Envisioning a Car-Free Aurora Avenue

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A modern tram runs along grass in Nice with midrise building and trees flanking.
The tramway in Nice, depicted here on Boulevard François Mitterrand, offers an example of what a car-free Aurora Avenue could look like. (Credit: Kurt Rasmussen, Creative Commons)

Livability would flourish in surrounding neighborhoods if cars were removed from one of Seattle’s deadliest and most polluted streets.

Today’s Aurora Avenue in Seattle is a wall, a loud, dangerous, polluted wall that divides communities. However, solving Aurora’s problems also provide an exciting opportunity to rethink sustainable mobility, undertake visionary climate protection, add ample social housing, and provide much needed high quality open space.

Doing so would require a bold change: removing car traffic from Aurora and replacing it with tramways, bike lanes, and parks and plazas at intersections.

A satellite image shows SR-99 bisecting North Seattle.
A highway runs through it. (Image via google maps)

Critics might say that such a change is impossible, but cities the world over are re-thinking mobility in the midst of changing work patterns due to Covid, our worsening climate crisis, and the pedestrian safety crisis. Visionary Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo is in the process of removing half of the on-street parking spaces and converting them to parks, wider sidewalks, and bike lanes. Cities from large to small are developing plans to remove cars, while simultaneously increasing livability and mobility. Amsterdam, which was choked with traffic in the 60s and 70s, is at the forefront of this — but they aren’t stopping with where they are today. The Agenda Amsterdam Autoluw (Autoluw is Dutch for nearly car-free) includes incredible transformations — both underway, and in planning — to make space for green mobility, eliminate thousands of on-street parking spaces, and ensure a healthier and cleaner city for present and future residents.

The International Panel on Climate Change report released in August also highlighted how climate change is, at this point, inevitable. Drastic courses of action will be needed to slow the extent of warming, as well as mitigate and ruggedize against unavoidable long-term effects. Seattle’s heat dome may no longer be an anomaly — wildfire smoke now has its own season — and we are constantly reminded of the devastation that downpours can do — Germany’s floods from this summer alone will cost $35 billion for recovery.

A graphic shows cars becomes a much smaller share of transportation and walking, biking, and transit becomes larger.
The Mobility Transition requires a rethinking about movement of goods and people, towards sustainable modes of transportation. This is the Essen, Germany’s adopted goal. (Credit: City of Essen)

Unfortunately, Seattle’s own climate goals will continue to be missed with a mayor and transportation department that continue to prioritize the least sustainable form of transportation over efficiency and livability. Seattle is in the midst of a massive housing crisis, and a deepening climate crisis, exacerbated by our city’s inability to meet our climate goals. The main reason we are unable to meet our climate goals is private transportation. Simply replacing combustion engine vehicles with electric vehicles does nothing to address the worsening pedestrian safety crisis, the embodied carbon of parking and sprawl, rampant noise pollution, or the die-off of salmon populations. Without a re-visioning around sustainable movement of goods and people, Aurora Avenue will stand as a stark memorial — much as the SR-99 tunnel does — of failed leadership on climate action and safe, livable streets.

The current situation sets up a future environmental justice disaster

There are four Urban Villages (UVs) that straddle or abut Aurora Avenue — Fremont, Wallingford, Aurora-Licton Springs, and Bitter Lake. Greenwood’s UV boundary is just a few blocks to the west. These UVs all have massive deficiencies of park and open space, with almost no major spaces planned to be added in the future. However, much of the land on either blockface of Aurora is zoned for buildings 55 feet to 75 feet in height. Thus, as Aurora continues to develop, it will see five- to seven-story buildings along either side. Unlike in walkable European and Asian cities, this density steps down quickly to low-rise and single-family housing. An Aurora with fully developed buildings on either side would put thousands of residents directly facing an incredibly dangerous street on which few given the choice would prefer to live.

