viaductThe Times reports (via Orphan Road) that the city, county, and state have narrowed the Viaduct down to two hybrid choices:

  1. Surface/Transit in the form of dual three-lane one-way streets (the so-called couplet) on Alaskan Way/Western.
  2. Elevated Highway in the form of two separated spans that allow commuters to bypass downtown.

You can view the plans online at WSDOT’s website. (Thanks for the online transparency WSDOT, it’s greatly appreciated!)

Both options include I-5 and transit improvements, however the exact series of improvements is very much subject to change since funding beyond the state’s $2.8 billion has yet to be identified (the surface/transit option ranges from $3.1-3.5b and the elevated option ranges from $3.2b-3.8b the West Seattle Blog reports). Mayor Nickels and King County Executive Sims have both favored a surface/transit option over an elevated highway in the past, and they must now bring the state along.

Both plans include encouraging news for transit. Each include the Central Streetcar along 1st Avenue, new bus lanes in the city, and a new RapidRide BRT route from Delridge to Downtown. The Surface/Transit option includes a RapidRide route along Lake City Way, but both plans seem to have a strong investment in transit capital improvements. Surface/Transit funds about $206m more transit improvements, though, with more trolley wires being installed and additional bus service hours. Here’s the transit section of the Surface/Transit’s overview document (pdf):

Transit improvements include more all-day service than the elevated hybrid scenario. This would include increased service on Metro’s RapidRide routes for Ballard/Uptown, Aurora Avenue and West Seattle and new RapidRide routes on Delridge Way and Lake City Way. The waterfront streetcar would be replaced with a new First Avenue line between King Street and Seattle Center. Park and rides would be expanded in Burien, White Center and Shoreline. The Rapid Trolleybus Network would be expanded with new connections such as Madison Park to Colman Dock, Queen Anne to Capitol Hill, and Beacon Hill to Capitol Hill. Moderate investment would be made in other express and local routes in Seattle.

Apparently The Seattle Process is facing some difficulty at completely ruining the timeline for this decision further: last-minute additions by Chopp and downtown business owners have both been outright rejected from consideration, and tunneling indeed proved too costly to pursue. By the way, the Surface/Transit couplet gives us a 104 feet of open space on the waterfront.

25 Replies to “Viaduct Choices Winnowed; Include Central Streecar”

  1. Also, buses and streetcars to meet the guidelines would be given their own lanes throughout most of Downtown.

  2. To say that the transit portion of these two plans are comparable, therefore either one is good news for transit fans is not a valid assessment of this situation.

    Transit does not function in a vacuum. It exists in a transportation market with other modes, including private vehicle and non-motorized.

    Bicycle and pedestrian travel complement transit use. Automobile transit competes with it.

    Thus, for the same transit system, improvements to pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure will, in general, increase transit use, transit efficiency and thereby public support for future investment in more transit.

    Again holding transit fix, any improvement in automobile infrastructure will decrease transit use, as users switch to back to automobiles. This decreases the efficiency of transit and transit’s market share, and thereby reduces political support for transit in the long run.

    One of these plans is clearly better for transit’s complement (pedestrian travel) and the other is clearly better for its competitor (auto travel). Thus, by looking at this situation within the context of the whole system, the surface option is far better for transit, even if the money spent on transit specific capital improvements appears similar in both cases.

    1. does bicycle traffic really complement transit use?

      pedestrian traffic certainly complements transit, and automobiles certainly compete.

      but bicycles? i’m a pretty avid cyclist and when i try to get on the bus with my bike, put it on the rack, i can often see the driver’s disdain. i’ve held up his bus, and held up everyone on the bus.

      there’s not enough room for every person on the bus to carry their bike with them, either, so if bikes ever saw wide adoption, the wide adoption would not be compatible with bus/bike hybrid travel.

      ..and like a car, a bike can get in the way of a bus while it is driving, so the bike serves as a traffic obstacle.

      1. You make a good point about some of the trade-offs. One thing that is for sure is that transit complements biking (as it extends a biker’s potential range and provides a rainy day alternative), but the reverse might not be the case.

