It’s time to vote down one of the most disastrous ballot measures to come before Seattle voters in years: Initiative 123, a rogue attempt to disrupt over a decade of planning and waste millions of dollars in design for Seattle’s new waterfront park. I-123 would undo the community’s vision for a shoreline reborn with the removal of the highway viaduct, the creation of a new seawall and waterfront promenade, and a new pedestrian connection to Pike Place Market. This irresponsible and unaccountable measure must be defeated at the ballot box on August 2nd.

I’ve provided extensive background coverage on I-123 over the past two years. Read part one and part two for all of the technical and historical details.

To summarize, Initiative 123 started as a proposal by designer and 2013 mayoral candidate Kate Martin to save the Alaskan Way Viaduct—the aging, hulking, and seismically vulnerable double decker highway that has blockaded Downtown Seattle from its working waterfront for over 60 years. Martin lost the election, but when the tunneling machine for the viaduct’s underground replacement stalled in late 2013 she continued the idea as an independent effort known as Park My Viaduct. The idea was driven primarily by the desire to preserve the views experienced from behind a windshield when driving at 60 miles per hour 58 feet above the street.

Left: Alaskan Way today. Right: Alaskan Way with the Waterfront Seattle plan. (City of Seattle)
Left: Alaskan Way today. Right: Alaskan Way with the Waterfront Seattle plan. (City of Seattle)

Waterfront Seattle, the official plan for the public land along Elliot Bay in Downtown, is motivated by the anticipated demolition of the Alaskan Way Viaduct and calls for a 26 block public park stretching from the sports stadiums in Pioneer Square to the Belltown neighborhood. The plan emphasizes the waterfront as a legacy gathering place, and its development involved thousands of citizens and 400 public meetings over the past decade. The waterfront promenade will include a wide new shoreline path for pedestrians, a series of planting beds that filter stormwater, a bike path, beach access, and a rebuilt Alaskan Way that functions better as an urban street (though there are still valid concerns about the width of that street).

Two-thirds of Waterfront Seattle’s $709 million cost is secured, with the rest anticipated to come from a tax on properties that will benefit the most from the viaduct’s removal and the new park.

Public input was collected in a variety of ways for Waterfront Seattle. (City of Seattle)
Public input was collected in a variety of ways for Waterfront Seattle. (City of Seattle)

After all of the work that went into Waterfront Seattle, which was based on the core premise of removing the dangerous and unsightly viaduct, Martin enlisted the financial support of developer Martin Selig to study if saving the viaduct is possible. Short story: it’s not, unless one wants to pay $262 million that still wouldn’t guarantee the viaduct’s safety. Not letting that get in their way, the campaign proposed instead to demolish the viaduct—save for a 400 feet long section near Pike Street—and rebuild in its place a mile long pedestrian bridge for $165 million. The vision has changed so drastically that Selig pulled his support and has actually started donating to the “No” campaign, and The Stranger reports the I-123 campaign is now at least $72,000 in debt.

The idea morphed into a political campaign to create a Public Development Authority (PDA), the same type of government-owned corporation that manages Pike Place Market, Capitol Hill Housing, and other notable Seattle institutions. Creating a PDA requires public approval. Using misleading canvassing that appropriated the City’s “Waterfront For All” slogan, last year I-123 supporters collected enough signatures to qualify for a public vote. The Seattle City Council begrudgingly put the issue on the docket, saying in Resolution 31607: “Initiative Measure 123 is inconsistent with the Strategic Plan, Central Waterfront Concept Design and Framework Plan, and the Funding Plan for the Waterfront redevelopment and improvements and undermines the vision for Waterfront Seattle”.

And now on August 2nd Seattle voters will voice their opinion on whether to proceed with the vetted and adopted Waterfront Seattle vision or to abruptly change course and undo many years of consensus-building and thoughtful design.

I-123 would establish a Downtown Waterfront Preservation and Development Authority with Kate Martin and several others automatically elected to its board. The language of I-123 grants this PDA the power to seize any and all City funds and surplus lands it deems necessary to implement the garden bridge, and the PDA would effectively have complete control over the city’s waterfront planning.

A section view of the planted portion of the waterfront that will filter stormwater. This area will be narrowed or removed altogether under the I-123 proposal. (City of Seattle)
A section view of the planted portion of the waterfront that will filter stormwater. (City of Seattle)
A conceptual section drawing of the proposed garden bridge. (Initiative 123)
A conceptual section drawing of the proposed garden bridge. (Initiative 123)

Building the garden bridge on the area currently assigned for the new Alaskan Way would force the street westward, where space is currently designated for the pollutant-filtrating plants, bike path, and wide pedestrian promenade. These areas will be narrowed or removed altogether under the I-123 proposal, and waterfront visitors will walk underneath a towering structure on narrowed sidewalks and closer to traffic. The plan also appears to create a significant amount of on-street parking, a wasteful use of Downtown land and a likely cause for traffic conflicts not anticipated by current plans.

The environmental consequences will be significant, as stormwater laced with oils, metals, and other pollutants will no longer have a place to be filtered and cleansed before running into Elliot Bay. This will directly impact the young salmon that are being attracted to the shoreline by the new seawall’s shade and habitat.

The new lid and ramp connection between the waterfront and Pike Place Market won't be possible if Alaskan Way has to be rerouted from the plan. (City of Seattle)
The new overlook connection from the waterfront to the market. (City of Seattle)

The garden bridge would also completely disrupt the vision for connecting Pike Place Market to the waterfront and the Seattle Aquarium. A new lid and ramp over the north end of the street will offer stunning views, new green space, and room for the planned Aquarium expansion, but it won’t be possible if Alaskan Way has to be rerouted from the adopted plan. The preserved 400 feet long section of the old viaduct between Pike Street and Union Street would also forbid this important connection.

A coalition behind the “Vote No on I-123” campaign is composed of several local organizations, including: the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Seattle chapter; the Seattle Parks Foundation; Seattle Aquarium; the Downtown Seattle Association; the Alliance for Pioneer Square; and, of course, Friends of Waterfront Seattle. The coalition hosted a panel discussion last week that focused on the positive aspects of the official plan, and the panelists emphasized that $44 million in public funds has already been spent on design.

The speakers also noted that the I-123 campaign’s attempt to compare itself to the High Line is inappropriate, as that project in New York has a completely different urban context and is an adaptation of existing infrastructure. Martin’s garden bridge would be taller, completely new, and require elevators and 1,000-foot long ramps to access. In fact, landscape architect James corner was the lead designer on both the High Line and Waterfront Seattle, and he dismisses the garden bridge as a “dumb idea”.

Martin attended the “No” campaign’s event and repeatedly interrupted the presentations with accusations of “that’s inaccurate”, “false”, and “incorrect”. Event organizers printed the text of I-123 on the fly to ensure the audience that the panelists were being factual, and the moderator did not give Martin a chance to take over the discussion. Later on, one of the speakers aptly declared, “We’ve got to finish what we started”.

After the event I spoke to Heidi Hughes, Executive Director of Friends of Waterfront Seattle, and she echoed the same theme. She said the Pike Place Market expansion, the Aquarium expansion, the seawall construction, and the Highway 99 tunnel construction are all underway. Waterfront Seattle has significant momentum. Initiative 123 would bring all of it to a crashing halt due to financial and legal uncertainties.

Lisa Richmond, Executive Director of Seattle’s AIA chapter, remarked that this is one of five major policy issues that her membership is working on. She said I-123 is getting too little media coverage, making the measure dangerous for the public, and she believes simply getting the word out will ensure its defeat. Local architects have contributed to Waterfront Seattle’s success for many years.

Over 80 percent of Seattleites polled support the waterfront park. Whether you love Waterfront Seattle for its new public spaces, environmental benefits, pedestrian and bicycle connections, or the new chances to touch the water, you should vote NO on Initiative 123 by August 2nd to ensure a more vibrant future for our city.

For more information, visit the Vote No on I-123 campaign website.

The Urbanist Elections Board endorsed a No vote on I-123. Voting members of the 2016 Primary Elections Board consisted of Owen Pickford, Ben Crowther, Scott Bonjukian (the author), Doug Trumm, and Ryan Packer. Click here for our 2016 Primary Election Endorsements.

45 COMMENTS

  1. I have been against the tunnel from day one. It is an enormous waste of money that Seattlites will be paying for for years to come. It is the result of dishonest and secret dealings by our politicians. Until Bertha emerges from the ground, the possibility of another delay and huge eff-up is still a possibility. However . . . it is happening. There is no point in keeping the viaduct any longer than will be necessary. Reuse makes no sense. Creating a park-in-the-sky is a dumb and desperate idea from viaduct proponents. Tear it down and get on with the waterfront rehab.

    • Tear it down, yes, but connect us to the freight route arterial and the backsides of the touristy buildings? No thanks. I’ll take a real park with an unforgettable view. The NO side has not one single person advocating for Seattleites.

      • To claim that the opposition has “no single person advocating for Seattleites” is misleading, grossly inaccurate, and wholly self-serving. Both the “Yes” and “No” sides of this debate consist of Seattleites, and (as is the case with any initiative) both are advocating for different segments of the population.

        You will find people for and against I-123, and they will mostly likely support those who are leading the side of the argument with which they agree. Please stop claiming that you represent and advocate for all Seattleites; you do not. In a few weeks you will know how much of the city agrees with you, after which you can make such a claim with verifiable accuracy.

  2. I walked the High Line in Manhattan last fall, and it was magical. The I-123 project doesn’t preserve the existing viaduct, it builds a smaller and lower-profile elevated walkway, a park that preserves the views of the water and the city.

    The current park proposal is just wider and fancier sidewalks adjacent to surface Alaskan Way, a street that will be inundated with traffic that the new tunnel won’t accommodate. No views to be had, except for glances between the piers.

    The waterfront park planning process has been largely off the radar. Public input has been negligible, and they totally lost me when they summarily sold off the historic streetcars, without even a public hearing.

    The I-123 elevated park is no more unfunded than the current plan. Vote YES on I-123.

    • Agreed, and this article is as vague and misrepresentative as any GOP national convention could ever be.

    • I suggest you take a look at the plan for the connection from the market to the waterfront. It is an elevated park that will provide views of the water and Olympic Range. We also have the sculpture park downtown which has the nearly identical views and a park-like setting. Plus, there are several parks on Queen Anne and Beacon Hill neighborhoods (and more) with outstanding views of our water and mountain ranges (Jefferson being the best park for views in and out of our city IMO). I’m not saying that is enough and we should settle for what we have, but that Seattle should do what is right for Seattle. Our topography creates amazing opportunities for these spectacular views. Each park is as unique as the neighborhood that supports them. NYC does not have that advantage. Their Urban topography needed a solution like the High Line. It’s awesome in it’s context. Our parks are also awesome in their context. I hope you can see our advantage over NYC.

      • Jeez. I never said or implied that the I-123 elevated park, or better called the Garden Bridge, would be the only view park in Seattle!

        It’s an issue along the waterfront because most of the current proposed park improvements are basically wider and fancier sidewalks along surface Alaskan Way — a roadway that will be filled with traffic that can’t use the new Bertha tunnel (no downtown exits, no Western/Elliott exits). Views from that surface park will be glimpses between the piers.

        Park planners even sold off the old George Benson streetcar line — arguably the most popular thing on the waterfront when it was still running. Current waterfront park plans are deeply flawed. Vote YES on 123.

        • RDPence,
          You are over convoluting my point and that is not fair and, frankly, a little bit rude. Please have respect for other people and their views.

          You stated your preference for an elevated park with preserved views. I responded with points about the expansion of Pike Place Market and its connection to the waterfront fulfilling your desires of views of the sound and ocean while adding green space to the waterfront. Have you seen this plan?

          I can not comment on the Tunnel project other than, different modes of transportation can be used to deliver people downtown. If someone does need to have a car then an earlier departure from 99 ensures that traffic divides itself prior to entering downtown. That should reduce congestion downtown rather then bottle necking at either of the two off ramps that 99 currently has.

          • Well, you were the one bringing up view parks on Beacon Hill and Queen Anne, so I was just reacting to that. Yes, the new plan includes a bigger viewpoint at the Public Market. Expanding the Victor Steinbrueck Park view, I assume. But that doesn’t obviate interest in the Garden Bridge view corridor.

            Bottom line, surface Alaskan Way will be a traffic mess, and the park-like sidewalks lining it will be expensive and underutilized amenities. And the absence of the Geo. Benson Waterfront Streetcar leaves one less reason for folks to come to the waterfront, and one fewer ways to get there.

            And the more on/off ramps, the fewer bottlenecks. So eliminating the viaduct ramps will not reduce congestion.

            Vote YES on 123.

          • DRPence,
            I’m really getting a hostile vibe from you. I am not attacking you, I am merely bringing up alternatives and pointing out that some of your needs are being met in other projects and other places.

            I am glad you understand how the Pike Place Market expansion will greatly benefit the city. No, the plan does not include an expansion of Victor S. Park. It does include an extension to the waterfront similar to the Sculpture Park. Do you enjoy that park? It also creates new view from what is now the parking garage and what was a giant hole left undeveloped after a fire at the Market.

            You are right, my points do not remove interest in an elevated park at the waterfront. I do hope that, if the elevated park does not happen, you can find the beauty of our natural features from our other parks around the city.

            Thanks for your viewpoint. I appreciate the things I have heard from you.

    • Magical?? I walked the whole length last year in Manhattan. It was crowded. narrow, and not that enjoyable. Some sections were so crowded you had to just “get in line” and shuffle thru.
      No thank you.

  3. The standing waterfront plan and the process behind it have had problems, and some of the ideas in I-123 look attractive at a glance.

    But the I-123 plan and the process behind it have much bigger problems. Not least that it would automatically elect Kate Martin to something.

  4. After reading this, and how horribly vague and manipulative it is by omissions, I will probably be voting for 123.

  5. I love the High Line in NYC. Seatle’s blighted waterfront, a collection of grubby tourist trap venues that all but obscure Elliot Bay. I say vote YES on 1-123.

    • Thomas,
      Yes, the High Line is great…in NYC. And, Seattle’s waterfront is less than desirable for the 2nd millennium. Is transplanting an idea that works awesomely in a very flat and very vertical city the right move for a city with topography changes greater than most of the city’s buildings?

      Seattle boasts some amazing parks in other neighborhoods with equal if not better views of our mountains and water. We have the Sculpture Park and will have the connection from the Market to the waterfront providing excellent views of the waterfront and the Olympics. And let’s not forget Steinbrook Park.

      For me, personally, I enjoy the peek-a-boo views that the Downtown grid provides of the water and the mountains. It’s seductive views that only occur downtown. That experience is unique just as the amazing view of both bodies of water and both mountain ranges are unique to Jefferson Park.

      You are right that we should ask more from our City. I am just not sure the High Line idea makes the best use of our City’s resources both natural and financial.

    • The waterfront should not a be sterile space that exists simply to give people unobstructed views. It should be an active, urban space, which should include various buildings. The waterfront is no more of a tourist trap than Pike’s Place, and both are active places that can be packed during the summer. We want to attract people to the waterfront, not separate them on an elevated walkway.

      If you want unobstructed views of the water, take a short walk to Myrtle Edwards park – a lovely, quiet place to enjoy the view.

      • “Pike’s Place” LMAO! Sure sign of a Seattle newcomer.

        With all the vehicle traffic being diverted onto surface Alaskan Way, it will not be an inviting urban space.

      • AJ,
        I don’t mean to pile on to your mistake, but it is called Pike Place Market. Pike’s Place is a common mistake that many people make, most often by people who are visiting our city or recently moved here. It’s fine, everyone knows what you are talking about. Please do not let rude comments get under your skin.

  6. Not mentioned in the article are the real estate moguls who have been drooling over their elite, waterfront views, the same kind folks who wasted $3 – $6 billion of tax payermoney for the tunnel in the first place.

    • Steve,
      Why is this a bad thing? couldn’t both a great park and benefits to developers exist in the same space? It seem you are advocating for one or the other, but not both.

  7. During the planning stages of the current waterfront plan there were several public input and review meetings where it was expressed with dismay the removal and no indication of integrating the waterfront trolley into the planned park. Several people, including myself, voiced the idea of having the trolley extended to piers 90/91 to accommodate the huge crowds that come off and return to the cruise ships that call on Seattle. What an excellent way of getting those to destinations beyond the pier without all the buses/taxies/friend or family traffic that snarl our streets. There was a grass roots push at one time but that has been continually been beaten back to oblivion. Not even a modern day streetcar is in the current plan. I think I’m beginning to like this I-123 thing. I see a trolley/streetcar in their initial planning scheme.

