Montlake Plan (WSDOT)

I was all set to write a long treatise on how unimaginative a lot of planning for “open space” is, but then Frank goes and beats me to it.  I endorse everything in his post.

That said, you don’t have to go to Boston to find an example of sterile green space.  The I-90 lid is a poorly utilized stretch of green in the heart of our city, and we’re set to create a smaller version of the same thing in the Montlake neighborhood (see picture above).

Green space is very important if you’re asking people to forgo their own yards and live densely.  But that tradeoff requires ubiquitous but small parks with simple amenities like playgrounds, not a few linear mega-parks.  Really large public spaces are useful as a regional meeting place, but you only really need a couple of those per region, and we already have more than a couple.

In the cases of the waterfront and the SR520 lids, at the very least I’d like to see something besides grass and trees to attract people and make them vibrant urban spaces: P-patches and playgrounds.  Better yet, selling the land off to developers (with conditions) can place people close to jobs and transit hubs, solve some affordable housing problems, and as a bonus generate some revenue (in the sales price, future property taxes, and foregone park maintenance costs) for the government*.

More after the jump.

* I stole that idea from all-star Slog commenter Fnarf, who said about the waterfront [puritan censoring is all mine]:

Oh, Jesus, not this boulevard-beach-trees s*** again. Is there no one involved in the process who has laid eyes on a city before? This is hippie bulls***.

My recommendation, if they do have to tear the f***ing thing down, is a rabbit’s warren of three or four-story buildings as close together as the fire code will allow, preferably as wide as a current alley. With a dozen T or Y intersections. Include the blank blocks and parking garages for more room. Make it interesting and cool, not vapid and blank. Otherwise that lovely boulevard (i.e., surface highway) is going to be a killer.

And for chrissake, any plan that comes with vivid green artwork like that should be dismissed out of hand. Force everyone to show it in February.

Hold a competition.

Convincing to me!

82 Replies to “Enough Open Space!”

  1. I agree that we should sell off the land to developers, but doing so in the context of eminent domain ‘takings’ usually angers huge swaths of stakeholders. In Denver landowners along the West Corridor LRT project (opens in 2013) have fought fiercely to prohibit RTD for using obtained properties for ANYTHING other than LRT tracks and Park & Rides. Thus the West Corridor will have a pathetic dearth of adjacent commercial space to attract business from pedestrian LRT commuters…

    http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_14466336

    In the case of 520, we’re probably stuck with a stale freeway lid sparsely littered with maples. However, I think the Waterfront is a winnable fight; since (whether tunnel or not) a rebuild of AWV is out of the question at this point, everyone expects the areas between 1st Ave and the Waterfront to be new commercial space. The land currently under the AWV will, once freed, support a bunch of new commercial activity that just about everyone of any political persuasion would support. My personal wish would be to see it zoned exclusively for 2-4 story structures with retail/residential and a blanket exemption from the requirement to build parking.

    1. Just give the landowners who have their land taken the right of repurchase if portions of that land gets put back on the market by WSDOT.

    2. The parking requirement in downtown is zero, currently. Unfortunately, the “market” dictates that parking still be provided. I put “market” in quotes because it is more a reflection of the perceptions of developers and lenders (especially lenders), than actual market demand. There may be justification for the city to impose parking maximums in certain cases.

    3. I’m sorry, but except maybe for the portion of the AWV ROW between Pine and the Battery Street Tunnel and any staging areas needed for construction I’m opposed to selling off any of the Alaskan Way ROW between the water and the buildings/lots lining the East side of the Viaduct.

      For that matter many of the portions between the Battery Street and Pike might still be better used as park space. The city has identified Belltown as a neighborhood in need of more parks. Some of the highway ROW could serve as space for playgrounds (though keeping it from turning into another 3rd & Bell would be a challenge), or more P-patch space. Heck if there is room a soccer field or some tennis courts would be nice too.

      As for the waterfront itself from King Street to Pike two traffic lanes each way plus two lanes of parking, plus two streetcar tracks, plus cycletracks each way, plus wide sidewalks doesn’t really leave much room for developable land. Better to keep it public space though it will be a challenge to program it appropriately so it doesn’t end up being a series of windswept plazas and empty lawns. Perhaps building some small retail spaces for food vendors, skate & bike rental, etc. would be appropriate. However I see this as different than selling off land for large-scale redevelopment.