        Bikes DO help Light Rail though. Because stations are spaced so far apart, very few people live within walking distance, but a lot of people live within biking distance. Put some bicycle park-and-rides at the Link stations (already in the works for Capitol Hill) and you’ve now increased your potential market without having to rely on vehicle park-and-rides or feeder buses, both of which are much, much more expensive. Bikes can also be carried onto Light Rail without a slowdown, and they can then also function as distributors for the last leg of a journey. Just like not everyone lives within walking distance of a light rail stop, there’s also a whole lot of jobs and other destinations that are too far a walk FROM the station, but that are an easy bike ride.

        I don’t know about the cost/benefit with bikes and streetcars. It really depends on the implementation.

        One last thing. When I said cars compete with transit, I was referring to competition for the market, not for asphalt. Basically, for transit to be successful, it’s got to be popular, which means it has to “win” converts from auto-land, just like Coke has to “win” converts from Pepsi. It’s a zero sum game. Every driver is one less bus/rail rider. Build a facility that benefits cars and it like handing out coupons for free Pepsi. How can Coke compete with that?

    2. While I am not a public subsidies fan, I do believe that there is a way to expand public transportation within the Central Puget Sound region for very little money! How about a bus only route from Marysville to Tacoma via the Hwy 99, I think that as many as 300,000 commuters could be moved into and out of Seattle each day for less than $40 million plus the cost to demolish the Viaduct and route the busses. The rest of the ear marked money could be used to improve SR 520 with a 2 lane bus only route all the way to Fall City.
      How about it! Too easy? Not spending enough? What???


      1. Morgan,

        The entire King County Metro System moves 400,000 riders a day, so I suspect your 300,000 rider estimate is probably quite a bit high.

  3. The surface option offers much better connectivity to the downtown. Traffic will be able to choose the shortest route to get to 99 with the surface option, instead of being routed north or south thru the downtown to access the elevated option. Instead of lining up on Elliott Ave to get on the southbound Viaduct, I’ll be able to choose from among many entrance points.

  4. Hey John,

    Check out Paula Hammond’s quote (in the Seattle Times?) not to expect too much funding from the state if the S&T option is chosen; she specifically cites constitutional law.

    Let’s use this opportunity to remove that fig leaf…

  5. I like the surface/transit, but what’s up with the “vacate Broad between Harrison & 9th?” Does that mean just close the street? And also I thought they were gonna bring back the waterfront historic streetcar… oh well. Maybe that’s a project for future tourism dollars.

  6. I got this right 18 months ago. Of course, no one knew it because I didn’t know who to tell that would care. Certainly not WSDOT at the time. Last summer, while I was still deployed to Iraq, I came to the conclusion that an Alaskan Wy. / Western Ave. couple was the way to go. Later, I erased the waterfront streetcar and re-drew it on 1st Ave., because it could serve Lower Queen Anne, the Seattle Center,the ferry terminal, and King St. Station.

    So let me be the first one to propose another future change: move the S.R. 99 southbound lanes closer to the waterfrnt to put the open space east of Alaskan Way. Keep the waterfront side about a 30′ strip and trasform the city side of the street. People will still go to the water side, but many more uses can now occur on the cities edge.

    The city side is more accessable than the water side and has more potential to transform the city. It makes useable space, instead of a giant, overwhelming empty space west of three lanes of traffic.

    Make pocket parks, cmmunity resources, art, plazas for restaurants and an extention of the Market. Put a planter strip between the roadway and the 80′ new useable space on the city side for safety, beautification, a sound buffer, cost effectiveness, etc. The width of the city side would vary depending on the available right of way. See below for one of many possible configurations:

    _ _ _ P V V V Pl T Pl B _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _|XX
    www|X Alaskan Way Plaza

    P = parking
    V = vehicles, southbound
    Pl = planters (trees, shrubs, etc)
    T = Tram (single track, historic)
    B = bike/running path
    _ = Plaza, park, greenspace, etc.


