City Hall

Council Gets First Look at Waterfront Proposal

By Josh Feit July 17, 2012

The city council's "special committee on the waterfront" (apparently the old name for such committees---Committee of the Whole, or COW---was deemed too silly) got its first official look at the planned new, post-viaduct waterfront yesterday. Afterward, several public commenters complained that the plans are too grandiose, too expensive, unfriendly to transit, and don't represent the right priorities.

First a quick look at the new proposal, which reflects a plan at 10 percent design. Gone are the gondolas and public hot tubs (just typing the phrase makes my skin crawl) and giant "fold" over Pike Place Market; preserved are the floating swimming pool (it's on a barge on the water); the Slinky-style bridge connecting Marion Street to the waterfront; the skating rink; the climbing wall for kids; and escalators and elevators to bring people down from First Ave. And it preserves what Seattle planning director Marshall Foster described as the "democratic" views from the existing viaduct. There's a lot more in the 100-plus-page presentation. (Too big to download, but you can read it here—click on agenda and from there click on presentation.)

Council members generally ranged from supportive to gushy about the proposal, although they did express concerns about how well the plan would accommodate transit (the current idea is to put buses on "flex lanes" that would shift back and forth to accommodate morning and evening rush-hour commuters. [pullquote]Then came the critics---residents who complained that the proposed waterfront plan is too grandiose, too expensive, the wrong priority, and even risky.[/pullquote]

They also brought up the idea of resurrecting the waterfront streetcar, which closed down in 2005 when its maintenance base was torn down to make way for the Olympic Sculpture Park and replaced with a bus painted in streetcar colors. Those disappeared last year, when the buses were moved up to First Ave. Nick Licata suggested a "water shuttle"---basically, a fleet of small boats that would run up and down the waterfront.

Then came the critics---residents who complained that the proposed waterfront plan is too grandiose, too expensive, the wrong priority, and even risky (one commenter suggested that the floating swimming pool could tip over in high winds.)

Ballard resident Mark Dublin suggested that building a "compromise" plan---specifically, one that doesn't include a streetcar---would lead to a waterfront that "that nobody can stand [that] nobody can get rid of, [and] that nobody can afford to maintain."

Another Seattle resident, Larry St. Pierre, said the waterfront was the wrong investment at a time when basic services are going unfunded. "I think these types of projects are wonderful during a flush time when we have money to do them, but I don’t think it’s appropriate for government or its citizens to spend this kind of money when we have so many other needs," like roads, potholes, and human services.

Finally, former city council member Peter Steinbrueck, a consultant for Pike Place Market, speaking on his own behalf, said the city should consider moving some of the car ferry service at Colman Dock and resurrecting a mosquito fleet of small, pedestrian-only boats to carry people to places like Vashon and Bremerton and West Seattle. The dock's "impacts on traffic and pedestrian access on the central waterfront are problems today and will continue to be in the future if we look at it as a vehicle conveyance---a freeway on-ramp, if you will," Steinbrueck predicted grimly.
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