On Wednesday, the Uptown Alliance, in conjunction with several other advocacy groups, issued a blistering comment letter on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS, Volume 1 and Volume 2) for the Seattle Center Arena renovation and expansion project. “We found the DEIS and accompanying mitigation measures, with its nearly exclusive focus on low occupancy vehicles, does little to change the status quo,” the advocates wrote. The Uptown Alliance and their allies argue that the DEIS does not go far enough to provide equitable, multimodal options as mitigation for expansion.

Oak View Group (OVG), the winning bidder to fully upgrade, expand, and operate the arena for 39 years, will spend upward of $600 million to the nearly double the total building square footage, relocate affected businesses, contribute to public benefits, and address transportation needs. In signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the city, OVG specifically agreed to covering all related transportation mitigation costs under the environmental review process in addition to contributing $40 million to a city mobility fund and participating in the city-led development of the North Downtown Mobility Action Plan.

The letter by the Uptown Alliance and their allies outlines six overarching objectives that should be analyzed in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS):

  • “Reduce dependency on low-occupancy vehicles enabling Seattle Center neighborhoods to be more livable, walkable, safe and welcoming.”
  • “Develop TMP and DMP programs with measurable performance goals and annual report card.”
  • “Mitigate impacts to surrounding neighborhoods.”
  • “Expand safety definition and improve safety conditions.”
  • “Narrow horizon year gap.”
  • “Ensure mitigation is in place by opening day of the Arena.”In terms of the first objective, the advocates highlight a whopping 44 related recommendations to achieve higher and better multimodal outcomes in their letter. Some of recommendations get into the weeds over very specific actions that should taken by OVG to mitigate for their impacts.

OVG will need to develop a Transportation Mitigation Plan (TMP) and Demand Management Plan (DMP) as part of the planning process. The advocates want to more specificity in both documents for “measurable performance goals, strategies, timing, funding, roles and responsibilities, [and] annual reporting on operations to evaluate whether goals are being met.” If the goals are not met, the advocates think that additional mitigation measures should be built into the plans in order to attain compliance.

For the TMP, the Uptown Alliance and their allies are asking that it set an aggressive baseline goal of 62.5% multimodal use for walking (15%), biking (12.5%), and transit (35%). The DEIS, however, assumes that the mode share in 2020 would be upwards of 63% by private vehicles, and more than 78% if you count ride-hailing and other pass by drop-offs. By 2035, that number could drop to about 66% under OVG’s proposed alternative with mitigation measures. The gulf between what the advocates and what city officials, in collaboration with OVG, are suggesting is wide.

Suffice it to say, however, many of the recommendations seem fairly reasonable, such as requiring OVG to:

  • “Implement Pedestrian Recall at all signals within the study area to prioritize pedestrian movement.”
  • “Fund bicycle, pedestrian and transit connectivity improvements for more seamless integration with existing networks within the 1-mile pedestrian and 3-mile bicycle shed.”
  • “Fund signalizing the intersection of 1st Avenue N/Thomas Street and contribute to funding a traffic signal at Dexter Avenue N/Thomas Street to facilitate walk-in trips to the Arena.”
  • “Provide bicycle parking and end-of-trip facilities that are highly accessible (close to entrances), safe and secure (high quality and located in well-lit locations). Contract to provide temporary bike valet parking for large events ensuring sufficient bike parking as now required in City of Seattle Ordinance 125558.”
  • “Fund crosswalk improvements including better light and paint at the mid-block of Queen Anne Avenue between Mercer St and Republican Avenue where Metro D line has a stop.”
  • “Subsidize transit trips for event ticketholders (Metro, Monorail and Sound Transit) as is commonplace for other major sporting destinations in Seattle.”
  • “Use Multi-Modal Level of Service (MMLOS) for intersections in the study area as the basis for mitigations to ensure private vehicle throughput is not prioritized at the expense of other modes.”
  • “Implement shuttles or circulator routes and incentives connecting to parking in South Lake Union, Denny Triangle or downtown similar to those used for UW games.”

In the DEIS, several of these issues are addressed directly. The Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) suggests, for instance, that OVG facilitate pedestrian flows through the 1st Ave N/Thomas St and 1st Ave N/John St intersections by installing new traffic signals with all-way walk (pedestrian scrambles). However, SDCI also suggests that the intersections could simply be manually controlled instead. Meanwhile, SDCI has proposed a goal of managing just 1% of the arena transportation demand through short-term bicycle spaces (about 200) and a mixture of other possible strategies such as unattended racks, a bicycle valet program, and OVG coordinating with bikeshare companies. That’s a far cry from the 12.5% that the advocates are pushing for.

Regarding the “horizon year gap” issue, the advocates note that the DEIS does not address the time period between 2020 and 2035 in great detail for ongoing actions, despite the fact that there will be substantial local changes in circumstances that could directly affect the arena’s operations (e.g., a new high school at Seattle Center, major redevelopment in Uptown, and continuing cross-city transportation demands). Noting the major challenges (and opportunities) that will exist between 2020 and the opening of light rail in 2035, the advocates suggest front-loading many transportation mitigation measures to achieve high rates of walking, biking, and transit use during that period.

More than a dozen individuals associated with the Belltown Community Council, Queen Anne Community Council, Cascade Bicycle, Feet First, and Seattle Neighborhood Greenways co-signed the letter, an indication that there may be broad unity amongst various groups on how OVG should manage transportation in the years ahead for a renovated Seattle Center Arena. Later this year, we will see what ultimately ends up in the FEIS and how OVG will be responsible for delivering transportation improvements and management to the Uptown and surrounding areas.

Title image rendering of the Seattle Center Arena courtesy of Oak View Group.

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Stephen is an urban planner with a passion for promoting sustainable, livable, and diverse cities. He advocates for smart policies, regulations, and implementation programs that enhance urban environments by committing to quality design, accommodating growth, providing a diversity of housing choices, and adequately providing public services. Stephen primarily writes about land use and transportation issues.

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