    1. I like the general idea, although i think i would do it the opposite way. put 60 or 70 feet of space on the waterfront and 30 or 40 on the city side, and have those planter-historic streetcar-planter-bike path-planter configuration on the waterfront side, with crosswalks across the tracks/path every half block or so.

    2. Thoughts?

      Yah. Get the hell back from Iraq so we can put you in charge of WASHDOT.

      Great ideas. I love ’em!

  7. surface. transit.

    that aerial view illustration really sells the surface transit concept. it looks beautiful and open and certainly no more stressful to drive through than the existing viaduct.

    san francisco replaced their waterfront freeway with a surface transit alternative and it works. there’s no need to over-engineer a solution. surface transit and a streetcar would make for an inviting waterfront.

    i’m somewhat partial to having a well designed pedestrian bridge spanning the street at some point, for some reason. but otherwise this looks very friendly for visitors.

  8. And I wonder what their plan will be for the new cruise ship terminal at Terminal 90/91.

    I can see in the next year or so now the sale of the old Waterfront Streetcars since they will not be allowed use on the Central line.

    Good going guys! (rolls eyes)

    1. There would be plenty of room on the water side of the new surface street to move the historic street car line over there, providing transit service to the huge pedestrian area.

      1. Yeah, I emailed the people at WSDOT to ask them if the Surface/Transit alternative would be able to accommodate the historic streetcars in the future, but they haven’t written back yet. I think the waterfront streetcar serves a different market than the 1st Ave streetcar will, as the waterfront line is more of a tourist attraction, and serves all of the attractions along the waterfront from Pioneer Square to the Olympic Sculpture Park. Maybe we could do it like they did it in San Francisco: there, an organization of streetcar enthusiasts like us raises money to help fund it. Or the state could pay for it… wouldn’t mind that either.

  9. Thanks John

    I would like to vote for the surface/transit option since we can’t have a tunnel. Building another bridge would have to factor in future issues over drugs, vandalism and other light/dark related literal and metaphoric shadows across the waterfront as part of its cost structure. The city has had lots of maintenance issues with the current viaduct down the years and would face more of the same with an elevated option.

    Much depends on what we see as the function of any replacement of the viaduct. Nearly everyone hates the current structure because it is ugly, dangerous and noisy and removing it would alter the axis of ugliness in downtown Seattle to essentially just the Third Avenue Post Office and attendant parking garage. The other part of the axis of ugliness – the Kingdome – of course went in 2000.

    So any future replacement would have to be more aesthetically pleasing to get my vote and would have to make the waterfront more flexible and open to appeal to both residents and tourists. The current sidewalk on the waterfront is just that – a sidewalk bounded by a road and it is just not aesthetically pleasing at all during the stretches that are dominated by the viaduct.

    I believe looking at the picture that the surface/transit option satisfies my aesthetic requirements.

    However, if the current viaduct is to be viewed as a transportation corridor only and one with the ability to take stress of the I-5 and to move freight quickly from the Port, then the surface option is not going to be popular with haulage and other related interests. Their need is to be able to get north, south and east of Seattle as quickly as possible and the elevated option would realize this potential better.

    So as I see it, the Governor is going to have to appease aesthetics like me on the one side and the transportation lobby on the other. Not an easy decision to have to make, especially with the current downturn to have to factor in – economics is high on the agenda right now.

    I haven’t added too much, but I hope that if the elevated option is chosen, then at least they have the wherewithal to paint the thing or make it aesthetically pleasing in some other way.



  10. Bicycles complement transit because if you use the two in tandem (bike + bus, or + train, or + streetcar) you are optimizing your options without the use of a car. Sure, some bus operators don’t like bikes, but report ’em if they are rude to you. Metro has been very nice to me when I do this, and I really don’t do it often. Yes, some routes need more bike options, like across 520, but Metro has been improving this service. It may take more planning, but it’s worth it.

  11. Everybody, make sure you get your comments to WSDOT. I was reading the summary of public comments from the last round and there are a lot of car-ophiles out there that are speaking up loudly and passionately against the surface transit option. We have got to make sure the leaders, especially the governor who does not come from an urban perspective, get the message that the surface transit option has widespread support.

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