What Makes A Great Waterfront?

Below are 8 questions the Central Waterfront design team would like you to answer. Go here to fill out the survey. This Thursday, 6:30 at the Aquarium the James Corner Field Operations team will hold a kick-off event. So far their facebook status says over 600 people have already RSVPed.

More after the jump

  1. What makes a great waterfront?
  2. What is unique about the Central Waterfront in comparison to Seattle’s other waterfronts?
  3. The Central Waterfront needs to achieve many goals and will ultimately include many of the uses listed below. That said which of the following is this MOST imporant for you (selection one)?
    • Aquatic + Natural Habitat
    • Shops + Restaurants
    • Art + Culture
    • Mobility + Access
    • Public Gathering Spaces + Destinations
    • Active Recreation (examples: fishing, boating, volleyball, basketball, skateboarding)
    • Passive Recreation (examples: parks and pedestrian areas for walking, picnicking, lounging, relaxing, viewing)
    • Other
  4. The Central Waterfront needs to achieve many goals and will ultimately include many of the uses listed below. That said which of the following is this LEAST imporant for you (selection one)?
    • Aquatic + Natural Habitat
    • Shops + Restaurants
    • Art + Culture
    • Mobility + Access
    • Public Gathering Spaces + Destinations
    • Active Recreation (examples: fishing, boating, volleyball, basketball, skateboarding)
    • Passive Recreation (examples: parks and pedestrian areas for walking, picnicking, lounging, relaxing, viewing)
    • Other
  5. Please indicate two main uses that would attract you to the waterfront regularly (examples: places to eat, place to stroll and sit, pathways to run and ride bicycles, concerts and events, public art, shops, etc)?
  6. What would you most LOVE to see on the new waterfront?
  7. What would you be most disappointed to see on the new waterfront?
  8. If we could do one thing to improve the Central Waterfront now, what would it be?

There was a fairly robust blogosphere discussion back in September (Frank, Martin, Fnarf, Dan). If you haven’t read those pieces I would.

For me, the driving principle of the Central Waterfront design needs to be creating a place that is relevant to the daily lives of Seattleites. There are few things on the waterfront that Seattleites can’t get elsewhere, at least individually, and that is why the only people down there are tourist. The waterfront needs to target the gaps that other regional attractions and parks can’t. What the Central Waterfront has going for it is its unique interface of nature and urbanity. A balance needs to exist. The special natural setting needs to be celebrated and become more accessible to the public. At the same time the waterfront needs to be bursting with life, and the only way that will happen is if there are restaurants, bars, stores and attractions that bring people from all over the city and region.

57 Replies to “What Makes A Great Waterfront?”

  1. The tide comes in and it goes out. It always comes in, and always goes out. You can’t explain that. (Sorry, couldn’t resist)

    1. Oh god, not this again. Why does everyone think this is such a great idea?

      The Waterfront line should be the lowest priority transit capital project in Seattle. By all means, reserve the right of way, but if you spend a dime on it before you’ve built streetcars on Eastlake to the UW, Westlake to Fremont and Ballard, and Queen Anne to the Central District, you’re shafting transit riders across the city.

      1. why?

        It would connect numerous tourist destinations (piers, aquarium, sculpture park), restaurants, as well as offices like Pier 70, Port of Seattle, Cruise SHip terminal, YVR high speed ferry, WSF, and Link/Sound Transit/Amtrak

      2. Do you want me to list all the tourist attractions a streetcar from the I.D. down 1st Ave to Mercer would hit?

        Any of the streetcar lines I mention above would serve more passengers before breakfast than the Benson line will all day.

      3. It had better ridership than the SLUT AND the infrastructure is already in place except for that 98#^%(*#Q^ trolley barn.

      4. The SLUT is not a fair comparison. I would never have built the SLUT on its current alignment, although its presence does dramatically reduce the cost of a Fremont or UW line.

        How many daily riders did the Benson line carry? The best stat I can find (from some one advocating its return) was an average of 550 a day. In 2009, route 70 carried 3000 riders (although that’s misleading because the 70 only runs ’til 7PM, then those riders go to the 71/2/3). In 2010, the SLUT averaged 1600 daily boardings. A streetcar on 1st — or anywhere downtown — would thrash the Benson line by any metric, especially if it were free. It would also relieve the pressure on the overtaxed Belltown and Queen Anne trolleybusses.

        Nor is most of the infrastructure in place. The tracks under the viaduct will be dug up as part of the viaduct demolition (I have this from SDOT). The tracks in the I.D. are paved over in numerous places, the wire and substations and cars will all need to be refurbished.