Two teens walk along the edge of Aurora with no sidewalk and streams of cars going by.
Pedestrians walking on Aurora Avenue where sidewalks do not exist. (Credit: Lee Bruch)

Nearly half of Aurora Avenue doesn’t have sidewalks. It is also one of the noisiest streets in Seattle. Motorists routinely drive double the speed limit, and it remains one of the deadliest streets in the city with yet another deadly crash just last week. All of this occurs with six elementary schools, two middle schools, four high schools, several private schools, and at least 30 preschools and daycare centers within a half mile of the road. Our families avoid walking or biking on it due to its numerous problems, and trying to cross in the handful of places where it is actually legal requires waiting several minutes. I personally can’t imagine living on Aurora. Simply adding tens of thousands of new residents on it, as many people advocated for during Housing Affordability Livability Agenda (HALA) outreach a few years back — without addressing the pollution, noise, and safety impacts, let alone its inaccessibility, will do nothing to make for future livable neighborhoods in the corridor. Instead, business patrons, children and families frequenting nearby schools, and new residents will be situated in an environmental justice disaster. There is, however, another way forward.

This is the current design of Aurora Avenue. With two bus only lanes, four general traffic lanes and one median / turn lane, the absolute limit for sidewalks is a 90-foot width. The result is sidewalks that are narrow, interrupted by utility poles and create no safety. Nobody wants to walk on Aurora Avenue today. (Credit: Ryan DiRaimo)

Today, there are parts of Aurora that see less daily traffic than Holman Road, or even Greenwood Avenue. The Seattle Department of Transportation’s 2019 Traffic Flow map shows that much of the northern section handle only 20,000 cars per day, each way, a number that could be moved every two hours on a light rail or RapidRide line. 

But what if we flipped the script? What could Aurora Avenue look like in the context of a 15-Minute City? What if we used this upcoming re-visioning process as an opportunity to reverse the deleterious effects of Aurora’s status quo? The community may be envisioning fewer lanes — but how many are actually needed? What if I told you the right amount of general purpose lanes for a climate-resilient avenue, is zero? A car-free, tree-lined Aurora Avenue; running from downtown Seattle to Shoreline, with bike lanes and center-running, grass-filled tramways, space for plazas and parks at intersections. This would be a massive game changer. It would dramatically improve walkability and livability for all the adjoining and straddling neighborhoods. This is what it could look like…

A rendering shows a light rail line down the middle of Aurora with grass between the tracks, trees to the side and a two-way protected bike lane to the side.
Without cars, suddenly there is enough space to create pedestrian comfort, plant trees and landscaping, build bike lanes, and offer outdoor seating. By upgrading the corridor to light rail, this avenue can now move twice as many people per day, doing so sustainably, and creating an avenue people want to be on. (Credit: Ryan DiRaimo)

Car-free Aurora: a statement for positive climate transformation

The future could be a dense, green corridor prioritizing sustainable mobility, re-stitching existing neighborhoods and accommodating new and growing ones, providing ample jobs with a strong economic and social mix of residents. It would be a sustainable neighborhood development found in places like Tokyo or Europe, but non-existent in the United States. Vibrant and distinctive, the new Aurora could provide needed urban amenities for new and existing residents and businesses. This proposal is not unique. Seattle Subway proposed a light rail line on Aurora several years ago, referencing the E-line’s daily ridership of 18,000 passengers, as well as the corridor’s 33,000 total passengers. The RapidRide E Line is the bus with the highest ridership in Washington.

Such a transformation would take a corridor that is difficult and dangerous to cross, and drastically improve accessibility for pedestrians and those using other wheeled modes of transportation such as scooters, wheelchairs, and bicycles. It would provide ample places to eat outdoors, without the continuous drone of traffic or eating exhaust with your enchiladas. It would enable residents to get their children to daycare or school without navigating an inhospitable environment, or having to wait longer than two minutes just to cross dangerous intersections. It would encourage middle school and high school students to safely and independently get to and from school. Imagine walking to drop off your kiddo at daycare, hopping on a tram line, and being whisked quickly into downtown.

This is what daily life is like in many cities Americans love to travel to, and we could have this, too! A car-free Aurora would be a dramatic change from the status quo. It would be a statement for a climate positive transformation. Broad sidewalks, without being marauded by motors. Bike lanes and a grass-lined streetcar, connecting Shoreline to Seattle’s streetcar and bike networks downtown. Effective stormwater management. Open space, where none exists. It would mean incredible opportunities for businesses, cafes and restaurants to spill out into the neighborhoods. It could mean thousands of trees providing ample shade in summer and helping to clean the air, while mitigating the urban heat island effect. It would be peaceful, tranquil, and incredibly livable.