      1. You might be right, and I was merely expressing a preference for developing the land intelligently rather than, as you suggest, letting inertia and neglect turn it into a ‘windswept plaza’. Nothing is more depressing than such “public space”…go try to spend a day at Boston’s Government Center Plaza and try to keep from feeling depressed.

      2. Well the current I-90 lid in Seattle and the current Waterfront Park are examples of what you don’t want to do. The lid is a big empty patch of grass and the Waterfront park suffers from the windswept plaza syndrome except maybe right around the fountain. The Bell street pier does a much better job of being public space, the restaurant there helps a lot with activating the space which is why I’m not opposed to small retail spaces. Cafes and restaurants with outside tables do wonders for public space.

        Another thought would be to create covered stages on the waterfront (and in other places that have some activity problems like Occidental, Victor Steinbrook Park, or the Courthouse Lawn) and allow musicians and other performance groups to sign up to use them. It probably wouldn’t work in areas like the 520 or I-90 lids that don’t already have a lot of people passing through but it is a way to activate public space and keep it from being taken over by drug dealers and homeless people.

      3. The Port of Seattle web page for Bell Street Pier lists under “Things to do” nothing except three restaurants, all operated by the same company. How does giving the public one activity that they have to pay a commercial entity to do count as “activating the space”? Waterfront Park is certainly a boring piece of crap, but that’s because it’s a giant, uninviting, wooden plaza with some benches and a few trees.

        What about the Olympic Sculpture Park? On sunny days that big patch of lawn is dotted with picnickers and sunbathers, and the area is buzzing most days with tourists, cyclists, runners and walkers. Aside from its proximity to Pike Place, I’d bet a big reason why Steinbrueck attracts more people (of both a desirable and undesirable nature) is because it has grass, instead of being nothing but wood and concrete.

        Oh, and if anything, covered stages would attract the homeless. There can’t be bands playing all the time, and they’d have to be locked up otherwise to keep the homeless from taking them over. Which probably won’t look all that inviting.

  2. apologies for the quote/unquote “hippie bulls***”, but give me a break.

    i don’t see how the argument against the I90 lid or waterfront boulevard should automatically apply to the 520 lid.

    you say, “that tradeoff requires ubiquitous but small parks with simple amenities like playgrounds, not a few linear mega-parks.”, but that assumes that there is only one kind of park that can serve only one very specific purpose.

    “linear mega parks” might not make for local community tidy pocket parks, but they make for excellent pedestrian and bicycle corridors.

    the montlake lid will connect to the cycle and pedestrian path along 520, and is incredibly close to the burke gilman trail on the other side of the cut. there’s also lake washington BLVD to the south. it could help link up these routes very effectively.

    the details of how the lid is structured, what goes on it and how the paths are laid out are extremely important and a big swath of grass doesn’t automatically make for good open space. but c’mon .. this isn’t “hippie bulls***” and there isn’t ‘mega space’ on the montlake lid to begin with.

    1. “linear mega parks” might not make for local community tidy pocket parks, but they make for excellent pedestrian and bicycle corridors.

      If your objective as a pedestrian is to actually get somewhere rather than just go for a nice stroll, these are quite anti-pedestrian as they just make any likely destination farther away.

      As for bikes, how much population density do we want to shift to the suburbs and exurbs in order to provide nice scenery for bikes?

      1. I think each case like this needs to be evaluated on its own merits.

        In the case of the I-90 lids in Seattle selling air-rights for development would have been a better idea than what we got.

        With the Waterfront removing the AWV isn’t going to create any particularly large parcels between King and Pine. The blocks between Alaskan Way and Western need street access on both sides and selling off space on the water side will be a non-starter politically. As I point out above the ROW has enough demands on it for transportation uses to preclude building much other than some small retail spaces. Besides the possible density will be necessarily low as maximum building heights near the water are limited. Even downtown there are plenty of lots ripe for redevelopment without having to open up any more on the Alaskan Way ROW.

        In the case of 520 the first problem is the neighborhood would likely object to density much higher than the current surrounding single family use. Furthermore the lid space is partial mitigation for takings from parks along the 520 ROW for the widened highway and stormwater retention. The lids also potentially serve as a gateway to the Arboretum since the Eastern edge connects to the existing park. Perhaps something like what has been done on the South edge of the Arboretum along Madison could be done here (picnic shelters and playfields).