        No, the Benson line, as a transit project, is perhaps the worst idea currently floating around. It needs to die, or at least be knocked out for a few years until we have money to spend on tourist amusements.

      5. A tourist is in the city for one day. A resident goes to work every day, and shopping and everywhere else they go. A streetcar that serves many residents’ daily trips is much more beneficial than a streetcar on a tourist area that residents rarely go to. These residents are also taxpayers — the ones who paid for the streetcar. We can’t leave tourists high and dry, but we need to build streetcars in the highest ridership areas first, and then later thinking about putting a streetcar back on Alaskan Way.

      6. Thanks Mike, finally some backup here. Sometimes I think I’m the the only person who thinks the Benson line is a bad idea.

      7. The Benson line wasn’t a bad idea. The Olympic Sculpture Park was a bad idea. The Waterfront Streetcar was never designed to be “transit”. It was a “tourist attraction” yes, but it was art. Rather than a lesson in bad welding a symphony of how machines were once crafted.

      8. I like the sculpture park.

        Wow, I didn’t realize it until now, but the new routing makes it go on Broad in front of the sculpture park like I’ve long recommended. They should put a stop there. But at least now it’s easier to take transit to the park.

        Long term I’d like #99 to go from Alaskan to Broad to Seattle Center and back.

      1. Did you notice that 99 is now only a 1-way line on Alaskan, coupling with 1st? I actually think this is a good idea – ridership dropped off a cliff when they changed the Benson to a trolley-painted bus. Coupling the waterfront with Pike Place Market might actually increase tourist ridership.

      2. I don’t think the new 99 couples the waterfront to Pike Place Market in any useful way. Take a look at the schedule. Despite claims that the 99 is a “loop,” it’s more like a bi-directional couplet with 30-minute frequency, 11-16 minutes of layover/recovery time at either terminal and a 100-foot elevation difference between the sides of the couplet.

        And the new 99 is no longer wrapped. So while the streetcar wrap was kind of silly, it at least screamed “Hey Tourist! I’m free and I go somewhere you want to go! Ride me!” Now the 99 looks like every other bus wandering around the streets of Seattle.

        Plus the 99 doesn’t produce a dime of revenue. I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up getting killed, leaving us with no transit service west of 2nd.

      3. The 1st buses were only moved to 3rd because of potential disruption to 1st as a result of various projects. They should return once those construction projects have abated.

      4. Good point on the marketing potential of the wrap, Roughly-As-Angry-As-Me Transit Nerd.

        I don’t know why, but it never occurred to me that they’d be keeping the long layovers at both ends once they looped it.

        Wouldn’t it make infinitely more sense to run it as an unbroken loop and layover only in the I.D.? You could probably drop it to a 25-minute frequency without harming reliability or impinging on contractually-obligated total break time.

      5. I seriously hope Metro doesn’t move the 15/18 and co back to 1st. It makes far more sense to put all the frequent service down one street. Better transfers, more user friendly.

      6. @Morgan: At least here in Belltown, the city has wasted no time painting over the red-and-yellow and converting the southbound bus zones into commercial loading zones and even – wait for it – pay-to-park spaces. I think that the return of buses to 1st is far from assured.

        I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing: 1st can get very congested and moving those buses to 3rd is probably a win for reliability. My main concern is the steep grade separating 1st from 3rd through downtown.

      7. The couplet is ridiculous. It’s obviously a way to add service to 1st by stealing service hours from the waterfront. When people go to the waterfront they often want to go to multiple destinations in both directions, and we want to encourage tourists to do so. But now for some trips you have to go completely around the loop, and wait 30 minutes for the privilege. Hopefully people will be aware of the couplet and will plan their destinations from north to south, but I for one would normally go the other way because the biggest attractions are in the southern half.

        Separately, Seattle needs to advertise the elevators better. How about a painted stripe or tile artwork showing the way from Alaskan and 1st to the elevators, given that they are in hard-to-find locations.

      8. My solution is, whether on the waterfront or 1st, get a streetcar in there with all due speed.

        (But seriously, cram too many buses onto 3rd and you get a whole new set of congenstion issues.)

    2. If I may add my voice to the belief that we need electric transportation in the waterfront corridor. Yes, as some have said, it *may* not make sense but until there is an actual analysis based on actual numbers, there is little to add to the conversation but opinions. However, what I don’t think we should do is design a new waterfront roadway with no provisions for a future streetcar. As I have said on other posts, SDOT should invest in the *unseen* infrastructure that would facilitate an easy return.

      Examples include designing a median wide enough to handle the street car and platforms at certain locations, including extra conduits and junction boxes for electrical facilities, and installing street light poles which can double as supports for electric wires.

