Central Waterfront Tour with Guillermo Romano

27 10 2009

This past weekend, I was able to join Guillermo Romano from the Seattle Design Commission on a Waterfront Tour as part of the Urban Waterfront Conference. 

Here is a map of our route (we started from the South point):

The Central Waterfront walking tour covered the latest aspects related to the
redevelopment of the central waterfront once the Alaskan Way Viaduct is replaced.
The tour included a description of the State, County and City efforts, a detailed
description of the challenges and opportunities along the waterfront and the proposed
framework for its future redevelopment.

Here is Guillermo talking about the future of Alaskan Way:

Viaduct options: WA SDOT required that the new viaduct option had to handle the same vehicle capacity as the current viaduct. In 2008, State, County, and City formed a Citizen’s Advisory Committee that created 8 proposals (anything from retrofitting the existing viaduct to cut and cover to bored tunnel). The first bored tunnel option that was rejected consisted of a cut-and-cover proposal with two different bored tunnels which would have cut the waterfront off for about 5 years and been the death of many waterfront businesses. The new bored tunnel option will not disrupt the waterfront. In Dec 2008, the bored tunnel was approved. In 2015 the bored tunnel will begin construction and in Jan 2016 the viaduct will begin being demolished. The state will be paying for the tunnel and 300 million will be paid by the city.

How is this development different from the Big Dig in Boston? The Big Dig is a cut and cover project which has entrances and exits along the way. It also concentrates all transportation into one single solution. The Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement will be a bypass through the city and will replace the 110,000 vehicle capacity the old viaduct provided in several ways. The load will be spread to the bored tunnel, surface streets, and city grid in the hope that people will start relying on their cars less and begin using more public transportation.

Guillermo expressed his rightful concern about the disconnection between downtown and the waterfront. When the viaduct is removed, the city is championing several spots to develop the urban-waterfront connection, such as:

– Pier 48/Washington Boat St Landing: Pier 48 is not a landmark and there aren’t funds to restore the pier so in all likelihood it will be demolished. The Washington Street Boat Landing, however, is a Historic Landmark and it will be restored and relocated to bring a piece of history back into the new waterfront development.  There is a great opportunity near Pioneer square to connect the city to the water through shallow water development.

Ferry Landing: The city has been collaborating with WA State Ferries to redevelop the ferry landing to provide public plazas and discourage/reduce the use of cars. Right now the parking lot expanse blocks pedestrians from a waterfront view.

– The Waterfront Piers are underutilized. The 4 major downtown piers are privately owned and not used for public use. If the concept of the waterfront could be changed, the piers could become destinations that transform the public realm. The current pier property owners discourage public space on the piers because that would mean they would have to up the security and deal with city problems. Perhaps the future of the waterfront will include tax incentives for the property owners if they do include public spaces on their piers.

Waterfront Park: Right now the waterfront park is not inviting. Once the viaduct is removed, there will be an opportunity to open up the space, perhaps create an artificial beach, and provide a civic amenity.

Pier 54: Used to be a concert space until the pier was deemed unsafe because of unstable wood piles. Now, the economic power of the waterfront condos prevent a structure from being built because obstructed views would lower their property value. The city can rebuild the dock, perhaps connect it to the aquarium, as long as the SF is kept the same.

Harbour Steps: One good example of how to develop downtown connections well:

The Olympic Sculpture Park is another great example of an incredible partnership between the museum, private donors, and the city. It has created a public space and restored the natural habitat, factors that should be incorporated into the waterfront development. Rain gardens, storm water management, non-invasive species use, beaches etc, all help make this area a destination for locals and tourists alike.

Guillermo also talked about the sustainable aspect of the waterfront, pointing out the seawall test panels along the way. Migratory salmon travel north from the Duwamish River along the seawall. Salmon have very poor eyesight and follow light. The old piers along the waterfront have a dense grid of pilings that create dark spaces underwater – this makes the salmon swim around the piers and then they are exposed to predators. The city is testing different lighting alternatives (artificial, translucent sidewalk, etc) to help the salmon stay along the seawall during their travels as well as different shelves to provide food and refuge.

The tour was an informative and enlightening experience which provided a ton of useful information about the future of the waterfront. I think more tours should be planned to expand Seattle’s knowledge and inform local/tourists about the issues affecting the development. I am currently working with the Seattle Architecture Foundation to create a Waterfront Tour planned for January 30th, 2010. The tour will include local experts – I will give more info as it comes about.

Guillermo Romano has been a part of Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development for five and a half years. He plays a dual role at the city:
– He is the executive director of the Seattle Design Commission, which is a volunteer body of 10 members appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the Seattle Council. The Seattle Design Commission is responsible for reviewing all city projects and Right Of Way projects.
– He is also the manager of city design, which is the Office of Urban Design for the City of Seattle

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