      2. I agree that Montlake NIMBYs would oppose development there, which is an argument quite apart from what the best use of that land would bee.

      3. I would say you have this exactly wrong. If actually look at utilization around Capitol Hill, for example, it’s the pocket parks that nobody uses. They are typically sad abandoned places for homeless people to sleep. Nobody feels safe in them because there aren’t enough other people at any given time. Cal Anderson, in contrast, is always busy with lots of people and always feels safe. It’s a shame we lack a “central park” in Seattle–that would be much better than all these tiny useless parks.

      4. Well, it isn’t Capitol Hill but the park at 3rd & Bell had a playground and it still ended up filled with homeless people and drug dealers.

        The dog park has done a much better job of activating the space. The corner still has a real problem with homeless people hanging out and drug dealing, particularly in the evenings. But putting the dog park in did cut down on the quantity of homeless people and drug dealers. There are actually people using the park for its intended purpose during the day and in the early evening.

        In Seattle we have parks of all sizes that see a lot of use. At the same time we have parks of all sizes that are underutilized or sources of problems. In general though it is the larger parks that tend to be well used and have fewer problems while the pocket parks tend to either get neglected and overgrown or are magnets for homeless, drug dealers, or kids partying.

      5. “full of homeless and drug dealers”… which if you are counting only people and neglecting illegal activities makes these parks “well used”. Just not by tax payers.

        That said, I’d rather that the homeless have a home and drugs be a legal purchase than relying on parks to take up the slack.

      6. Well obviously you have to tune the amenities at a park to the surrounding neighborhood. At 3rd & Bell there probably isn’t a critical mass of small children, but there are a ton of dog owners.

        In my neighborhood the parks with a playground or P-patch see a lot of use, but the bench-and-grass models are a complete waste of space.

      7. Cap Hill doesn’t really have a critical mass of kids either, which is probably a big reason none of the pocket parks have playgrounds (even the one at Volunteer Park is hidden away in a corner like it was an afterthought). I imagine they mostly function as a place for folks apartment dogs to relieve themselves, and for homeless to sleep.

        In Ballard, which has many more kids, the pocket parks have playgrounds and see considerable use from families during the day. Of course, Ballard’s also got a growing homeless population, which should make for some fun interactions.

      8. “If your objective as a pedestrian is to actually get somewhere rather than just go for a nice stroll, these are quite anti-pedestrian as they just make any likely destination farther away.”

        there are plenty of near-by destinations already. especially the university. putting some density on the lid, surrounded by a single family homes.

        there are other areas of the city that make sense for density, so that suburbs don’t have to sprawl out as much .. but at the intersection between the montlake cut, arboretum, burke gilman, 520 cycle trail and lake washington blvd?

        you can’t park many “likely destinations” on that particular lid, and the area is at a conflux of places people already bike and take “nice strolls”. linking them up makes sense.

        density part of the solution, but it isn’t *always* the answer, and the 520 lid is in a prime location for an open air bicycle and pedestrian corridor. copy and pasting arguments from completely different situations is lazy. even if you don’t like large, linear parks in general, this is a prime location to consider one.

  3. I totally disagree. Green space has a much bigger impact on a city and it’s health then just as a “development tool.” I understand what you’re saying about it being uniteresting (which is why my neighborhood found funding to make John and Summit park a P-patch instead of just grass.) However, green space in a city improves air quality, calms traffic noise and storm water runoff is one of the the major polluters of the Sound and Lakes. (Google: CSO) I realized LID design doesn’t fix all problems but at least it helps to counter-balance the huge concrete road we just paved. I think this is especially important in that area near the arboretum which is one of the few natural lake shorelines on all of Lake Washington. Fishes don’t like bulkheads and docks. I read the transit blog a lot and this is one of the first time I feel like the blog is looking only to tranist/development and missing many other important aspects of an issues.

    1. More green is almost always good, but atop or adjacent to a smelly, roaring highway might not always be the most pleasant place to sit and read, picnic or contemplate; a great place however to ponder the role of the automobile in our society. The easiest way to preserve the arboretum, expand bicycling opportunities and improve the overall “nature” of the Montlake area is, of course, no rebuild of 520.