Believe it or not, people are risking their lives by biking, rolling, and riding scooters on Aurora Avenue already. We shouldn’t relegate them to the bus only lane and create traffic for those using transit, nor should we leave them in unprotected danger on Seattle’s deadliest street. (Credit: Ryan DiRaimo)

Designing a car-free Aurora would necessitate a re-working to accommodate logistics, but major cities from Tokyo to Zurich have shown deliveries can be timed in order to work well with pedestrianized and car-free streets. Perhaps we could even see logistics via tramway, as was recently piloted in Frankfurt. To accommodate the north-south movement of rapid transit, most east-west intersections would remain open to bikes and pedestrians, but cars would be limited to arterials. This does a beautiful thing — it stops cutting through neighborhoods, effectively turning the ends of these neighborhood streets intersecting Aurora Avenue into community amenities — a true opportunity to re-democratize segments of our public right of way. Farmers markets, playgrounds, spray parks, petanque courts, food markets spilling out onto plazas, pea patches, dog parks — the ideas are numerous — could all be added. Naturally, the City should work with developers and residents to cooperatively plan such a future.

A Street Classification diagram, showing car-free Aurora Ave, as well as breakdown of east-west streets and types of mobility envisioned on them. (Credit: Mike Eliason)

We need to be thinking about reorienting the city streets and neighborhoods to be more resilient to climate change, especially with over a million more people moving to the region in the next few decades. At last count, over 1,000 homes are currently planned and under construction on this stretch of Aurora Avenue. We must prioritize sustainable mobility, while improving health outcomes and livability for all residents — both current and future.

A car-free Aurora Avenue could, in effect, be a vibrant linear park, leading the way to the very transformations we need to meet out climate goals. Cities change. Streets change. Unfortunately, our climate is also changing. We can and must change our city as fast as Amsterdam changed itself in the 1960s, or how Paris is changing itself, today.

A better world — and a better Aurora Avenue — is possible.

Disclaimer: Ryan DiRaimo is a founding core member of the Aurora Reimagined Coalition (ARC), but the contributions to this article are not a representation of ARC’s community-led vision. ARC is envisioning a future for Aurora that has support of neighbors and businesses, to reimagine a safe future for the road. For more about ARC and how to get involved, visit www.got99problems.org to learn about the coalition’s active pursuit for change.

We hope you loved this article. If so, please consider subscribing or donating. The Urbanist is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit that depends on donations from readers like you.

Mike is a dad, writer, and mass timber architect with a passion for passivhaus buildings, baugruppen, social housing, livable cities, and safe car-free streets. After living in Freiburg, Mike spent 15 years raising his family - nearly car-free, in Fremont. After a brief sojourn to study mass timber buildings in Bayern, he has returned to jumpstart a baugruppe movement and help build a more sustainable, equitable, and livable Seattle. Ohne autos.

Ryan DiRaimo is a resident of the Aurora Licton-Springs Urban Village and board member of the neighborhood group ALUV. He works at an architecture firm downtown and seeks to leave a positive urban impact on Seattle and the surrounding metro. He advocates for more housing, safer streets, and mass transit infrastructure and hopes to see a city someday that is less reliant on the car.

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Jon

What would the plan look like close to the 99 tunnel? I like the idea, in just trying to picture where traffic would be routed to if all of aurora was converted.

Ryan DiRaimo

Turn it into a light rail tunnel. That tunnel for cars & trucks was a failure from day 1. The projections of 97,000 cars a day at a toll of $2.50 per use will never come to fruition. Pre-pandemic the toll was $1 and it carried 56,000 cars a day. Almost 80% under projections.

Ryan

Thanks for writing this article. It’s a lovely idea. I have some concerns on shutting off vehicle traffic through the tunnel:

Without cars through the tunnel, how do residents living in Ballard, Fremont, Queen Anne, Magnolia, etc escape to the south? Surface streets to I5, then sit in traffic past downtown? The big perk of Seattle for me (and I think many others) is the accessibility of the outdoors. Cutting off the major access corridor to Snoqualmie Pass seems detrimental, and I can’t figure out who gains. I90 past downtown, whether via tunnel or viaduct, is an important release valve for many to get out of the city. Curious to hear your thoughts.

