Lid I-5: Reconnect Seattle


Image courtesy of Patano Studio Architecture

Seattle is growing fast, and if the number of people moving here did not make that clear, the number of cranes that can be seen over our skyline does. As fast as we want to build, what limits us in Seattle is the amount of available land.

Recently, the Lid I-5 steering committee hosted a morning bicycle tour from downtown Seattle to Mercer Island and back. We were able to experience the range of freeway lids the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has built. The lids help us create more buildable land.

Photo courtesy of Scott Bonjukian

We were joined by about twenty people including Representative Nicole Macri of the 43rd Legislative District. Interstate 5 (I-5) cuts directly through the 43rd Legislative District, separating many neighborhoods that were once connected. The Lid I-5 effort is focused on Downtown for now but could expand north and south and could also consider “non-liddable” conditions, such as the Chinatown-International District to reconnect communities disconnected by the interstate.

Re-imagining how we can reconnect our neighbors along I-5 is within our grasp. The Lid I-5 campaign is inspired by numerous examples nationwide both completed and planned, ranging from Klyde Warren Park in Dallas to Capitol Crossing in Washington, DC. If we take this innovative opportunity suggested by the Lid I-5 campaign, we could have 20 acres of new public land Downtown. Land costs are rising as buildable sites diminish. Lidding provides us with a tried-and-true way to create new public space while reducing the noise and pollution which spills into neighborhoods.

Image courtesy of © SOM

You may remember the effort in 2004 put forward by Allied Arts to imagine what the waterfront could look like if re-designed. Community leaders called for a tunnel, removal of the viaduct, and a waterfront boulevard. Many people called us dreamers, but we knew then that a connected community prioritizing “green over gray” public open space is more enjoyable for all and is healthier for residents and businesses. Now, 14 years later, we can literally see the light at the end of the tunnel, and the dream for a connected waterfront where you can hear the waves instead of rumbling traffic is only months away.

Image courtesy of Patano Studio Architecture

The same opportunity is true when considering the addition of one or more lids over I-5. It may seem at first blush that we are dreaming to say we can create 20 new acres of open space Downtown, but this is a real possibility that we should take seriously. Lids are already in place on I-90 in Seattle (10.3 acres) and Mercer Island’s lid (12.3 acres) is a veritable forest now.

Image courtesy of Scott Bonjukian

Freeway Park: Beginning our bike tour at Freeway Park just south of the Convention Center we discussed current lids in the city. After experiencing the many freeway lids around the city, it is clear that improvements need to be made to Freeway Park for it to reach its full potential. Currently Freeway Park is not a complete lid and the gaps in the lid allow for noise and exhaust from traffic to overwhelm the park. This undercuts the effectiveness of the lid so much so that it was difficult to hear the two-story waterfall at the park. We need to start our work by filling these gaps in our only Downtown lid.

Image courtesy of Scott Bonjukian

Jackson Street: We stopped next at the freeway overpass on Jackson Street in the International District. This section of freeway will be difficult to address when reconnecting the neighborhood because the freeway is elevated for about 500 ft of roadway. Reconnecting the International District is critically important as it is the only neighborhood core that is cut in half by the freeway rather than other neighborhoods which are walled-off by the freeway. Unfortunately, a lid may not be the answer here, but the feel of the International District will improve when east-west re-connections are made.

Photo courtesy of Scott Bonjukian

The land over and around the I-90 Lid is divided into three parks; Judkins Park, Jimi Hendrix Park, and Sam Smith Park.

Judkins Park and Jimi Hendrix Park (I-90 lid): Our next stop was next to the Interstate 90 (I-90) lid where the Eastlink light rail stop will be located. From here you can see the open park space the lid provides the neighborhood, but the noise and vibration from the interstate makes it difficult to have conversations, even when standing near each other. This is a good example of how the lid also provides connective infrastructure for other regional projects, as the light rail station now has a larger walk-shed than would have been built as part of Sound Transit 2. Without the lid, the Northwest African American Museum would overlook lanes of travel and the Central District would be cut in half by I-90. Instead, the museum is surrounded by parks and stands out as an icon for the neighborhood.

Photo courtesy of Nakano Associates

Sam Smith Park (I-90 lid): It is hard to tell where solid ground ends and where the lid begins. The lid connects the neighborhood which would otherwise have endured narrow overpasses and subjected to all the negative externalities of the interstate. Luckily the Central District neighborhood and City of Seattle were adamant the I-90 reconstruction include a comprehensive lid. What could have become a trench echoing traffic noise and pollution is instead a pleasant park with bicycle trails and basketball courts. You can even have quiet conversations walking with your closest friend.