      1. Build the transit grand entrance to UW Station from 520, complete with a wide foot and bike space, and there shouldn’t be a need to rebuild 520 to the west. That should shave a billion or two off the project.

      2. Oh, and put a little path down the middle — native bushes — to separate rail from bikes from pedestrians who don’t want to dodge bikes.

      3. While it would be great to put the project on a road diet across Portage Bay, WSDOT says the Portage Bay crossing is seismically vulnerable and needs to be rebuilt no matter how many lanes it is. It is currently proposed to be 6 lanes plus a “managed shoulder” westbound. It has been suggested to make it narrower (4 or 5 lanes) to reduce cost and impacts which would certainly be a plus regarding cost and impacts at least. Unfortunately, however, even a 4 lane replacement would save a dramatically less than a billion dollars, for a project that is at least $2 billion in the red.

      4. It is hard to know how the 520 lid space will work. But the highway is no more a disturbance (in fact it is less of one) in the I-90 lid park than SR-99 is to Victor Steinbruck Park. For that matter freeway park is built over I-5 downtown and you don’t notice the highway at all.

    2. This is right next to the arboretum, which ought to provide whatever benefits you suggest. Meanwhile, by preventing development on top of a major transportation hub you’re forcing more people out of the city, where they’re going to destroy actual habitat.

      1. Well, not building the lid at all does save money but doesn’t actually provide the benefits of creating destinations in that airspace, which is the point of the post.

      2. I doubt the surrounding neighborhood would tolerate any development denser than townhouses on the lid. Besides the space provided by the lid is to compensate for the park space taken elsewhere for the widened highway and stormwater treatment and retention.

        The fact that the lid is right next to the Arboretum is a good reason to keep the land as park space. If designed correctly the lid space can serve as a Northwest entrance to the Arboretum from Montlake Boulevard.

        If we want to develop air space over highways how about I-5 between Columbia and Seneca? Or either side of the Yesler overpass? I-5 from Pine to Denny? Or how about the mess near 10th & Roanoke where 520 meets I-5? I-5 Between 45th and 50th?

      3. Well here we have the State already coughing up the cash to build the lid. If we can get them to pay for it over I-5 (or can pay with it with the real estate revenue) than we should do that too.

        10th & Roanoke is nowhere near a Link station and so is not a great spot for density. But I wouldn’t have a problewm with it there.

      4. Just cause something’s not next to a Link station doesn’t mean you can build there. The vast majority of small business districts in the city will never be served by Link. But 10th & Roanoke is right there in the middle of a kind of struggling business district and seems like a good place for a development.

      5. Maybe I’m a futurust, but I think it’ll eventually happen, probably 2-3 additional blocks on either side of the Convention Center. The closer you get to Yesler the shallower the I-5 cut gets, so it’ll never (?) be lidded that far south. But can you imagine how glorious it would be to feel like Downtown, First Hill, CapHill, and Eastlake were all contiguous spaces? Or how fundamentally reorienting it would be to remove the mental block where I-5 bifurcates the mind’s view of the city? I get really excited thinking about reclaiming that space.

        I can’t imagine the horror if the MassPike in Boston cut through the middle of Copley Square rather than underneath it…and that’s essentially what we have in Seattle.

      6. I-5 goes through a fairly deep cut at Yesler. It is pretty short though with the terrain falling off fairly sharply to either side.s With the neighborhood redevelopment in Yesler Terrace a building over the highway to either side of the Yesler overpass might help tie the neighborhood back together. One issue would be the Harborview helipad which would limit the building heights some.

      7. They should reserve some of the blocks over I-5 for nice, well designed plazas like the urban parks in NYC, but it would be cool to have most of them be for development. It would finally reconnect First Hill and Downtown. How about do it in conjunction with a Madison cable car?

      8. We’re $2 billion short for 520, which is a project many people (who don’t read STB) actually want to see happen. I would love to see I-5 lid(s), in particular the one Zach mentions, but I don’t think it’s any more likely to happen in the next 20 years than Montlake agreeing to buildings on the 520 lids.

  4. I just find green areas to be areas where I have to walk farther to get to my destination on the other side. Of course, the current situation is worse, since one has to detour to the overpass to cross SR-520.

