes supposed need to route trucks through Queen Anne!
    How dare they? Dirty rat DOT brains-mush.
    They're so smart and too dumm to know better. Hah!
    Get Bertha over to the BOX a block away.
    Problem solved.


    Posted Sat, May 3, 9:40 a.m. Inappropriate

    Keep the viaduct including the 2nd level for a pedestrian Park.


    Posted Sat, May 3, 10:54 a.m. Inappropriate

    The Alaskan Way Viaduct is "derilect" and coming down soon.
    It was not engineered well. The ramps to 1st Ave were a mistake.
    The overhead and ramps in Lower Belltown were an obscene option.

    Oh, it's coming down all right. That much is certain.
    The only question is one Wsdot & Sdot don't wish to answer:
    Who the hell is in charge around here?


    Posted Sat, May 3, 1 p.m. Inappropriate

    Who said this week "she couldn't guarantee that Bertha could complete the job. Lynn Peterson that's who. Head of the Warshington State Deepartment of Tranzsportashon, (oh so sporty!)
    Who said she couldn't guarantee that Bertha could complete the job.
    Lynn Peterson appears to be 'weighing' options and risks.
    Risks being taken are extreme, so says the minority viewpoint,
    loved that movie. The driverless car computer control future.
    Very nice science fiction never going to actually happen.
    Minority Viewpoint: Bertha will be replanted elsewhere
    LosAngeles has expressed a need, etc.

    Bye Bye Bertha. We treated you disgracefully.
    We are too smart AND too dumb to know better.
    We start digging, we don't stop digging for just any old reason.
    Tear up the road mess for sure will be worse.
    New Alaskan Way BULL-ivard designs always a little incomplete.

    Sorry. Fields is giving 2nd rate work. I'm sorry. IMO only.
    Some work fine. Many parts no, absolutely not good designwork.
    How about you hire a wharf planner from Okinokie, best durn
    wharfs around that part a hereabouts.
    More authentic work done, please.
    I Do not approve the roadway design.
    Sdots laughing at me/us.


    Posted Mon, May 5, 8:07 p.m. Inappropriate

    Good heavens, Wells, read before you post.


    Posted Sat, May 3, 1:48 p.m. Inappropriate

    Attention Knute: if you could, please, substitute "people from Lynnwood" with "people from Seattle's 5th City Council Legislative District" you see how the "parks" portion of this is really "for all". People from Lynnwood will not be paying the taxes for the Metropolitan Parks District where much of this park's ongoing costs will be buried.

    It is just not right that there isn't a modern native heritage presence, as well as a historical one. It's one of those things that reminds me of what is home.

    Mr Baker

    Posted Sat, May 3, 1:54 p.m. Inappropriate

    Btw, the folks fantasizing about the tunnel being halted and replaced with a Surface-Transit option need to recognize a couple things; that's a state highway, the state will sooner give us a new viaduct than pay for Seattle to have state funded bus service (see reality in Olympia).

    Mr Baker

    Posted Sun, May 4, 12:08 p.m. Inappropriate

    For the folks who still try to be 'realistic' about a surface/transit option, Wsdot intentionally rigged their studies in this manner: As few as 9 stoplights is possible for the Waterfront; Wsdot studied only 13. As few as 2 stoplights is possible for Lower Belltown; Wsdot studied only 5 and 8. Wsdot studied 5 stoplights for Aurora, 5 stoplights for Sodo but zero stoplights is possible. Wsdot surface/transit studies total: 27-30 stoplights, though as few as 11 is possible. That is called rigging the study.

    As for the FEIS Cut/Cover/Seawall option, that study was also rigged before/during/after the 2007 voter referendum. IOW, Wsdot & sdot cronies also rigged the referendum, gambling voters would approve the elevated replacement monstrosity. Get outta town, Crunican's crew.