The pedestrian experience between Freeway Park and Sam Smith Park (atop the I-90 lid) is stark. For a peaceful environment, Sam Smith is the model to follow. Freeway Park is checker-boarded, leaving openings to the noise and vibration of I-5. Much of the space south of Seneca is not only unused but overgrown and an eyesore. Conversely, Sam Smith Park is a solid “land make” providing for a park, a playground, and walking/bicycle paths, two stories above the freeway lanes below. The space between the road and the park contains high powered fans and open-air space connecting the tunnel to vent stacks above in the park.

Photo courtesy of Scott Bonjukian

Mercer Island: After riding through the Mount Baker tunnel we crossed the I-90 bridge to Aubrey Davis Park on Mercer Island. Riding on the bridge was noisy – no practical enjoyment of the lake – yet we were solidly protected.

Leaving the noise of the bridge and arriving at Aubrey Davis Park we arrived at a half-mile long park complete with benches, tennis courts, cricket players and frisbees on the lawn, and surprising views of Lake Washington – you can almost hear the waves from the park! Yet, we were directly atop the interstate.

Aubrey Davis Park sits atop the I-90 lid and is named after the Mayor of Mercer Island (1970 – 1974) who famously declared he, “didn’t want to see, hear or smell” the I-90 expansion across Mercer Island. He and the community made that happen.

Image courtesy of Scott Boinjukian

Thanks to the work of the Lid I-5 team and public benefit money from the Convention Center, the Seattle Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) and a consultant team will begin a feasibility study of lidding parts of I-5 starting in early 2019. I am optimistic the results from this study will pave the way for next steps in design, capital funding, and eventual lid construction to heal fractured urban neighborhoods.

The feasibility study comes as WSDOT separately begins a long-term visioning process for over 100 miles of the I-5 corridor with functional challenges and seismic vulnerabilities. Some of the challenges being studied are located in downtown Seattle. If WSDOT were to rebuild I-5 downtown, we must have complete lids included in the design.

By placing lids on top of I-5, we can reconnect neighborhoods throughout the city and create as much additional open space for Seattleites as the Olmstead Brothers did. We can stitch together the fabric of our community because we know a connected community with green public open space is more enjoyable and healthier for our residents.

Thank you to Dan Strauss for his contributions to this post.

Councilmember Sawant Urges Solidarity with Striking Operating Engineers Local 302

Councilmember Kshama Sawant (District 3, Central Seattle) released the following statement in solidarity with the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 302 (which includes construction crane operators), whose members just voted to go on strike after rejecting the latest contract on the Western Washington Master Labor Agreement:

“After months of negotiations, members of Operating Engineers Local 302 have elected to go on strike in response to the nickel and diming intransigence of highly profitable contractors raking in millions off the workers’ labor.

“Everyday, members of the Operating Engineers are at work before sunrise, risking their lives to make construction possible. It’s important that we as working people stand in solidarity with them as they fight for a decent contract.

“Seattle has been the construction crane capital for three years running. The building boom in the city and region has made untold profits for corporations and wealth for billionaires. And yet the workers who operate those cranes and help create the profits are increasingly unable to afford to live in the very city they are building.

“Going on strike is not easy and requires courage, determination, and collective action. But we know workers can win victories when we get organized and fight together. Let’s remember when the Teamster Sand & Gravel Drivers went on strike last year after receiving a so-called “last, best, & final” offer from their union busting bosses, they were able to win substantial increases in compensation as well as language protecting their work because they were willing to fight for it.

“Compensation and overtime pay is a safety issue, especially on construction sites. If wages are low enough that workers are forced to work overtime, there’s no penalty for the bosses who push for more and more overtime to maintain accelerated schedules. Working massive overtime is dangerous, and the safety of every worker on a construction site is linked to the safety of all other workers at the site.

“Socialist Alternative and my Council Office support the operating engineers in all their demands:

  • A 15 percent pay increase over three years to at least keep up with rising living costs;
  • Double time – if the bosses attempt to take the eight hour day away from workers, it should cost them;
  • Paid parking – downtown parking costs around $20-$30 daily, and workers shouldn’t have to pay these exorbitant costs just to come to work.