      1. I heartily endorse designing the new waterfront with room and provision for a potential streetcar. If you look below, I discuss the last known ridership numbers for the streetcar (as a streetcar.)

  2. it will all be for naught if they don’t rebuild the waterfront streetcar line (even if it means new LRVs and not the old Melbourne cars (at least it could be integrated into the 1st hill line)

    I know that they have said that they aren’t considering a new line on the waterfront but I still think it’s a mistake

  3. The waterfront streetcar is a cute little amusement park ride. It doesn’t even remotely begin to answer the question what makes a waterfront great? I can list dozens of great waterfronts. None of them have a streetcar.

    1. I can think of three off the top of my head: San Diego has the Trolley, San Fran has MUNI (in about different 4 places), and Blackpool in the UK.

      The point of this study is to make the waterfront a tourist area; an amusement area. Since many waterfronts don’t have a streetcar, why shouldn’t OURS have one? It would make us unique.

      1. I disagree wholeheartedly. Tourist already are on the waterfront without a trolley. The waterfront needs to be designed to attract people that actually live in the city. If you do that the tourist will still come, but it will no longer just be a tourist trap.

    2. I can rattle off some on top of those and some that will be under construction soon but nevertheless, the Waterfront Streetcar would be a better option to have running up and down the waterfront than a bus.

      Per several sources the last few years of the streetcar saw 440,000 riders. For something that ran every 15 to 30 minutes, that is not bad considering its schedule. If the schedule was improved upon (again, look at San Fran Muni)I wouldn’t at all be surprised if this future “destination” would see easily a million riders..even more if the line was extended to Pier 91/Interbay/Magnolia….

      It is laughable how many people thought is an “amusement park ride” when it was very common for VERY packed streetcars with people getting off work and taking the ferry to their destination. I always remember (and will have to try to find a picture) around 5:15 everyone scrambling out of the PI to get to the streetcar to get that 5:33pm ferry to Bainbridge.

      Regardless, I will always see the Waterfront Streetcar as a dual mixture of tourist attraction meets viable commuter transportation. It is also laughable that people do not realize all of those rails and concrete ties are very much reusable, along with the wire. If anyone tells you otherwise, you should laugh at them, hard, for a long time because Class 1 railroads reuse rail and concrete ties ALL THE TIME….

      1. That’s 1200 boardings a day (twice what I’ve seen elsewhere.) The SLUT already beats that, and if it were extended to the U-District or Fremont, or if a line were put in down 1st ave from Mercer to Yestler, ANY of those lines would THRASH the Benson line.

        As for extending the line, I simply don’t know why you’d waste money running tracks through Interbay and Magnolia. I can’t think of a worse area of the city to blow heaps of cash running streetcars through. That’s simply nuts.

        It’s true the Benson line would be cheaper to rebuild, and you can reuse the rails and ties, but most of the cost is in labor because much of the line has been or will soon be dug up or paved over.

        The Benson line, in any plausible configuration, is indefensible as a public transit project when there are so many other parts of the city that need transit more.

      2. But like he said, that was a line that went every 15-30 minutes. If it went every 10-15, it would become way more useful for actual commuters and residents, as well as tourists, and get higher ridership. Also, the waterfront after this whole process will be more of a destination and the blocks just east of the waterfront that are currently vacant would rapidly fill up with development, greatly increasing ridership.
        An extension up to the cruise terminal would serve all those cruise passengers, plus all the biotech office buildings around there. Maybe during the winter it could just go to the biotech area, then go all the way to the cruise terminal during the summer.

      3. Bruce, the Waterfront Streetcar is not fully a transit amenity. It is in part a tourist attraction that does have some useful attributes as transit. Would there be an outcry by the citizens of San Francisco if they tore out all the cable cars?

      4. Yes, there was an outcry in the 1970s or 80s, and that’s why the cable cars were rebuilt and are still operating. But cable cars are THE symbol of San Francisco, behind only the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s the same reason we didn’t tear down the Space Needle, because it had become Seattle’s symbol. But the waterfront streetcar was always a minor amenity, not in that league.

      5. At the risk of further enraging the Benson Brigade, I must point out that the Benson line is not exactly on a par with the Space Needle or the SF cable cars in the pantheon of city icons. I had never heard of the Benson line before I got here.

        Extending the streetcar to Pier 91 or thereabouts would make it more useful, and if you could get the Port of Seattle to pay for all of the extension and maybe chip in for some of the cost of rebuilding the rest of the system and some of the O&M cost, and if ST lets Metro use the FHSC barn for free… then maybe, maybe I could be sold on the idea.