Susan REDD

18Sept2021. Nice, France, has an boulevard named after its former president, Francois MitterRand. Two r’s & two t’s. […Nice, depicted here on Boulevard François Mitterand,]

Robin Luethe
Aurora speed limits are just to high, they should be reduced to no more than 35 mph, and camera enforced (lower fines though- intent is to reduce speed not make money). It is one of two north south avenues available for the whole city, and the only one not a freeway. I do not think it can or should be be eliminated as a roadway. 
RDPence

This is a wonderful idea. Critics worry about the impacts on vehicle traffic, but that can easily be accommodated on I-5, 15th, and Greenwood~ streets we know are devoid of traffic congestion.
Let’s congratulate the visionaries who brought such brilliance to us.

Bryan

“The Alaskan Way Viaduct carried 90,000 cars a day before it was shut down. Where did they all go? Since the closure of Highway 99 through Seattle on Jan. 11, commute times have been slightly above average — but have fallen far short of the most dire predictions. And fewer cars and trucks than normal have been traveling on the region’s other major highways.”

‘The cars just disappeared’: What happened to the 90,000 cars a day the viaduct carried before it closed? Originally published January 24, 2019 at 6:00 am Updated February 20, 2019 at 4:14 pm
[Seatte Times]

RDPence

Working at home due to COVID caused a lot of traffic to “just disappear “

Bryan

That was pre-COVID – early 2019.

Ryan DiRaimo

induced demand is undefeated. feel free to debunk the theory, you will win an academic award if you can.

RDPence

Demand on Aurora Ave is not being “induced”; it’s already there!!

Billt47

Your vision is lovely. But the question that came to me is, why did you pick Aurora for this proposal? And I think the answer is, because Aurora as it is provides the most dramatic contrast to set it against.

But for the same reasons, it is also the most problematic. A lot of the drivers now using Aurora are not likely to jump onto fixed-route transit. Where will they go instead? And then there are all the vehicles carrying freight, not passengers. Where will the trucks go?

Ryan DiRaimo

The Freight Master Plan shows a lot of north/south routes for Seattle. Not sure why they need Aurora too.

London moves freight without any highways. Same with Vancouver.

We chose Aurora because it’s central to 4 of the city’s planned urban villages to provide density and assets to. It currently holds the bus line with the #1 ridership figure in the whole state, and doesn’t even register in SDOT’s top 10 streets for carrying most car traffic.

I appreciate you liking the plan!

RDPence

Aurora is a major freight route because it is a through highway (99), Snohomish County to south King County. No stoplights from N 65th to Georgetown. Quite unlike “a lot of north/south routes.”

Ryan DiRaimo

use I-5. most freight does anyway.

RDPence

Oh, of course. With no motor vehicles on Aurora, I-5 should be free-flowing for all those trucks, correct?

NoMoreTraffic

I see zero chance of a ‘light-rail’ being brought onto Aurora being as there’s one already just several blocks away at Northgate or Roosevelt. A trolley system like the two downtown would make more sense, but then why have an E Line at all at that point?

The bigger issue I see is even when you try to cross legally, cross traffic from both left and right still almost hit you as a pedestrian. To fix this they need diagonal crossing and pedestrian only crossing to make things safer.

Also, for better traffic flow in the southern part of the corridor, they need to make either an under-road bridge or an over-road pedestrian bridge for what is currently road-grade crossing at 67th Street and Aurora which does nothing but cause traffic back-ups. Everywhere else has a pedestrian bridge on Aurora, so why not here?

As somebody who lives in a neighborhood (Greenwood) adjacent to Aurora, especially those by major cross-streets (105th for example) we need to stop the ability for people to turn off Aurora into residential streets between the major arterial streets, as many times they speed up and down residential streets using them like they are short-cut to speed in where families and children live.

Ryan DiRaimo

There is nothing wrong with redundancy for transit. The E line takes 18,000 riders a day (#1 in the whole state) and the D line is just a few blocks away (same issue you bring up for light rail) and it carries 15,000 a day (#2 in the Metro system)

So clearly there is no issue with redundancy.

