Midweek Video: Lid I-5


Late last month, our own Scott Bonjukian participated in Capitol Hill Housing’s annual community forum, called Gearshift 2016, to present the concept of freeway lids over Interstate 5. What started out for Scott as just a college project, snowballed into a four-part series on why Seattle should lid I-5 in the heart of the city and spring-boarded into a community-led campaign. That campaign now has the support of many groups and professionals, including the Pike/Pine Urban Neighborhood Council and Patano Studio Architecture, which has begun to actively engage the local community and City of Seattle to investigate the feasibility of freeway lids near Downtown, Capitol Hill, and First Hill. Friends of Lidding I-5, as they’re known, recently held a well-attended charrette with over 75 community members to design options for an I-5 lid.

In his PechaKucha-style presentation, Scott starts off the discussion on the Seattle’s main freeway quite pointedly:

Ditch, canyon, scar, eyesore, commerce. Whatever you call it, there’s no doubt that Interstate 5 and the rest of the national freeway network has had a profound impact on our country. Nowhere is that impact more noticeable than in our urban neighborhoods where these freeways cut through.

People who experience this stretch of I-5 on a daily basis indeed have strong feelings about what it represents. The Lid I-5 concept offers a bridge to a reconnected central city, which to many is deeply inspiring. Watch Scott’s full five-minute talk on the background of I-5, what peer cities are doing, and the community advocacy process:

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Stephen is an urban planner with a passion for sustainable, livable, and diverse cities. He is especially interested in how policies, regulations, and programs can promote positive outcomes for communities. Stephen lives in Kenmore and primarily covers land use and transportation issues for The Urbanist.

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hillel schocken

Putting a lid over highways has become fashionable like other “green” initiatives. It may be wrong for two independent issues, both have to do with real green issues or, as I prefer calling them, issues of sustainability. The first reason is that putting the lid does not eliminate private cars, it simply hides them making everyone feel “green”. As if, if you don’t see them they don’t exist. The lid does not reduce the usage of private cars and their damage to the environment. The second reason is that additional green open public space in itself is not necessarily “green”. In fact, it may be unsustainable if it is not coupled with a sharp increase in population density in walking distance from the added green space. Modern planning suffers from too much public open space that is mostly unused by people. It reduces urban density and promotes urban sprawl.


Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I agree that lidding freeways does not hide cars, but that’s not something was claimed to be an environmental benefit in the video. It’s really more about the practical intent of creating more urban land, or rather using land more efficiently.

I have to disagree about open space leading to sprawl. If dense cities are to be livable then they need a percentage of “breathing space” that people can relax in. You may be generalizing but it is a fact that Downtown Seattle has a significant lack of park space. I don’t see how creating a new park on what is essentially free land, for land use purposes, would increase sprawl by any measure. In fact there are proposals to build a mix of parks and development over the freeway, therefore increasing urban density. And sure if we made the area around the freeway more desirable we will see denser redevelopment. I can think of several parking lots that front the freeway which would surely be turned into housing, retail, offices, etc. if there was a park next door.

hillel schocken

I agree, Scott, that dense cities need breathing space. The issue I’m concerned with is that in too many cases there is plenty of Green breathing space but only very few people actually benefiting from it as they are too far away from it and need to use their private car to enjoy it. People need green space at walking distance and where they can enjoy the company of other people. I’m not familiar with the situation in downtown Seattle which I visited only once (1968) but I hope to get more updated on my coming visit that is planned for the end of next July. From Google Earth it does look it could do with some extra green space although I’m not sure of the amount of housing in the downtown area…