Friday, September 24, 2010

Look! Over there! Shiny!

Behind the glitter of a new park on the central waterfront is a nasty reality- the park is intended to contain green intentions as much as it is to showcase them. The people who want to make the waterfront great have been awarded their 9 acres, to do with as they will.

The rest of the area belongs to the Seattle Department of Transportation, or the Washington State Department of Transportation, or the railroad, or private owners of the current parking lots. Most of these people have their own plans involving more cars on the waterfront, most of it traffic that has no reason to be on the waterfront at all.

The best, and really, the only, way to change the waterfront is to use a streetcar as a spine and hang everything on that. There should be no through-traffic and no parking. Tour buses should debark passengers directly to the trolley with passes provided by the tour bus company.

There is no better place in Seattle for a transformative streetcar than here. The shoreline from the cruise ship terminal to Washington Street is essentially linear, just like a trolley line. There are 2.5 miles of real estate a short walk from such a line, totally awaiting redevelopment as residential, professional and light commercial, or restaurant, a lovely destination for an evening in the town, garnished by a string of parks in which to linger and enjoy the evening while coming or going.

Land is too scarce for parking, and here is where the Jane Jacobeans should focus their ire- on taking the city streets there, and using them for low-rise residential and commercial instead of street. This would be one of the toniest neighborhoods in Seattle, and new residents should reasonably pay a “tax” of not being allowed to park automobiles there.

It’s not impossible. The feds would love it, and it’s just the right size for the packets of money they want to hand out. All the state wants is the tunnel. The city could spend a lot less on surface streets there, and by “a lot less” I mean maybe $50 million that would not be needed to build a new ‘urban arterial’ there. A considerable amount of surface land would then actually be available for the person-sized development the Jacobseans gush over. It could be done, and would be a success.

Sadly, almost nobody in Seattle is seizing this teachable moment to push for a streetcar and a rebuild that reduces substantially the number of automobiles in the neighborhood. The so-called ‘environmentalists’, who want to save the world by stopping the tunnel, are even less help- a new highway on the surface is part of the ’surface options’ they champion. Seattleites in general like streetcars, like the Waterfront streetcar, and would like to see more streetcars, but that’s in general, not strong opinions arrived at by study which they are willing to fight for.

It’s a darn shame there aren’t more transit advocates in Seattle who could help the average people in understanding how to demand more streetcars.

(Crossposted from the Waterfront Streetcar Blog)

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