New York City’s subway lines are literally like 2 blocks from each other.

I think upgrading the E line to Link would be a huge success.

MavisJ

The redundancy is that we already have Rapid Ride along the Aurora corridor, which in my experience works beautifully. Far better to spend the big money on a corridor like Ballard/U-District which currently doesn’t have very good transit options.

Ryan DiRaimo

Link cars carry 800 passengers each. At 5 minute intervals that’s 9,600 per hour. Rapid Ride buses carry half that total. You’d need to run them every 2 minutes just to match the light rail capacity. Plus, the light rail frequency could be increased and blow any bus line out of the water.

I’m not opposed, however, with keeping this design and swapping a light rail for a paved bus. It can be done.

Ryan DiRaimo

Also, I agree about the through-traffic. We need to push all entry off Aurora to arterials like 80th or 85th or 105th. Everything else should be a one-way out from the neighborhood, with curbs and signage.

The neighborhood through traffic would then be pushed more to parallel roads like Linden Ave. That would cut all those issues out you mention.

I’m a big fan of that suggestion even if the road is not pedestrianized like we proposed here. Vancouver BC does this all over BC Highway 7

asdf2

Let’s start with some simple improvements first. Make the curb lane a bus lane throughout all of Aurora, rather than just some of it. Add more crosswalks and fill in the missing sidewalks. Then, retime the lights for shorter cycles – this not only reduces wait time for crossing, but also all but eliminates speeding, as anyone trying to drive 100 mph will simply get stuck at red lights.

These are all practical improvements which have a much better chance of actually happening than just eliminating all of the cars on it all at once.

Ryan DiRaimo

Yeah let’s never vision anything and just settle for the sad reality that cars must have priority on every street in the city, an ideology that’s only 60 years old, but seems to be so rooted in people’s minds they think the Duwamish Tribe paved roads like Aurora for cars.

asdf2

I agree with your vision, the fewer cars the better. The problem is that the median voter isn’t anywhere near there yet, and any politician who seriously pushes for a car-free Aurora would be quickly voted out. I think it’s better to focus our energy on improvements that are more politically feasible, such as making the cars on Aurora less detrimental to walking by slowing speeds and adding crosswalks. I would also like to see far more diverters installed to deter cut-through drivers from using neighborhood streets to avoid stoplights.

Ryan DiRaimo

I am not running for office

asdf2

“Yeah let’s never vision anything and just settle for the sad reality that cars must have priority on every street in the city”

I definitely agree we should not just settle for that sad reality. It’s just a question of how we get there. Considering that every city has to have at least some car/truck traffic in order to function, we need to decide which streets motor vehicles should be routed on and plan accordingly. To the extent that we need to have *some* streets for cars, that car street may as well being Aurora – we can remove cars from other, narrower streets instead. This does not, of course, mean that car priority on Aurora needs to be absolute. More crosswalks can and should be built. Sidewalks can and should be widened. And rush-hour-only bus lanes can be converted to red-paint 24-hour bus lanes.

RDPence

I’m afraid your thinking is much too sane and rational for this thread, asdf2.

Justin

I like the vision of a car-free Aurora, but you’re right: there’s lots of smaller improvements we need right now. Example: I used to take the E to 130th to go grocery shopping, and would then have to walk on the shoulder next to three lanes of traffic going 40+ because there’s no sidewalk. And I wasn’t the only one, there are plenty of pedestrians in the area.

Sam

If there were no words to this post, only concept drawings, and I was asked what was going on, I’d say it’s an idea to gentrify Aurora.

Ryan DiRaimo

Or prevent people from being killed on it. Aurora has the most deaths of any street in Seattle.

Also, it’s changing the road, not the buildings. If people want to buy lots and build, that’s okay. It’s already happening anyway on this corridor with over 1,000 new homes being built on or near it as-is. Many are affordable housing projects too.

Not sure how that’s gentrifying. I also don’t think flipping a junk yard, empty lot or used car lot to housing is gentrifying anything. Doesn’t some wealthy family own most of the land along Aurora anyway?

NoMoreTraffic

Aurora is so deadly half the time because people don’t cross at the cross-walks. There is a lack of enforcement for jay-walking across a six lane highway for some reason.

There’s also the issue that even when you do try to use a legal crosswalk, you nearly get hit by people still attempting to turn left or right during your cross. This would be alleviated similar to how I’ve seen some Capital Hill crosswalks that are either a) diagonal or b) have a protected time for all pedestrians to cross while all four lanes of car traffic are stopped (including turn lanes)

67th traffic issues/flow would also be better if 67th/Aurora near Green Lake was made into a pedestrian bridge instead of a regular cross-walk. Everywhere else on Aurora has a pedestrian bridge, so why is the one bad glaring example without one?

Justin

I imagine it would be better to put an over/underpass at 65th since that’s where the BRT stop is. An at-grade crossing might be better though; most of the overpasses get very little use. When I lived on Aurora I used the crosswalks instead of the overpasses 90% of the time.

Last edited 1 month ago by Justin
Andrew

Isn’t part of the solution here to add more crosswalks? (or other solutions like pedestrian refuges?)

Nicholas

This plan has noble goals (safer streets, less auto-centric spaces) but I’m also getting gentrification vibes. There are types of businesses along northern Aurora that are getting priced out of other parts of Seattle. Paint stores, equipment rental, lumber yard, mechanics and autobody shops. Even cheap motels where long-haul drivers spend the night. This vision of a car-less Aurora seems to imply that these businesses are unsavory parts of a community and should disappear or go elsewhere, which is an ungenerous attitude.

Ryan DiRaimo

That’s happening regardless. Klose Motel, Golds Gym, and My Mechanic have all been bulldozed and replaced with an affordable housing project and 2 giant self storage facilities.

Was that gentrification? Happened with no zoning change on Aurora and no redesign effort.

Andrew

Ryan, I wanted to begin by saying I checked out your website on the Aurora coalition, and I was impressed by the actions and dreams you’ve shown there.

I don’t think you can entirely brush off the worries about gentrification the way you do here. To state my worry (which I’ve tried to put into the right words for the last 24 hours), people living on the margins have the least resources to deal with change in an empowered way. This is a transformative vision, involving huge changes. Which may result in current residents and workers in the area not receiving the benefits of such a proposal, if they are unable to keep up.

How are you planning on ensuring that the changes you are advocating works for the majority of people who live and work there?

Ryan DiRaimo

Numerous affordable housing projects are on Aurora right now, and more are in the pipe line. I don’t think giving them a safe corridor that is quieter, cleaner, and more pedestrian and bike friendly is a bad thing.

Alternatively, if you think the current Aurora design is good at stopping gentrification, how can you defend the safety record of it? Is it more valuable to kill people and avoid any invested change?

I am not trying to be combative I promise. I’m just trying to understand if the theory here is to leave it as a loud, dangerous, menacing road for the sake of avoiding gentrification. And I guess making those people struggling have to suffer living on it.

A Joy

I’m not sure I’d call a long walkway and/or grassy tramway “high quality open space” or even any kind of “quality open space”. Is it better than the concrete morass that Aurora currently is? Sure. But long, skinny strips of green space with a handful of ornamental trees aren’t going to significantly reduce carbon emissions or heat domes. Those cars will simply move to other streets, and if they are nearby streets the health of those living on Aurora isn’t going to improve by much if at all.

I’m all for a car-free Aurora. But let’s not kid ourselves or engage in unhelpful hyperbole. It isn’t going to result in a single additional house that wouldn’t have already been built. It lacks the shape, size, and tree type to make any meaningful dent in climate change locally or regionally. It simply isn’t a good idea. It’s just a less bad idea. That’s not going to get us out of our climate or housing messes. It’s going to be putting a single ply of gauze on arterial bleeding.

But hey, you got to pull out the old, tired, meaningless “15-Minute City” buzzword. So it wasn’t all just bloviating, right?

Ryan DiRaimo

Thanks for your very positive feedback.

I believe it will encourage more change on Aurora. And, at minimum, it will give the 1,000 new homes already under construction or planned on Aurora a safer place to live.

