January Urbanist Meetup to Highlight the Push to Lid I-5

A rendering of what a future I-5 lid could look like. (Credit: Central Hills Triangle Collaborative)

So much of 2020 was about just holding on, so let’s start 2021 with a big, bold idea like healing the giant rift in out city and covering the I-5 freeway that cuts it in two! If that sound interesting to you, then please join us at our January 12th meetup from 6:15pm to 7:30pm where we will be joined by Lid I-5, a grassroots organization dedicated to reclaiming space from freeway trenches starting with I-5 in Downtown Seattle.

The group is run by working people who are volunteering their time because they believe in creating a more livable, equitable, and sustainable Seattle. Among them is Natalie Bicknell, senior reporter at The Urbanist, and Scott Bonjukian, my predecessor as programming director who also wrote his planning school thesis on lidding I-5.

Beyond reconnecting our city, Lid I-5 has many reasons for advocating to cover the freeway: Downtown, Capitol Hill, and First Hill are 3.5% of Seattle’s land area but are absorbing 29% of population growth. Lidding I-5 is likely the only opportunity to catch up on much-needed affordable housing sites, public open space, civic facilities like schools and community centers, and other public and private infrastructure.

The I-5 freeway is a major environmental issue, with significant noise, air pollution, and visual impacts to people who live and work nearby–lids reduce these impacts. Lids will also enable more people to live, work, shop, and play in walkable urban neighborhoods and drive less, contributing to Seattle’s 2050 carbon neutrality goal. Lidding the freeway will also create much needed land in our central city to support more parks, housing, and jobs.

An aerial view of Downtown Seattle with the I-5 trench capped by green space, mid-rise housing, and a few towers, too.
Lid I-5 envisions green space and housing where once only concrete and automobiles roamed. (Lid I-5 Seattle)

Freeway lids are possible; they’ve been done dozens of times across the country and locally (see Lid I-5’s map here). In Seattle it’s an idea that has been tossed around for years but has more recently taken a few steps towards reality with a City-funded feasibility study. In addition, the I-5 Systems Partnership is guiding a discussion among public agencies about the future of the I-5 corridor. The freeway is over 50 years old and seismically vulnerable. It is possible the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) will pursue a major rehabilitation on the Seattle section. Lid I-5 argues Seattle should be ready with a community plan before any major freeway work so public benefits can be coordinated and leveraged. (Learn more and get involved at lidi5.org and check out our past lid coverage here.)

They will be talking about their vision and taking your questions. This monthly social event is free, all ages, and open to everyone. Call in if you want to meet other people who care about our city, network, or hear from an inspirational speaker. The line opens a 6:15pm for networking and discussion and the speaker starts at 6:30pm. We hope you can join us!

Watch the video from our meetup here:

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Patrick grew up across the Puget Sound from Seattle and use to skip school to come hang out in the city. He is an designer at a small architecture firm with a strong focus on urban infill housing. He is passionate about design, housing affordability, biking, and what makes cities so magical. He works to advocate for abundant and diverse housing options and for a city that is a joy for people on bikes and foot. He lives in the Othello neighborhood with his fiance and kitty.

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Daniel Thompson

Doesn’t Seattle have a lid over I-5 called Freeway park that was created when the convention center was built with regional funding?

The irony is I don’t think the appetite — especially at this time — is high to build a lid for more housing, and that housing would be very, very expensive when the cost of the land (i.e. lid) is combined with new construction, when more affordable housing is what is needed that can be built in areas of downtown Seattle that don’t require a lid over a freeway.

Seattle is currently spending quite a bit to complete the waterfront park area, and most of its parks are inhabited by homeless right now. The recent 22% decline in rents in high end Seattle housing might scare off developers from committing to a lid over I-5, and I think some kind of buy in would be necessary before Seattle or the region take on such an expensive project, except the housing would be very exclusive if it were to attract major developers. ( I also don’t know what kind of weight limits are allowed over a freeway in order to support tall buildings vs. a park which has much less weight per sf, and would require less structural integrity. At least I don’t see any buildings in Freeway Park).

What I don’t understand is why Urbanists want to put parks in the downtown core where the housing density should be greatest, and upzone the residential neighborhoods which destroys the lot vegetation that makes Seattle’s residential neighborhoods not so urban. It is like Seattle is the opposite of European cities: rather than concentrate the housing and population density, along with retail density, in the city core, we abandon the downtown core and then upzone the residential neighborhoods. It is like Detroit urbanism light.

Douglas Trumm

European cities do have parks downtown… ? That’s a bizarre notion of urbanism to not put parks near density. Most Seattle redevelopment ends up replacing parking lots, strip malls, drive-thrus, and one or two-story buildings rather than groves of trees. It’s good urbanism to densify near our large parks out in the neighborhoods and add a major park Downtown.

The feasibility study answered the question of what structures the lid could support and found low- and mid-rise buildings atop the lid would be feasible. Details here: https://www.theurbanist.org/2019/09/27/lidding-i-5-declared-technically-feasible/


Don’t put housing on the lid. Downtown desperately needs open park space. The 75% of single family zoned area around the city needs to be up-zoned before we talk about squeezing even more housing in an area that needs greenery and open space.

Daniel Thompson

Interesting idea. The feasibility study suggested an annual debt service of $130 million at the high end, that could be offset by revenue from developers for housing. The less green the space the less compelling such an idea is. The first photo suggests Central Park, but the second photo with the housing suggests something from Bellevue.

The other issue is the congestion lids cause. Any tunnel effectively slows traffic, and we see that already under the convention center. It is hard to imagine I-5 being any more congested, or being any more poorly designed, but this is a major interstate for freight and mobility.

If the goal is a park it is a fantasy, but a pretty fantasy. Maybe address Seattle’s bridges first, then look at a lid.


Mercer Island got a park lid. Far more people live in First Hill than in the section of Mercer Island near the lid, even if they may not be as wealthy.

In any case, it best option is probably a hybrid. Some park space, some housing. The cost might not be as high as we think if it’s coordinated with a WSDOT rebuild that needs to happen anyway as aging structures reach their end-of-life.