The Viaduct and Lidding I-5

Parallels: Lid I-5 and the Viaduct

The past week marked a historic moment in Seattle history: The Alaskan Way Viaduct was finally closed to vehicle traffic. The towering concrete highway overpowered the Seattle waterfront with its bulk and noise for decades – the newfound calm is stunning, and a welcome step in reclaiming the historic shoreline.

before after viaduct traffc
The viaduct before and after it closed to vehicle traffic.

Six blocks away, the viaduct’s younger and stouter cousin carries on. The I-5 freeway remains a similar barrier for people, a source of traffic noise and pollution – and the opportunity for something more. Though I-5 is the inverted situation (a sunken trench instead of an elevated structure) there are many parallels between these two corridors. Waterfront Seattle shows how we can evolve public space into people-friendly places and bolster infrastructure resilience.

After a weekend of community activities on Feb. 2-3, the viaduct will be torn down. Get in a last walk, bike ride, or photo while you can. Some folks did just that the day after the closure (unofficially), showing how strongly Seattle residents desire accessible and fun places to gather. With Downtown, Capitol Hill, and First Hill nearly built out, the I-5 airspace is one of the few places left to build the parks, plazas, and playgrounds (and affordable housing and other community amenities) we need for future generations to thrive.

people walking on viaduct, photo by jeff jamawat
People walk on the viaduct after its official closure. Photo by Jeff Jamawat, used with permission.

I-5 opened 10-15 years after the viaduct, and grassroots planning for the waterfront started shortly after the 2001 Nisqually earthquake. It’s not too early to begin imagining a better future for the central freeway too, which is why we kick started the conversation with our neighbors and elected officials. It’s a win-win endeavor: expanding urban land for public use, improving the environment, and fostering economic development. With an eye on the horizon, we’re building the case and the constituency for a stronger Seattle.

As always, learn more about the movement and check out the latest community-led visions on the Lid I-5 website.

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Concept lid design from the Central Hills Triangle Collaborative, looking south from Spring Street.

Feasibility Study Proposals Due January 28

The City of Seattle is accepting bids from consulting firms to research how lidding I-5 in central Seattle will happen. Proposals are due at 5:00 PM on January 28. See the official posting on the City website.

Lid feasibility study area (graphic by City of Seattle). The study area is proximate to the public benefit nexus (Convention Center Addition) and reflects the topographic area most conducive to lidding in the center city.

The study will investigate engineering conditions and construction options, real estate finance models, and land use scenarios. The data-heavy results, due at the end of 2019, will help the City Council and other public agencies confirm the benefits of lidding I-5 and take the next steps in design and planning.

Three years of advocacy, coalition-building, and community support have led to this moment. Thank you for all of that you’ve done to help the Lid I-5 vision get closer to reality – whether you’ve attended an event, made a donation, or wrote a letter. We’re also thankful to the Community Package Coalition and the Washington State Convention Center for securing this $1.5 million public benefits commitment, which was approved by the Seattle Design Commission and Seattle City Council.

This year the Lid I-5 team will continue working with the Seattle Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) and advocating for community interests. We’ll also be coordinating with Freeway Park Association, which is guiding capital improvements to the park. Support our work with a monthly donation and stay tuned for future developments.

Lidding I-5: A Big Idea

The Imagine Greater Downtown initiative is dreaming up concepts for improving the Seattle’s core neighborhoods. We’re excited to report the project recently unveiled its ten big ideas, and the “Freeway Stitch” is one of them! Check out the project page here and share a few comments about why you think it’s an important next step in Seattle’s future.

While this campaign is focused on lids as the solution that can both mitigate I-5’s environmental effects and expand public land, the IGD Freeway Stitch concept also recognizes the need to improve pedestrian connections and address the unwelcoming underpasses in Chinatown-International District. We couldn’t agree more – freeways have many types of impacts on urban communities, and we need to do everything we can to improve quality of life around them.

Graphic from Imagine Greater Downtown website.