“We wish the members of Local 302 the best in winning their demands. If they win, not only will their living conditions be improved, it will encourage other workers to also fight for their workplace rights and for an affordable city.”




Councilmember Sawant Stands in Solidarity with Seattle Educators Rallying for Strong Contract

Councilmember Kshama Sawant (District 3, Central Seattle) issued the following statement in solidarity with educators in the Seattle Public School District who are organized with the Seattle Education Association (SEA). Members of SEA are fighting for pay raises commensurate with the city’s cost of living. They are also demanding the District take steps toward addressing racism in the school system, and include substitute teachers and support staff in healthcare coverage.

“As an elected representative of Seattle’s working people, a socialist, and a member of the American Federation of Teachers, I stand in solidarity with Seattle educators in their struggle for a strong contract.

“Seattle is absolutely unaffordable for our educators, and they are increasingly getting pushed out of the city. This is a crisis that must be addressed. Other school districts have offered contracts with 20 percent raises. It is only reasonable for Seattle Public Schools to at least match that, given the skyrocketing housing costs in Seattle.

“We need to fight institutional racism in every aspect of our society, including in our classrooms. SEA is fighting for Ethnic Studies at all grade levels, hiring more black educators, training staff in restorative justice practices, and building on their previous victory to expand race and equity teams. These are important steps toward a school district where black lives matter.

“SEA is fighting for regular working substitute educators and support staff to get healthcare coverage, which is a life and death issue for many hard-working subs.

“I want to urge Seattle Public Schools and the School Board to settle a strong contract with the union. If SEA is forced to strike, I will be joining them on the picket lines.

“This is a union fighting for all of our children. While Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump’s administration are attacking public education nationally, we are fortunate in Seattle to have a union like SEA standing up for educators, students, and families. We need to stand with them in promoting high-quality, fully-funded schools for all. Supporting SEA in winning a strong contract is an important component of building statewide and national mass movements to fight for public-sector unions against the Trump agenda, and to tax Wall Street to fully fund high-quality public education throughout the nation.

“Seattle Educators need our support now, so if you want to help them build strong schools, please join them today from 4 to 6pm outside the John Stanford Center at 3rd & Lander right near the SODO light rail station.”

Council President Harrell Establishes Select Committee on Homelessness and Housing Affordability

Council President Bruce Harrell (District 2, South Seattle) today announced the establishment of a Select Committee on Homelessness and Housing Affordability.

Select Committees are created by the Council President and comprised of all nine Councilmembers to comprehensively and effectively conduct the business of the Council, as outlined by Council Rules (SECT. VII)

Councilmembers Sally Bagshaw (District 7 – Pioneer Square to Magnolia), Teresa Mosqueda (Position 8 – Citywide) and Kshama Sawant (District 3 – Central Seattle) will serve as co-chairs. The complete committee meeting schedule will be announced at a later date.

“As President of the Council, I feel compelled to change our approach to coordinating and communicating to the public about the city’s homelessness response. While we have made progress with our standing committees that oversee the Human Services Department in defining outcomes and reporting and executing a plan, the public demands more. With that in mind, I am proposing a new and more centralized approach through a committee of all nine Councilmembers focused on this issue,” said Council President Harrell.

“Whether you are an individual experiencing homelessness, an advocate, a homeowner, a renter, business owner, or employee, we as a City remain compassionate for the plight of those experiencing homelessness. There also seems to be a growing intolerance of the current conditions where individuals are living in tents on public right of ways or unsafe areas. We should have the highest standard and, in fact, share a common goal of striving to help all individuals experiencing homelessness transition into permanent housing and providing help to those with mental illness.

“This has been one of the most difficult and complicated problems Seattle has ever been asked to solve. We hear from advocates saying that because we don’t have the affordable housing resources, camping should be tolerated. Conversely, we hear from property owners and business owners saying they pay a large portion of the city’s taxes and expect the city to enforce the law.

“There are clearly different views on how to address Seattle’s homelessness crisis. While there are differences of opinions on homelessness enforcement and taxation to generate additional resources, I think we will continue spinning our wheels if we label those differences as simply opposing sides. My expectation of the Select Committee is to have a transparent working committee that develops strong policy and investment decisions, as well as enforcement strategies.”