Bryan

I wouldn’t poo poo long narrow stretches of public space vis a vis quality of life – the Aurora picture up there says 90′ across – by comparison Las Ramblas in Barcelona is 98′ and there aren’t enough superlatives to describe its awesomeness.

Ryan DiRaimo

And 90′ is one of the narrower dimensions. It’s over 100′ and up to 120′ wide in other places. Not exactly narrow.

La Ramblas is amazing, you are right!

Ott Toomet

You are apparently thinking about some other qualities when talking about “quality open space”. This is perfectly fair. What would make this a “quality space” for me is its connectivity (unless implemented just for a few blocks in the middle of nowhere), so I can pretty conveniently move around there. It is just a different vision of “quality space”.

Phyzzi

While my first reaction to a car-free Aurora is the expected one, I think you make a reasonable case and it’s definitely something I would support if done right.

But I have to stop you at “grass lined tram”. No. Just no. First, grass is terrible. It’s not good for the environment, it needs unnecessary water to look decent in the summer, and it will be a huge hassle to keep out of the lines. It’s also a common and major allergen. Moreover, if the tram lines look like park space, they will be treated like park space and soon nobody will be willing to drive those trams because they don’t want to be the one to smack a train into a toddler, with the inevitable tragic and gruesome result. Conversely, if we decide to plant grass but not maintain it, the resulting scorched earth might be the only viable answer to “well, could Aurora look any worse?”

On the other hand, there is a grass that actually could be very useful along the tram lines, though not exactly in or between them. If bamboo were to line much of the way, it would form a pleasant natural barrier that would not need extra water and would significantly discourage people from using the space on the tracks. It could even possibly be harvested and sold periodically. While I realize that bamboo is extremely invasive and also non-native, it’s actually pretty perfect to plant in the middle of a former polluted roadway, since people won’t try to eat it, it will grow and fill available space substantially unaided, provide a dense barrier without destroying other infrastructure (as most trees would) and is fairly easy to contain as long as there isn’t adjacent soil where the bamboo is unwanted. Since Aurora is already Not Soil, it should be quite easy to design an effective way to plant, maintain, and contain bamboo. Then, if we must, we can have ground cover outside the area occupied by rail lines.

That said, I’m not stuck on Bamboo, just PLEASE no grass.

Ryan DiRaimo

Thanks! I’m glad grass is the only issue you had with it. That must mean the overall concept is well received!

Justin

Grass lawns are terrible for the environment, but there are definite benefits to green tram tracks since they decrease impermeable surface area. Of course, there’s no reason it couldn’t be done with native groundcover. But I also like your idea of adding the bamboo screening.

RON DAVIS

I was literally running on the Burke a few days ago thinking, “what if we turned Aurora into a burke + rail line?” Was thinking through the political economy, how to handle the rail crossings, the negotiations with WSDOT and how I’d like to write (something very much like this!) article. I love this.

This is the kind of transformational thinking Seattle sadly lacks at the moment. People will say it’s not realistic, or wonder where the cars will go, and will go on ignoring successful examples from around the world. All the while they will shunt black, brown and poor people onto roadways that kill them fast with collisions or slowly with soot and cook the entire biosphere for all of us.

We have to put a stop to that blinkered, racist, foolishness and bring this kind of change to Seattle.

Your post inspired me to put up a favorite quote:

“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir [women and] men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency.” – Daniel Burnham

Ryan DiRaimo

Thank you!

RON DAVIS

I thought about this more last night. One possibility I like came to mind. The removal of Aurora will create a construction mess and cost a good bit of money. But some of the necessary costs of doing so could be leveraged toward building a shallow cut/cover rail tunnel. These are generally cheaper than our deep bore tunnels and you can skip the whole fancy mezzaine level, another big source of cost.

That way, the top could be a genuine park and we’d have a cheaper/faster way to build Seattle Subway’s pink line. An added benefit is that if the stations are along the edges of the park, there would be the need to acquire some of the land alongside the road (which will inevitably be parking lots). After construction, these could be turned into affordable housing, or a portion could be sold to help pay for the construction costs/additional affordable housing.

RDPence

Shallow cut-and-cover tunnels are not cheap. They require complete reconstruction of all the wet utilities~ water, sanitary sewers, storm sewers, generally in duplicate on each side of the tunnel structure.