      6. And by “being sold on the idea” I mean “it’s not a total waste of money and maybe worth doing once we’ve build out a big chunk of the rest of the system.”

      7. It would be nice for the streetcar to return to the waterfront. It has potential like SF’s F-Market & Wharves line on the Embarcadero. We could even attempt to restore MEHVA’s only streetcar they have and run it. If the streetcar is to return, I think it is likely that it’ll have to be funded like the SLUT with waterfront businesses chipping in.

        Here are more data points for discussion.

        Waterfront Streetcar Ridership Numbers from Metro’s Annual Reports
        2005…374,327 (rail service ended Nov. 18, 2005, figures YTD Dec 2005)
        2001…374,298 (bus substitution for 2 months following Nisqually earthquake, bus ridership not included)

        2003 productivity numbers
        Off peak 63.9 rides/platform hr, 13% farebox recovery; Peak 44.2 r/ph, 9% farebox recovery

  4. I keep citing the fact that between 1st Ave and Alaskan Way there is a 40% grade that many senior citiens and people with disabilities cannot climb. Not reviving the old streetcar means they have to climb the steep hill to/from the 1st Avenue line.

    Will all the non-supporters of the Waterfront Streetcar just take a hike! Luddites!

  5. SR Das, please explain. Why can’t all these senior citizens and disabled people just take the currently running waterfront streetcar bus?

    1. They could, but remember, a streecar is somethng that runs on RAILS, not RUBBER. A streetcar is ELECTRIC, not DIESEL. “Streetcar” no longer literally describes it.

      Metro promised us the streetcar would be revived by 2007, but they haven’t done sh*t about it, while the infastructure stood for years after service was discontinued.

      1. (Darn, no “Reply” function)

        Also, if they discontinued free rides, they could use the profits to build a new barn FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!

  6. I think it would be a mistake to try to make a great waterfront by adding together a bunch of good individual ideas, then thinking that combined, this will automatically give us a great waterfront. I think what makes a waterfront great or not is not what is has or doesn’t have, but rather if it’s unique. Did the city make it their own? I think that has to be the starting point.

  7. Seattle, The Emerald City, seems to always get stuck on these small dialogues that are like a tennis match. Rise above it and try to grasp the total environment and concept. The whole waterfront. The solution sits in a multitude of great cities that have created waterfronts using unique imaginative possibilities that bring together solutions for all of the important topics listed.

    Find those cities, be inspired by their solutions, think artistically. Bring to the cities edge, excellent access and functionality, emphasize aquatic and natural habitat, vibrant arts and cultural showcases, public gathering spaces to relax with the incredible vista of the Sound and Olympics.

    Use special materials and please hire a Japanese horticultural designer that will bring the natural beauty of the Northwest together in seasonal flowers, wind swept pines, magnificent stones and water features. Hire local and use international consultants.

    Could Seattle actually create something magnificent? A destination for locals and world travelers. Seattle has a great opportunity. Every dollar spent will be multiplied in return.

    Be brilliant Seattle! The Emerald City is counting on you!

  8. What makes a great waterfront?
    One not littered by short-sighted politicians willing to trash years of efforts by a lot of people, just to appease some SAM snobs.

  9. I’m voting for another grain terminal, or containers, or even a cement plant. That waterfront is for ships, tugboats, and barges. Also, I’m drunk at the moment.

  10. I think the frustration over the loss of the Benson line is two fold:

    1. All the infrastructure (was/is) still in place. Overhead wires, stations, rails… It’s only missing a storage barn!
    2. People are still butthurt over losing streetcar systems all over the region due to shortsighted, auto-centric city planners and politicians. Apparently we haven’t learned from those mistakes.

    Given all that, it’s understandable why people would call for reinstating the Benson line. Regardless of the fact that as of now, it would cost money that could be better spent elsewhere.

    One more thing: That Seattle Waterfront website is very well designed. HTML 5 FTW!

  11. For those who say the waterfront streetcar is good for tourism, note that tourists will also be impressed by a streetcar downtown or on Broadway. In fact, they may even be more impressed because it’s clearly fulfilling both a major transit need and taking tourists to their museums and airport connections. People love San Francisco not only because of the cable cars and waterfront streetcar that they do use, but also because of the other streetcars that they don’t use but they know they benefit the residents and give the city an urban feel.

    1. But it still kills me that we have the track, the stations, the wire, the trolleys and are missing only a friggin maintenance BARN. All those other lines require everything, here we are only missing the last million.

      And the Waterfront street trolley with some additional track could have gone to Ballard up interbay, or up to Broadway, or down to Boeing field. Trust me tourists like antique things that actually perform a service.

      As for cable cars, Seattle had them and ripped them out.

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