Viaduct Tunnel Impacts Pedestrians

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Washington Department of Transportation’s Alaskan Way Viaduct Central Waterfront tunnel project will have serious negative impacts on pedestrian life, specifically in Pioneer Square.

Given our mission and the insight we provide to projects, Feet First sent a letter to Seattle Mayor McGinn and Seattle City Council regarding our concerns of the project.

WSDOT is proposing to replace the viaduct with a highway that includes on and off ramps in Pioneer Square. These ramps will serve as the primary route between SR-99 and downtown Seattle, attracting a high volume of car traffic. Preliminary estimates from WSDOT suggest approximately 59,000 additional cars will use either our neighborhood streets or the new Alaskan Way each day to access these ramps. The actual volume could be higher, depending on possible toll diversion rates (currently both First Ave South and Alaskan Way have about 12,000 trips a day in our area).  This is a nearly 80 percent increase in trips through the area daily. This increase in traffic is a major concern not only on pedestrian safety, but for the vitality of the Pioneer Square neighborhood.

When asked by Feet First what WSDOT propose to do to our city streets to make room for this daily flood of highway-orientated traffic, WSDOT did not address improvements to make pedestrian and bike access or safety better, rather they only addressed traffic capacity. They failed to answer the question from a multi-modal perspective. Their answer to our question was:Although the configuration for the proposed bored tunnel’s south portal is still early in design, we do expect to significantly improve the functionality of the street grid in that vicinity. Capacity on Alaskan Way will be improved to accommodate the additional vehicles that would use it to access downtown.

If mitigation to the south portal is done poorly, this could ruin the Pioneer Square neighborhood and our connection to the new waterfront. We urged the Mayor and City Council to get clarity immediately on exactly how WSDOT intends to improve our street grid, while there is still time and budget to get it right, before the contracts are signed. While the tunnel is a WSDOT project, it is our collective responsibility to protect the pedestrian environment and physical fabric of the historic district.  More specifically, we requested that the Mayor and Seattle City Council take the following actions:

1. For SDOT and WSDOT, to identify in detail what volume of cars plan to accommodate on which streets. Specify any special conditions such as peak hour, during events and during ferry loading and unloading.

2.    For  SDOT and WSDOT to provide drawings that show engineering changes to neighborhood traffic patterns and detailed design of any proposed physical changes to streets. SDOT and King County Metro should identify in detail where buses will be permanently rerouted, and where they will be rerouted during construction of the southern segment and construction of the south portal, and in the final configuration.

3.    Before the contracts are signed, enlist a newly hired panel of experts to work with stewards of the historic district to define benchmarks for our streets and evaluate the proposals in light of these standards. There are many questions to consider in evaluating the impacts to the Pioneer Square neighborhood, including:

How will these street changes affect the pedestrian environment?How will they affect access to local businesses and residences? Are there other alternative solutions that might work better for Pioneer Square’s interests? Will this additional traffic degrade or threaten the delicate infrastructure of our underground and areaways? Will tunneling and constant dewatering in our unstable soils threaten our historic buildings during construction?Is WSDOT providing adequate protection of historic resources throughout the historic district, and is there enough funding to prevent or mitigate damage?


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