    1. As a former renter right next to that park, I do too. However, the new version of Rainier Freeway Station will change the nature of the neighborhood. That asphalt next to the museum is prime property for a tower. Whether that tower is a high-priced condo or affordable apartments, only time will tell.

      But hey, keeping expensive condo towers from being built by light rail stations means the rich will live in large ranchettes on what was until recently natural habitat, drive everywhere instead of using rail, and contribute to the campaigns of politicians who promise policies to reward sprawl. Given that choice, I’ll take the condo tower.

      1. Towers are not always the solution. When you get to too tall of a building, people stop feeling connected to the neighborhood and don’t walk around the area as much. However, some six- to eight-story buildings around all Link stations would be great.

  5. I generally agree although I don’t think that the land should be sold to developers to build housing and some retail as opposed to public space.

    I believe that a majority of the space should be a park but it has to be *activated* and *programmed* so it doesn’t become a dead space. That could mean things like a destination play-set, cafe open to the park, bike repair shop, bar, 7-11, etc. The only reason these things should be added is to bring people to the open space, ie give them a reason to be there. That is why so many lids become lifeless places. Because there simply isn’t a reason to be there.

    1. i agree with this.

      there should really be an effort to advocate getting any lid done properly, in order to activate the most awesome “hippie bull****” possible.

  6. I actually like the idea of a lid there. Great location and view, BUT, there should be some real work to make it attractive and come into the fold. It is a great linkage between both sides of the highway. WSDOT needs to ensure that it slows vehicles down as they exit or enter ramps to make the space palatable to park users.

  7. Sorry, but we just hiked from the Slough to the 14 for the first time, and I officially adore the lid. Mercer Island does, however, have some catching up to do with both Bellevue and Seattle when it comes to trail signs (which I refuse to call “signage,” possibly the dumbest word of the last 50 years—and that’s saying something).

    1. I agree about the signage (lol it’s a fine word) on Mercer Island. I was biking from Seattle to Bellevue and basically had to guess as to where to go when the trail forked. Luckily I guessed right.

    2. The Mercer Island lid actually feels like a real park; I was surprised to find out it didn’t have a real name. The Seattle lid… not so much.

  8. Regarding potential development on these lids, which has been suggested various times in the 520 planning process:

    These lids are not proposed to be strong enough to carry soil capable of supporting large trees, let alone buildings of any size. The cost to construct substantial buildings over a highway is very high. We do have a Convention Center that extends over I-5, but a four story apartment building in that location would not pay for itself in any economy.

    All residential and office buildings generate vehicle trips in and out; they need driveways and room for delivery vehicles, trash pickup etc. there isn’t a great location to put this access in the lid area as all of the surrounding pavement in this plan is fully subscribed for the interchange function where a highway carrying over 130,000 vehicles a day meets an arterial carrying over 55,000 vehicles a day. The closure of Arboretum access only puts more pressure on this area.

    A bicycle station would make a good fit on the lid (among other things.)

    There’s a mixed-use vacant lot 24th and Boston (at the south end of Montlake’s small business district) that’s been for sale for a couple of years now (sadly a serviceable building was torn down and then funding fell through for its more ambitious replacement). Meanwhile, the Hop-In Grocery is sitting on a big mixed-use site (owned by Kemper Freeman, incidentally) that hasn’t really changed since it was built as a grocery in 1938, and redevelopment ideas have been floated for that.

    For urban density that really moves the dial, my sense is there are parts of the U District (e.g. seas of surface parking around 45th) and Northgate, to name two, that we could upzone for much more intense (i.e. high rise) development with good results.

    1. thank you for this well thought out, detailed post that looks at the specifics of the location instead of lumping it in with every other lid.

      i agree with everything you’ve said, including upzoning areas of the u dist. once the north link reaches that area, hopefully there should be less need for some much parking space.

      1. Why does the U-District have to wait for North Link before it can be upzoned? Wouldn’t it be nicer to have major reconstruction done before North Link arrives?

        On that note, perhaps the City can exchange upzones that UW wants as a trade for UW granting ROW for the transit grand entrance to UW Station.

      2. the area doesn’t have to wait. it would be nice for major reconstruction to be done before north link arrives.

        probably won’t happen, but it’d be nice.

