Have you caught on yet to the latest mantra-du-jour of the pro-deep-bore tunnel set? If not, allow me to fill you in by quoting Seattle City Council member Tim Burgess, who writes,* "They don't have a plan. All they have is obstruction."
Yes, that's right people, all those glassy-eyed, car-hating tunnel opponents are haven't uttered a word about a better solution to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Um, well, except that they have. Repeatedly and consistently.
It's a solution called the I-5/Surface/Transit alternative, and environmentalists have been advocating for it for well over five years. Council President Richard Conlin once supported it, as did former council member Peter Steinbrueck. And we know that even way back in 2006 the council recognized that a surface-only option is viable, because they voted 7-1 to approve an ordinance that states, "In the event a tunnel proves to be infeasible, the City recommends the development of a transit and surface street alternative..."
Council member Mike O'Brien and Mayor Mike McGinn have never wavered in their belief that a surface option is the most sustainable solution. The Sightline Institute and Worldchanging---arguably Seattle's two most respected big-picture sustainability thought leaders---have both clearly expressed their preference for the I-5/Surface/Transit alternative, as has the Sierra Club, a group that has been funding research nationally on the connections between land use and driving for going on two decades.
In 2006 the Congress for New Urbanism, led by the former Mayor of Milwaukee who had direct experience with the benefits of replacing an elevated freeway with a surface boulevard, published a report supporting the case for a surface-only viaduct replacement. The report included modeling by Parsons Brinkerhoff predicting that 28 percent of trips would disappear as people adapted their routines.
After the 2007 elevated/tunnel vote, the city of Seattle hired transportation consultants Nelson/Nygaard to help develop the Seattle Urban Mobility Plan, described on the city's web site as follows:
In May 2007, the Seattle City Council requested the Seattle Department of Transportation develop an Urban Mobility Plan as a solution for replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct. The Urban Mobility Plan will use a systems approach, including enhanced transit service, surface street and highway improvements and other transportation programs and policies. It will focus on the movement of people and goods to and through Downtown, rather than maintaining vehicle capacity of the existing SR99 corridor.
The plan will:
1. improve mobility and access to and through Seattle’s Center City and
2. replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a surface street along Seattle’s central waterfront.
And let's not forget the year-long viaduct stakeholder process that, with the approval of the Seattle, King County, and Washington State departments of transportation, put forward I-5/Surface/Transit as one of two preferred alternatives (the other being a new elevated structure).
Does any of the above sound like a plan to anyone? Just semantics? Can I get a witness?
Then in January 2009 the state decided to push forward with the deep-bore tunnel, and no further planning has been done on the I-5/Surface/Transit alternative since. But that fact doesn't stop rabid tunnel supporters from howling about how there isn't a plan for I-5/Surface/Transit that is as fleshed out as the deep-bore tunnel plan now is.
The reality is that if the city and State had spent the last 18 months continuing to develop the I-5/Surface/Transit plan, then we could judge. But they didn't. Nor is a surface option being considered in the Environmental Impact Statement. Given what's at stake, that is irresponsible leadership.
No, the problem is not that tunnel opponents are obstructionists without a plan. The problem is sclerotic state government combined with local leadership that refuses to open their minds to a more progressive way of thinking about urban mobility that is in line with future realities. The problem is a lack of vision, and an excess of timidity.
* FOOTNOTE: Some time last night after I wrote the opening lines of this post Burgess deleted the paragraph in his post that contained the language I quoted, along with more tough talk about how tunnel opponents would rather debate than decide, and how the region can't afford to wait as they dither, etc. Burgess says he deleted the paragraph at the urging of his wife, who suggested he should "stay on the high road."