A "Radical" Idea Whose Time Has Come: Lehrer News Hour Explores Bringing Down Seattle's Alaskan Way Freeway

More and more Seattle residents are showing they are fed up with the domination of their potentially beautiful waterfront by a truck route. They're calling for infrastructure that makes their city more livable. And PBS' Lehrer News Hour is taking note, not only of the call for better alternatives in Seattle but the trend visible in a number of cities to replace elevated freeways with boulevards that support high-value city fabric and strong pedestrian connections to waterfronts and other civic assets.

Lee Hochberg of the News Hour filed a very good report late last week on the growing opposition in Seattle to propoals to replace the damaged Alaskan Way viaduct that runs along the Seattle waterfront with either of two megaprojects -- an enlarged elevated freeway advocated by Washington's governor or an underground freeway favored by Mayor Greg Nickels. Voters rejected both options in an advisory referendum earlier this year, swinging momentum around to the idea of replacing the freeway with improved transit service and a boulevard that would open up views and walking connections to waterfront. CNU's John Norquist and the Center for Neighborhood Technologies' Scott Bernstein have been highly-visible supporters of advocates such as Cary Moon of the People's Waterfront Coalition who have been leading the campaign for solutions that reconcile traffic demands with better use of the waterfront.

The report reveals an awakening awareness in Seattle of the potential to create a more beautiful and valuable waterfront by removing the ill-conceived freeway. As the report notes, other West Caost cities such as Vancouver, Portland, and San Francisco reached similar conclusions years ago. "Three hours north of Seattle, in Vancouver, British Columbia, the decision not to have in-city freeways was an effort to preserve neighborhoods. Vancouver is consistently rated one of the world's most livable cities," reports Hochberg. "Three hours south of Seattle, voters in Portland, Oregon, 30 years ago rejected an expansion of their riverfront freeway. The freeway was bulldozed instead and the money put into a park and light rail. Both have become jewels of the city."

City councilman Peter Steinbrueck emerges in the News Hour report as a visionary leader who makes an eloquent case for change. "People are naturally drawn to the water, and yet we've got a noisy, overbearing, overshadowing, dirty, polluting, aging structure that is in the way. Why should cars and traffic dominate all the other goals, all the values that we hold dear for our city?"

The piece quotes truckers who are naturally concerned about how they'll make their deliveries without the freeway and says the Steinbrueck has convinced the council to spend $8 million studying how best to move "people not cars." A CNU-CNT-sponsored report by the transportation engineering and design firm Smart Mobility concluded that Seattle has enough road capacity to handle demand if the viaduct were replaced with a boulevard, making the boulevard-and-transit plan a viable option.

Hear the complete audio at PBS.org.

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