      3. striatic,

        I’m making a broad point about the city, so of course I’m lumping things together!

    2. I feel one of the better uses for the 520 lid space would be as formal park edge to the informal Arboretum. I like the idea for a bike station. Another idea would be some form of sports field or tennis courts. I’d also like to see some sort of cafe, though it would have to be sited so the building wasn’t on the lid.

      I agree about the U-district. I think the area around Brooklyn station needs to be zoned to allow more density. Say a 400′ height limit and full C3 zoning. There is no reason not to allow the same density in the core of the University District as in First Hill, Belltown, The Denny Triangle, or SLU.

      Similarly for Northgate, the lot the Mall itself is on, the transit center site, and the office park South of 103rd should all allow for at least 40 story towers and whatever mix of retail, residential, and office space is appropriate.

      1. I completely agree, at least about the U District. I can’t even imagine what the arguments against putting more skyscrapers there would be. There are already skyscrapers, so it’s not like it’s “out of scale.” The lots that they would be built on are several blocks away from single-family houses. And I don’t think it would obstruct any rich person’s view (if anything, it would add a new skyline to the view). I hope they do that.
        Regarding Northgate, I don’t know about 40 story towers, but I suppose you could zone the center of the area for that. Then step down to more like 20 stories for most of it. I’m drooling just thinking about what it would be like if they knocked down Northgate Mall in its current form and replaced it with small, extremely dense blocks with plenty of its current retail at the bottom facing the street but also offices and residential above.

    3. Jonathan,

      If there are structural issues on the 520 lid, then by all means let’s push for other smaller-scale changes that can draw people to the space. Thanks for that info!

      I can also to points to tons of lots around the city to be redeveloped, but that’s too frequently a justification to not develop any particular project, so I’m leery of that as an argument.

      1. I get where you are coming from and I too cringe at the urge some seem to have to turn every undeveloped or under-developed lot in the city into a park or a public plaza. It is really frustrating to see a prime site turned into an underused plaza. I’m thinking in particular of that site on Queen Anne Ave and Roy, which while having a kind of cool light installation doesn’t seem like it works very well as a park/plaza. Yet some seem to think the same thing should be done with the big empty lot in the middle of Pine on Capitol Hill.

        By the same token though I think we should take advantage of the unique opportunity provided by the removal of the Alaskan Way Viaduct to build one of the world’s truly great urban waterfronts. It also presents an opportunity to add some sorely needed park and P-patch space to Belltown.

        Similarly while not an opportunity on the same scale the 520 lids provide a chance to tie together the park land in the area and to provide a nice entrance to the Arboretum from Montlake.

      2. The “Uptown” folks fought hard for a park site and that was what was available. The Parks levy passed, in some calculations, because it had “something for everyone” – and land in denser neighborhoods is less available and costs more. So some of the parks locations are perhaps less than ideal.

        100% agreed on the “truly great urban waterfront” meme.

      3. i like the idea of p-patches on the montlake lid.

        each plot represents someone coming to the area to tend it, and i know that our local p-patch serves as destination [or at least a waypoint] for dog walkers, runners, strollers, photographers and cyclists who stop to check out what is growing.

        it seems like a good way to get activity into the area, and there’s plenty of demand to tend p-patches. i believe the current wait-list is over 2000 people long, so that’s a lot of untapped activity that could help activate a park on the lid. and it would be activity that would be guaranteed to be sustained over time.

        i know that the city’s parks department is undergoing funding troubles, so if WSDoT could kick them some money for the initial p-patch infrastructure, i’m sure that would help. hopefully the politics of that aren’t too complex.

        as a cyclist, i’d love to see a bike rental/repair [storage?] facility. it’d be useful for people making the trek across the bicycle and pedestrian path on the bridge.

        playgrounds are also good.

  9. I generally agree that lids over highways are not the best place for parks. It’s hard to imagine they will ever feel “natural.” That’s why whenever I talk up the idea of putting a lid over I-5 between Pike and Pine, I advocate for a plaza, not a park. Imagine steps coming down from the pillar monument on Pike and Boren into an open plaza with lots of seating, then an outdoor stage over by the Paramount. I think it could work since so many people are constantly walking between Capitol Hill and Downtown on that route, so it would be activated well.

