We’re on the eve of the biggest civic mistake in the history of our fair city. After 4 decades of protest following their narrow defeat in 1972, anti-freeway activists are poised to prevail at last. In just 3 weeks Seattleites will vote on whether to dismantle the RH Thomson Expressway.
The fabled roadway — long thought dead after being defunded by the City Council, only to be resurrected at the last minute by the barest majority of forward-thinking citizens — may not win any prizes for aesthetic beauty. But the workhorse highway dutifully carries 110,000 vehicles per day, providing both critical capacity and mobility through Central Seattle and an essential bypass of Downtown for people traveling through Lake City, Sand Point, the University District, the Central District, the Rainier Valley, and South King County. Yet the seismically vulnerable structure is due for replacement, and in an act of unparalleled delusion, we are balking. If approved by Seattle voters in November, Proposition 3 would remove all 6 cloverleaf interchanges, sink the Union Bay tunnel, remove the median, and narrow the roadway to just two lanes between the Arboretum and Madison St, and four lanes (two of them parking) between Madison and the I-90 interchange. This is not a road diet, this is a road hunger strike. We must step back from the edge before its too late. We must save mobility in Central Seattle.
Imagine a Seattle without the RH Thomson. People commuting from Kirkland to Boeing Field would be forced against their will to funnel onto an already-congested Interstate 5. Those accustomed to the swift trip underneath Union Bay would be subjected to a long slog through the surface streets of Montlake instead. Vehicles headed for I-90 Eastbound will have to backtrack all the way to Rainier Ave S. And let’s not forget that the booming retail corridor in the Central District owes its very existence to the RHT: the Walmart Supercenter at E Union Street, the Cabela’s at S Massachusetts St, and the 13 car dealerships that make up Atlantic’s famed Auto Row. Imagine Seattle without these sales tax revenues, 19% of which of which flow directly to our overburdened transit system.
The anti-freeway activists have a progressive aversion to commerce and seek to return our city to a mythological Mayberry that never was. They wax poetic about rebuilding lost Craftsmans, restoring Foster Island, and replanting the Arboretum. They fret about climate change, oblivious to the fact that congestion exacerbates emissions, as cars get zero mpg when idling in gridlock. They have admirable but implausible intentions for the blight-ridden Madison Valley, imagining it as a posh enclave full of French Restaurants and high-end sushi.
The activists believe that a transit alternative is workable in its place, with plans for an electrified Bus Rapid Transit line (“Route 48”) running every 5 minutes between Rainier Beach and the University of Washington on a parallel corridor 6 blocks to the west of RH Thomson. They have no plans, none, for high-capacity travel through Madison Valley and the western edge of Madrona and Leschi, believing that a local bus service alone will do the job. This small-scale thinking is laughable on its face, and it cannot stand. Where do they expect all those cars to go?
The adult answer to the needs of this corridor is a seismic retrofit, complete with at least one new lane in each direction to ease congestion and reduce carbon emissions by optimizing the corridor for continuous 55mph travel. The additional lane can be accommodated by removing the median, reconfiguring the frontage roads, and modestly reducing the setbacks and parking at retail outlets along the corridor. As mitigation for lost retail parking, the city should pay for structured parking facilities at a minimum of half-mile intervals along the corridor.
Such a plan would take seriously the mobility needs of the vast majority of Seattle citizens, for whom car ownership is both a necessity of life and a lifestyle choice that confers happiness and freedom. Our choice is clear: save mobility, ease congestion, and VOTE NO on Prop 3. Save the RH Thompson.
Disclaimer: The above post is satire and none of the above is true. This, however, is. Goodbye Ramps to Nowhere!