South Portal’s Design approval gone south

The Seattle Design Commission’s rejects plans of the team working on the viaduct replacement project for reasons congruent with walkability and sustainability.

With the latest horror stories from our friends across the Pacific still rumbling in, we are all no doubt shaken.  About two weeks ago, the Sendai region of Japan suffered one of the worst earthquakes in recorded history, and are still in the process of shoveling out of the mess, not to mention concerns about after shocks, tidal waves and nuclear reactor meltdowns.

Our worries here in Seattle may not be nearly as catastrophic, but similar problems with unstable ground have propelled serious thinking about the redesign of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, which ropes the downtown area off from the beautiful waterfront of Elliott Bay.  Seattleites know that this road is “condemned” – that is, “will not survive the next earthquake”.  Seattleites are known for their difficulty in making decisions: they have also voted (and voted and voted…) on what to do about it.  It seems that, though the votes are (finally) in, the plans to tunnel are going to take a while. The plan for this particular construction project, according to greenbuilding.com‘s blogger Katie Zemtseff, “narrows the project footprint, elongating the roadway. The previous design had two south-bound exits from the tunnel and two north-bound entrances. The new design has one south-bound exit and two north-bound entrances.  There is a north-bound off-ramp, starting around Royal Brougham, that is about 25 feet high.”  But the Design Commission rejected it. The north-bound ramp is too high, commissioners say, and cuts the city off from the waterfront, exactly the kind of thing the viaduct removal project is seeking to avoid.  Commissioners all pointed out that the new design redraws some assumptions used in past building.  Essentially, the new design would not meet the city’s desire to connect with its backyard waterfront. This is encouraging news for walkability advocates.  It means that those who have the power to make (and veto) design decisions in our city are, at least partially, on the side of sustainability, health and people (as opposed to, say, cars).  Having policymakers concerned about access to the waterfront, the disruption through traffic could cause, and upholding the human values of the city is certainly a huge step for walkability.

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