      1. But it’s true. I guess it could use some qualification: plazas are not destinations. If you surround a plaza with retail shops and food stalls, people will linger in the plaza to complete their business. But large open spaces sit vacant.

      2. plazas can be destinations, particularly when they are hosting events. they can also be a good place to enjoy a lunch in the open air, or to meet up with people before heading off someplace else.

        you can also put food stalls in the plaza to activate the space.

        plazas are more complicated to get people to use than parks tho, and are much more unsightly than if left unused. i can see an over-freeway plaza being pretty risky.

      3. The point of a plaza is to act like an extension of the buildings around it. Plazas are about creating *urban* open space (ie Westlake) rather than open space more in the mold of the city beautiful movement (ie Volunteer Park). You can’t just pave an area with nice brick and call it a plaza. That is missing the point.

      4. i’ve seen failed plazas, but i’ve also seen incredibly active plazas.

        the activity level is sometimes seasonal, and plazas often require a lot of nearby density to encourage use.

        plazas can also host even activities that can damage parkland.

        i’m generally wary of plazas, because of some of the tarmacs i’ve seen, but to say that nobody uses plazas is demonstrably false.

        maybe you could try articulating why you think no-one would use a plaza over I-5 between pike and pine?

      5. I don’t think there is enough activity in the area. The plaza would sit barren at any time other than a performance, or perhaps before/after a show at the Paramount. I do not think one could duplicate Westlake Park on top of I-5.

      6. Not if you design so that people have a reason to walk through it and stop and sit. Just look at Cal Anderson. It is pretty darn open but is probably one of the best used parks in the city.

      7. Cal Anderson is a park surrounded by high traffic, dense development.

        The prospect for 520 is some grass top of a highway surrounded by single family homes.

      8. And by the time they would build that plaza there will most likely be several more skyscrapers in the area.

  10. While I agree with you on every point, the 520 lid might just work in this context. The reason I say that is attached to a pretty well used and active park; the Arboretum. So if they work with the UW and the Arboretum it might work out very well. Of course the WADOT is involved and they dont play well with anyone that dosnt live in an SUV

  11. I think your argument is a bunch of bubkis. Seattle is a conglomeration of neighborhoods which because of our geography make it difficult to transit between them. If you really want sustainable communities then you maximize green space as close to the neighborhoods as possible so that people don’t need to travel across town to find that giant park you think can handle the whole city. Micro parks are worthless since you can’t do much of anything in them and if you can, not more than a couple people which defeats the purpose of having a meeting place. What can you do at a micro park? toss a frisbee? Not if there is a jungle gym in the middle. Play basketball? Only if its the only thing there.

    More larger green spaces make communities more livable and healthier since you can use the public parks as places for people to gather, play, discuss, and do more of what we don’t do enough of anymore and our geography makes it difficult to take advantage of a “central park” not to mention the major locations are already over populated on most nice days. I don’t think we need anymore people hanging at Greenlake, it’ll turn into a fair grounds soon. We need more places like Greenlake for people to hang out. You give the impression that the idea of a neighborhood commons is a Riteaid(or Bartells) on one corner and a link stop on the other. Its nice and dense, great, but no one hangs out at Riteaid so everyone goes back to their comfy condos alone watching more cable TV. You comments are the dangerous extreme of pro-density advocacy.

    1. There are plenty of straw men in this reply:

      – I’m not obsessed with tiny parks, so that all you can fit is a jungle gym. There’s a lot of space between a park that’s a block or so – a playground, some lawn, etc. — and something like the I-90 lid. I also have no problem with athletic fields, which are substantially larger.

      – If it were only Green Lake that would be one thing. But off the top of my head: Seattle Center, the Arboretum, Discovery Park, Magnuson Park, Seward Park, Jefferson Park. I’m sure there are more. If Green Lake in particular is over-subscribed, then let’s get more capacity in that area, not make sterile areas in Montlake and downtown.

      – It may be that no one hangs out at Rite Aid, but somehow walkable corridors with store fronts manage to attract foot traffic, and lots of it. Would you characterize Broadway or University Ave. as everyone in condos watching cable TV?

      1. 1) Maybe I exaggerated “small parks” too much, but what would you consider a “small park” that is both small and enables multi-use activities? I also think my point was that there is a need for places that encompass more than just ballfields, just playgrounds, etc. I agree with a couple of the posters that these small parks often become a blight because there is minimal foot traffic due to their limited function.