      • Look at the “conceptual section drawing of the proposed garden bridge (Initiative 123)”. The streetcar is depicted left side at the base of the bridge.

          • Scroll back up to the article (where this comment page is located) and find the cross sectional view. It is here. I am looking directly at it and it clearly depicts a streetcar.

          • Ah, that. It’s not in any of their current plans on their website, it’s just an artist’s rendering completely divorced from the reality of that space.
            No way that will happen if the elevated walkway gets built. The current plan for Alaska Way is considering eliminating transit lanes because there isn’t enough room for all the competing demands on the ROW. Adding giant support structures for this walkway simply takes away more space; there simply isn’t enough room to squeeze in the walkway and a streetcar lane, even if this artist wants to pretend there is.

          • The Garden Bridge would be supported by single piers, not the wide straddle bents like the old viaduct. There’s plenty of room there for both the new elevated park and the streetcar too, if the designers valued them enough to be included. But they don’t, so neither is happening, unless we Vote YES on 123.

    • Kate,

      I’d love to hear your side. An electorate that is well educated will make the right choice.

    • I agree with Spencer, it would be nice to read a proper rebuttal.

      Until then, please refrain from posting pithy responses and vaguely contrarian replies on any internet medium which mentions any objection to I-123. I’m researching both sides of this position before I decide, and I’ve seen a lot of your comments. I’m surprised by what I’ve read, and now I’m inspired to respond.

      As someone vying for a leadership role in a not-yet-real PDA, and the figurehead of the movement to create said PDA, it does not reflect well upon your personality and leadership style. The electorate in Western Washington tends to hold their politicians to a higher standard of character and professional behavior than most of the nation.

  8. Scott,

    Thanks for the good write up. It’s articulate and well thought out.

    While I am not advocate for retention of the viaduc as part, I do like the idea of taking advantage of the spectacular views of the Olympics. I have seen the plan for the Market connection to the waterfront. It sure looks like it provides those views that the elevated park supporters seek. I hope the supporters of saving the viaduc see this as a good start and may the city visionaries look for more ways to achieve similar great ideas.

  9. I’m certainly happy to answer any questions about Initiative 123. Scott told me he is a blogger, not a journalist so what he writes is his opinion and nothing more. The Urbanist is also a blog that cross posts Scott’s blog, so it’s like playing telephone as we used to call it as kids, when there’s a mistake in the facts or what so and so heard, it gets worse further down the line. When we asked to come to an Urbanist meeting to make a presentation, we were told that they’re just meet-ups and there is no program, so we didn’t have an opportunity to present anything. We did do 8 presentations across Seattle in the later part of the spring at branch libraries. I didn’t meet any bloggers at those meetings where we did a presentation, presented a study model and answered questions. What are the questions people here have?

    • Kate –

      See the comments above. A number of folks have asked for additional information and clarifications from your group. I would suggest starting there if you want to address them.

    • Kate,
      How does your plan incorporate into the existing waterfront development? What, if any, alterations to the existing waterfront plan and construction would be necessary to implement the elevated park? Would those be additional costs or are they included within a current budget? Which organizing body would be responsible for those costs?

      Thanks, Spencer.

  10. I am so excited about eliminating the viaduct. I thought it was an eye sore from day one. It will be so nice having a waterfront park in its place. Each generation should leave something major for generations to come. Seattle voted down the commons that Paul Allen wanted to run from South Lake Union to downtown. He was going to donate the land. Finally Seattle voters have come through. Congratulations.

  11. My Lord, I just found out about this whack-job notion this morning, from a Facebook friend. I couldn’t believe it, checked the calendar to see if it was April 1st, (it’s not) and asked if he was just punking everybody. Turned out to be true! My first, glib, flippant thought was “Hmmm…we legalize marijuana and this happens immediately. Coindidence? I think not.” But it’s not actually that funny. Here’s a bunch of knotheads who want to spend everybody else’s money to pursue some lollipops ‘n’ unicorns “solution” to what to do with the viaduct. Do we all really HAVE TO get seriously involved in combating every single farcical fancy somebody comes up with? Is there no mechanism by which we get to say, “Sorry, but this is just too stupid to deal with.”? I’ve lived here 25 years, now, and I love this place to death, but, honestly, this is the cereal bowl of Western Civilization, in some ways: a heapin’ helpin’ of fruits, nuts, and flakes.

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