The DEIS and its shortcomings: The impact of traffic flow

Part of a brief overview of the DEIS (draft of environmental impact statement), and how its proposals are insufficient to address the concerns Feet First has for walkability with specific consideration to the vagueness of the DEIS with regard to impact of increased traffic volumes on nearby neighborhoods.

The draft of environmental impact statement is a complex document that attempts to offer solutions to Seattle’s traffic issues.  Because the viaduct is a main concern in the Seattle area, the DEIS was supposed to take into consideration how constructing a tunnel in place of the current condemned viaduct near Seattle’s waterfront would impact the surrounding neighborhoods.

While the DEIS is an encouraging step in the direction of promoting the mindset of walkability and does show that concern is being shown towards our impact on our environment, the document falls short in a number of important areas.  The DEIS studies the addition of tolls as well as tunnel portals, or access points, but is disappointingly vague about the consequences each will have on neighborhoods’ walkability and safety. 

For example, the DEIS  provides rough estimates of numbers of cars that would be diverts from toll roads, and would thus be expecting to use neighborhood through streets on a regular basis.  Of course, communities like Pioneer Square cannot handle the traffic it currently experiences; additional thousands of cars is simply not acceptable.  The DEIS does state this fact outright, but then provides no alternative to the problem of too much traffic.  Tolling is, as the DEIS clearly says, not part of a long-term solution, but what is?  The DEIS does not say, and Feet First is concerned that walkability issues are not taking the priority they need to be taking if we are to improve our health and community life.

The DEIS does not provide detailed information about how sensitive neighborhoods like Pioneer Square, whose street grid is fragile and already does not handle traffic well, will be affected by the increased traffic flow expected from a tunnel.  Will street parking be removed?  Will trees and other important natural features of the beautiful surrounding communities be damaged or negatively affected?  Exactly how many cars will be expecting to use neighborhood streets to avid tunnel tolls?  The list of specific questions for the DEIS goes on and on.

The point, though, is not to pick apart a document that was probably intended to help Seattle’s traffic woes.  The point is to continue to keep walkability issues at the fore of transportation deliberations and put feet (that is, people!) first (that is, before cars).  The more specificity in the areas of safety for pedestrians, preservation of natural landscaping, and traffic volume we demand, the happier and healthier our transportation policies (and thus, our own communities) will be.

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