Objectives of the Select Committee:

  1. Establish the groundwork by clearly defining the homelessness problem to aid the Council’s budget deliberations in October-November. This includes describing the City’s current efforts to address homelessness and any resource gaps.
  2. Describe comprehensively the City’s efforts in homelessness response. As many as 16 City departments and offices are involved in the city’s homelessness response. The City departments and offices include Office of the Auditor, City Budget Office, Department of Construction and Inspections, Finance and Administrative Services, City Attorney’s Office, Fire Department, Police Department, Office of Housing, Human Services Department, Department of Neighborhoods, Parks and Recreation, Seattle City Light, Seattle Public Utilities, Libraries, Office for Civil Rights, and Department of Transportation.
    1. What are the City’s overarching rules and/or policies on addressing homelessness? What are the department’s current homelessness response procedure(s) for unauthorized encampments?
    2. Each department (except Office of the Auditor, City Attorney’s Office, and City Budget Office) will describe its:
      1. Function and responsibilities in addressing homelessness.
      2. Performance measurements.
      3. Characteristics of the homeless population served.
      4. Annual budget and number of employees allocated to addressing homelessness over the past five years, and what, if any, departmental work has been or continues to be displaced.
      5. Costs to deliver services compared to other jurisdictions and any lessons learned.
      6. Need for additional resources to improve performance.
      7. Description of coordination efforts with the other City departments.
    3. Quantitative and/or qualitative data used to assess needs such as the “Find It/Fix It” submittals.
  3. Examination of budgetary allocations and consideration of creative solutions for additional resources.
  4. Define “Clarity of Instructions” to our city departments involved with the city’s homelessness response.
  5. Learn about and enhance regional partnership efforts with King County and Washington State, and partnerships or opportunities for partnerships with philanthropic institutions, as well as faith-based organizations.
  6. Explore “outside-the-box” thinking and strategies other jurisdictions have used such as different safe parking models.

The schedule for the Select Committee is forthcoming and will be available online at a later date.

Preserving the Showbox: Councilmember Sawant to Bring Resolution, Urges Community to Keep Fighting

Councilmember Kshama Sawant (District 3, Central Seattle) responded to reports that the Showbox had been purchased by a corporate developer, who intended to build a high-rise apartment, with an open letter.

While the Vancouver-based Onni Group has signaled their intention to nominate the Showbox for landmark status, it remains unclear if that protection would be extended to the entire theater building, or just the facade, marquee or some other architectural feature.

In the letter, Sawant outlined her intentions to prepare a resolution for Council consideration, urging the Landmarks Preservation Board to preserve the Showbox (including its continued use as a music venue) as a landmark.  From the letter:

I have heard from many of you who are outraged to learn that a real estate developer intends to replace Seattle’s historic Showbox theater with a high-rise apartment building. This is yet another example of how development and construction decisions in Seattle are being driven primarily by whatever will make the quickest dollar for the largest for-profit developers, with little regard for the needs and desires of the rest of us.

Often it is affordable housing that we see demolished to make way for new luxury buildings that only the wealthy get to live in. In this case, it is a landmark of Seattle’s history and music that is on the chopping block. In both cases, Seattle is more and more becoming a playground for the rich, with little space for working people and for the culture that makes Seattle so unique.

Big developers have immense power in Washington state, but one possible point of leverage are Seattle’s landmark preservation laws. Because the Showbox has so much historic value, the Landmarks Preservation Board should agree to landmark it if they hear from a large enough community of people. However, the board often preserves only the outside of buildings, and in this case we need the Board to also preserve the music venue inside.

Sawant further indicated that while nominations to preserve the Showbox as a landmark can be initiated by filling out a form, the nominations are only one step, and will most likely not be enough.

“…The Showbox theater should not only be preserved on the outside, but also be maintained as a music venue,” wrote Sawant.  “In fact, the Onni Group, the corporation threatening the Showbox, has indicated they plan to nominate the building to the Landmarks Preservation Board. As a mega development corporation, Onni will no doubt hope that the Board will decide not to preserve any part of the building that will conflict with their multi-million-dollar development plans. We obviously hope, on the other hand, that Board will not just preserve the facade, but enable Seattle’s music community to continue to function at the venue. There are undoubtedly other locations where upscale apartments could be built, although what our city really needs is affordable housing.”

Sawant signaled her intent to prepare a City Council resolution by Monday, August 6 urging the Landmarks Preservation Board to preserve the Showbox inside and outside, and invited emails in support to be sent to the preservation board via email: