Freeway Park Revamp Is Ahead, Latest Concepts Unveiled


Seattle Parks and Recreation and the Freeway Park Association began their open house and survey this week for the planned Freeway Park improvements. This open house follows up and reflects the results of a previous public outreach phase from this past October. The park consists of a half dozen or so areas, four of which are the subject of the open house.

Project background and open house concepts

  • Park areas traced in black will be prioritized. Note that areas bordered by blue are owned by other parties and will see limited improvement. (City of Seattle)
  • Upper Lawns priorities. (City of Seattle)
  • Upper Lawns priorities. (City of Seattle)
  • Pigott Corridor priorities. (City of Seattle)
  • Pigott Corridor priorities. (City of Seattle)
  • 8th Avenue priorities. (City of Seattle)
  • 8th Avenue priorities. (City of Seattle)
  • Seneca Plaza priorities. (City of Seattle)
  • Seneca Plaza priorities. (City of Seattle)

Spearheaded by Jim Ellis, Freeway Park was the first park to lid a segment of freeway. Now surrounded by a sea of construction in neighboring First Hill, and Downtown, the 5.2-acre park is getting upgrades alongside the expanding convention center.

Approaching its fifth decade of service to the local and convention-going communities, the green and concrete park is in need of repairs. On top of repairs, the parks department is hoping to restore and possibly improve the park’s original features.

The improvements are being funded by $10 million received by Seattle Parks and Recreation from the Washington State Convention Center Expansion Project. $9.25 million will be slated for capital improvements to the park. The rest of the budget will be used for activation/events inside the park.

Seattle Parks and Recreation is prioritizing improvements to signage, planting, accessibility, entrances, programming, and services; repairs to drainage, irrigation, and seating; and the possible additions of restrooms, play-safe fountains, and permanent storage.

Themes of lighting, directional or informational signage, and plantings are a clear focus to the parks department. From my own time in the park, I too have noticed the lack of lighting and clear signage. It was also clear that the plant life could use some help. When I recently explored the park, the Box Gardens were especially underutilized for planting.

Conceptual signage that could be added to the park. (City of Seattle)

The open house also highlights the Upper Lawns, Pigott Corridor, 8th Avenue Entrance, and Seneca Plaza. In line with the core themes of the improvements, upgrades to theses areas relate to accessibility, green space, and visibility. The most impressive suggestion is a new staffed park building with restrooms and storage in Seneca Plaza.

The Box Gardens still need attention

The Box Gardens appears in need of the most improvements, as it seems to be the most neglected part of the park. More mention of the gardens was made during the first open house round last year, but it seems to have mostly disappeared from the current one.

As described in the presentation of the first open house, the original intent of the Box Gardens was to be the iconic feature connecting the park above to the interstate below. It was supposed to have lush planting juxtaposed to concrete structures. Today, much of that planting is lacking or untended.

Taken in the southern most half of the Box Garden. It’s most isolated from the park and little tending seems to been done.

Effective abandonment is admitted in that presentation. The first survey brought up ideas of a small dog park or skate park, art or light installations, expanded land areas, or a new planting scheme, but those seems to have fallen away as concepts.

As it reaches down into I-5, the Box Gardens might be the most visible part of Freeway Park. Personally, I think it should be revitalized with the rest the park rather than be a forgotten element. Doing so will ensure that the whole project thrives, as the city’s first lid project did so many years ago.

This park revitalization project on balance could help serve as a model for potential future lid projects. However, Lid I-5 still has a way to go before breaking ground as it is still in the planning process and is now transitioning into its detailed design phase. Be sure to give any of your own feedback to the online open house survey that will be open through August 5th. Additional details can also be found on the online open house.

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Shaun Kuo is a junior editor at The Urbanist and a recent graduate from the UW's Jackson School. He is a Seattle native that has lived in Wallingford, Northgate, and Lake Forest Park. He enjoys exploring the city by bus and foot.

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Al Dimond

“… the original intent of the Box Gardens was to be the iconic feature connecting the park above to the interstate below. It was supposed to have lush planting juxtaposed to concrete structures…”

All the stuff about the Box Gardens hinges on whether the “original intent” was ever possible. I’d say no. There’s no such thing as connecting the park to the freeway. The freeway isn’t anything to connect to. It adds noise and pollution that discourage long stays in the park itself, and as you walk into the park from the sidewalk you’re walking toward the noise. The park itself is hemmed in, surrounded on all sides by roads; even on adjacent blocks the excess noise and traffic drives away human activity. The freeway doesn’t even really clear out a particularly interesting view corridor, by Seattle’s high standards. The truth here is the truth of almost all freeway lid projects: the freeway is a great detriment to the park, not an asset. The park, even if you think its plantings are subpar, does actually provide to the freeway — you see it and you know you are somewhere. Driving into it from the south in particular feels more intimate and humane than driving on a freeway normally does. The balance of give and take suggests it should be WSDOT paying, not Seattle, and certainly not the parks department.

The parts of Freeway Park that work for people on the ground give back some of what the freeway takes away. They provide ways over and under busy roads and interchanges, stitching together the broken urban fabric. They block out a bit of the noise — they get a little quieter as you walk into them, away from the arterial roads and openings to the freeway. They provide meaningful human-scale detail. The Box Gardens just don’t have those opportunities. Except as a viewing piece for freeway drivers.

Sure, occasionally a freeway overlook park is full of life. Steinbrueck Park was, even when the viaduct roared. So what about Steinbrueck Park? Well… it had a freeway overlook on one side but awesome views on that side to draw you in. The surrounding area is full of people on foot, a lot of whom are in immediate need of a place to sit down and eat something. Steinbrueck Park didn’t overcome the noise and smells of the viaduct because of great design (the Box Gardens are a much cooler design!), it did so because of its relationship to its surroundings. The Box Gardens area isn’t like that. The surrounding roads are more imposing — not just the freeway but the arterials and ramps to the freeway and convention center garage. There aren’t as many people walking around looking for a place to stop and rest. The view isn’t all that compelling.

What can the Box Gardens even be for people on the ground? A buffer. Maybe they cast a little shade on the sidewalk, shield a little noise. Other than that they don’t have a lot to do with the rest of Freeway Park.

Ott Toomet

I have been in the Freeway Part only a couple of times but I like your analysis.
It is too noisy, and too much out-of-way. Extending the freeway lid will probably help a bit, but it is still very much out-of-way, and on top of that it is also quite hilly area. One can still consider lidding a bit more of I-5, and building more first-floor businesses around this are, but I don’t think there are easy ways to make it into a great place to be. But it may still be a useful and a bit quieter connector for some.

Mike dL (@mjgdl81)

Freeway Park was designed by Lawrence Halprin’s office under the supervision of Angela Danadjieva, no?