    Posted Sat, May 3, 3:37 p.m. Inappropriate

    Mr. B,
    I reference the wrap-up comments found at the end of the link at 'episode' above: City Planning Director Marshall Foster brushes aside Knute's caution on losing connection and falling in love with fantasy like the extremely well-connected newcomer that he is:

    "I appreciate some of the challenges we have had in the past but we can not miss the opportunity to Think Big Here and to do something that is a statement about the kind of city we are trying to become, which I think this is about." (min 70+)

    The Mayor who grew up where Seattle first met its namesake picked himself one tough row to hoe when he decided to make decisions at lightening speed and enable people—all those here and all those not here 27 years ago to solve our differences by listening and respecting differences.

    Message to Mayor and City Planning Director: you are not the first and will not be the last to stack meetings and encourage "full" participation most supportive of where you want to go. It's the most common strategy because it's human nature. Nonetheless, the more high-minded the administration, the more the listening has to work both ways and be totally un-predetermined, otherwise results are as Knute cautioned, only more so.


    Posted Sun, May 4, 8:52 p.m. Inappropriate

    As if I needed another reason to vote against each and every ballot levy, the waterfront boondoggle is one more reason.

    I write this as someone who, prior to a couple of years ago, routinely voted FOR levies on the grounds of civic improvement. A series of events have removed the scales from this of eyes. Rather than grind each of those axes, I say simply this: There is no money shortage in local or state government, period.

    They're rolling in it.


    Posted Tue, May 6, 5:30 p.m. Inappropriate

    A must read:

    John Ahlers is highly-respected and knowledgeable attorney. His takeaway below in his post:

    Comment: After significant delays and the attendant cost of delaying a billion dollar project, it is difficult to envision that STP is on schedule for a timely completion of the project and any profitability for its joint venture. Therefore, it is entirely likely that, at the end of the day, forces will align and the once touted project to improve Seattle's waterfront never becomes a reality. There is speculation that Ms. Peterson may be managing the expectation of Washington voters that this high profile project, which has garnered international attention, may never see the light at the end of the tunnel (pun intended).

    Link to

    Posted Tue, May 6, 5:46 p.m. Inappropriate

    This is what happens when you leave the "progressives" in charge of anything.


    Posted Tue, May 6, 9:15 p.m. Inappropriate

    The "viaduct as barrier to the waterfront" argument has never been convincing. Even less convincing is the notion that a wall of condos and six lanes of traffic opens up the waterfront. The tunnel and waterfront development plans have never been anything other than a gift for developers and property owners. The underside of the viaduct is gritty and industrial, a small remnant of Seattle's blue collar past.


    Posted Thu, May 8, 9:33 a.m. Inappropriate

    Amen, sir! And don't forget the gondola suggested from traveling Union from uptown to the waterfront, and the viewing platform the kings of kitsch who own the "Great Wheel" would like to add.


    The underside of the viaduct could easily be used for something like the Portland Saturday Market, but that wouldn't have much in it for the developers...


    Posted Thu, May 8, 10:16 p.m. Inappropriate

    Consider this model as inspiration to Seattle:


    Posted Thu, May 8, 10:41 p.m. Inappropriate

    The new waterfront has ALWAYS been about the blatant corruption and self-dealing of Seattle's "progressive" elite.


    Posted Fri, May 9, 5:31 p.m. Inappropriate

    Wow! Thanks SDOT for making the new waterfront so very car-friendly. It will be interesting to see how the roar of 6 lanes of traffic compares to the deafening sound that currently emanates from the viaduct. The best part is that this magnificently spacious boulevard will only cost $600,000,000 or so, which underscores what our priorities are, and how green Seattle really is LOL.

    Mud Baby

    Posted Sun, May 11, 9:57 a.m. Inappropriate

    The underside of the Viaduct has been the only rain protected walkway conne ting the New Pike Place Market with historic Pioneer Square and the Seahawk Stadium.


    Posted Sun, May 11, 2 p.m. Inappropriate

    Not only that, but its a world class guano factory on a rainy day.


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