        2) Those are all great parks, but additional parks would better serve a greater variety of the cities citizens, requiring less time in transit.

        3) People wandering around Broadway and University Ave are largely consuming. Parks serve a vital purpose of promoting activity without consumption; relationships not tied to the continued consumption of more stuff (edible, wearable, drivable). I’d rather build up existing developed areas and take advantage of opportunities to convert existing dead space to public use, not private.

        All this is not in reference to the specific design of the cap, which seems questionable.

  12. The issue is “human scaling”. One, making the features not too big for people to relate to. That’s the argument behind woonerfs over mega-buildings. And two, thinking more about how people will use the area than about what looks nice in architectural drawings.

    Jane Jacobs wrote directly about this in her famous book, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”. Two spans of benches, one on Central Park West and the other nearby alongside Columbia University. The first has the benches facing the park: where people want to look. These benches are popular for lunching and relaxing. The second has the benches facing the street: where people don’t want to look. These remain empty because people would rather be in the campus plazas.

    You see the latter on NE 12th Street in downtown Bellevue. McCormick Park, I think it’s called? A strip of grass with isolated benches facing the street. I’ve rarely if ever seen anybody in the park. The benches are too far apart for a group to gather at two of them, and who wants to eat lunch watching the cars go by?

    However, some people I know like these parks because they provide “open space”. And it’s true that greenery does something for men’s souls. (And women’s souls, of course.) But why can’t it be natural greenery? Not an artificial lonely lawn, but shrubs and native plants, a lively garden. That would support more biodiversity too. And if there are benches, put them facing each other or at 90 degrees (making a “V” shape from the street), so that people can interact if they wish.

  13. I don’t think there’s anything decided about the exact (or even general) landscaping of this lid yet. There is plenty of room for making this a nice, well-used park. They could put in a Bikestation, as was suggested above, and maybe a couple shops on the Montlake side, as well as attractions like tennis courts and sports fields inside. There is still plenty of room for making this good without giving up the green space. Parks aren’t necessarily just dead open space, if you put stuff in them.
    On the waterfront, they definitely shouldn’t sell any of it to developers, but they should put back in the Waterfront Streetcar, taking up a, say, 25-foot-wide linear strip of the waterfront, and not just allow but aggresively pursue street food stands all along, with plenty of seating and fountains and attractions.

    1. i think the fact that there’s no public plan for the lids is a big part of the problem with getting local support for the 520 plan.

      it *could* be just swaths of grass, carefully cut by WSDoT crews, with some paths running through that aren’t really integrated into the activity flows and foot/bicycle traffic in the area.

      on the other hand, it could be a wonderful link between the bridge trail, university, arboretum and lake washington blvd.

      the problem is that all we have to go on is WSDoT saying “trust us, there will be more detail later” which is putting the cart before the horse.

      1. Well I mean design takes a lot of money, so you’re not going to get very thorough design before you decide whether to go forward with the project. WSDOT’s “putting the cart before the horse” is the same as what every single agency does.

  14. Where do I begin.

    The lunacy of pouring megatons of concrete so that you can then put some dirt and trees on top of it and call it “Greenspace”.

    How much subversion of language can occur when it comes to billion dollar boondoggles and the dogs who yap about them?

    Is there one other sane man left in Seattle?

  15. Keep kicking ass Mr. Duke and Fnarf.

    Re: Seattleite10 – Misguided arguments like, “green space in a city improves air quality (1), calms traffic noise (2) and (reduces) storm water runoff (3)” are just the sort of hippie bullshit that we are talking about. 1. Forests and wetlands are what improves air quality; living in a dense-ass, concrete and brick city allows those to be preserved intact. 2. How much noise is a relatively narrow greenbelt really going to “calm”? Noise dissipates at the square of distance, so this area would be neither effective at its stated purpose, nor pleasant enough for recreation. 3. Did you not notice that giant run-off pond in the top of the drawing? The volume of water collected by a giant freeway (at least they’re planning to collect it!) would quickly overwhelm the trickling reduction provided by your wishful thinking solution.

    Trying to insulate the freeway with green space is suburban-style issue avoidance. It is part of the problem, not the solution.

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