Nobody seems to want to talk about the real problem with the Viaduct,
which is that it leads to a dead-end freeway in the north at Green
Lake and to a dead-end freeway in the south at Burien. In short, you
can't get to it except by a maze of surface streets that keep most
North-South travellers (most of us) from trying.|
Today the Viaduct serves only those fortunate few who live on the feeder streets of Aurora from NE 95th St to downtown. If you're lucky enough to live in Magnolia, Green Lake, Phinney Ridge, Queen Anne, or Ballard -- most of the wealthier neighborhoods in Seattle -- then you love the Viaduct, because it zips you to or past downtown and back without having to actually deal with any traffic, while the rest of us sweating proletarians stress it out on I-5. It seems like the whole idea of the Seattle road system is to keep I-5 traffic away from the 99 corridor, without any convenient way to get across and really share the roads. So I-5 gets sclerosis, while 99 users enjoy a free way home and to work.
Snobs like Cory Moon argue that complete sclerosis is the best solution to our traffic problems: everyone must be forced to simply get off the roads, because they are impassable, the more so the better. That doesn't work for most of us, who lose a significant fraction of our lives commuting through inefficient highways. In fact it is offensive for a working man's children have to give up quality time with their father in service of Cory Moon's snobbery.
My message is that there is a better way.
Imagine that God Himself came to the Seattle City Council and said, granted, you have the worst traffic problems in the universe, but now I'm going to give you a brand new freeway from where your congestion starts on the north, all the way out of town to the south. I'm going to give you four to six additional freeway lanes connecting to I-5 and going all the way from Northgate through downtown to Southcenter. You wouldn't believe Him, right? Because God Himself couldn't deliver that.
Well, I am not God, but I'd like to point out to you a realistic and affordable alternative. It recognizes that the problem with the Viaduct is not its existence, or its altitude, but its inaccessibility. It would make a couple of relatively small changes in the flow at two points, and create exactly what God would love to promise us.
And if the 99 corridor could truly be made an equal-access corridor to I-5 travellers, not just for the few who live in the right place to have their own private freeway to downtown, then wouldn't that be the greatest good for all of us?
So think about the minimal changes needed to improve I-5 accessibility and therefore fully utilize the 99 corridor. Changes that would gain us a huge improvement in the system's capacity through our downtown bottlenecks. What are those changes?
The changes are very small south of downtown. As it turns out, Seattle already has the necessary freeway system on the south end. This extra freeway even has the right name: 99. This might be confusing to you, because it baffled and confused me for years. Let's straighten out the confusion about highway 99. It happens when you take 99 southbound from downtown, first you're in the industrial district, then there's a gentle right turn at one big stoplight and you cross the Duwamish River on the 1st Avenue Bridge. You may have noticed that 99 suddenly (surprise!) changes its name to 509! Where did 99 go?! If you just keep going like everyone does, you end up in Burien, or past it on another dead end freeway, still miles and miles away from I-5 and wherever you were going, and if you looked at the signs, 99 has completely disappeared and you're on 509 now. That's confusing!
Now here's the trick, the insider secret. Suppose you take the immediate first exit just after the 1st Avenue Bridge on the Duwamish River, and loop around underneath the bridge. You will find yourself at the entrance of a whole, entire, beautiful, gorgeous, and almost completely unknown and unused Four Lane Freeway, which travels south-southeast along this lovely river and conveniently merges back to I-5 just before Southcenter. The only people who know about this mystery freeway are some truck drivers at the Port and a few people who live in West Seattle.
It is always empty.
In both directions, even at the most snarled traffic hours of the day.
So, I want to see a transition overpass and a sign labelled "99 exits here" between the 99-509 freeway and the 99-along-the-river freeway. That's all I want on the south.
And anyway, what we have is already better than nothing. Our problem on the South end is mostly already solved.
We also already have the problem solved from Green Lake all the way through downtown and to the south. It's also called 99. Duh. Can you imagine, building six or eight lanes of added new freeway for through-travellers to get through downtown Seattle? What it would cost? The political headaches, the nightmares? The monorail which recently failed was nothing compared to this. If you had to create the 99 freeway and the Viaduct from scratch today, it would be hopeless. But it is a gift to us from our forefathers, and it is our job is to conserve their achievement and to make it better for our children.
What is left to achieve this, what I think we really need, folks, is simply a connection for I-5 travellers from the North to reach 99 and the Viaduct, from the beginning of the snarls (which start most often around the NE 85th/NE 80th St. exits from I-5, immediately after Northgate).
But we can achieve that very easily! We can simply re-direct less than two miles of roadway to make a four to six lane connecting route, following the course of the present surface streets of NE 80th St. from I-5 to Aurora, and from there on Aurora Ave to NE 74th St. We don't need fancy ideas like more tunnels or viaducts, or even regular ideas like a normal freeway; we only need minimalist ideas like converting the crossing roads into one-ways while disabling crossing traffic, to hugely improve the efficiency of this route and making the north end of freeway-99 directly accessible. Turn the rectangle from I-5 over to Aurora on NE 85th St and back on NE 80th St. into a one-way loop with no or minimal stops, and make the intersections free-flowing, and you're done. The truly minimalist approach is to simply make NE 85th St into a westbound one-way road, and NE 80th St. into an eastbound one-way road, with stop lights removed and crossing disabled from the local cross streets. Very small cost, very big impact on very many people's commute time and quality of life.
Then once everyone can really use the Viaduct, we'll see whether everyone really likes the idea of tearing it down. I think the snobs whose property values will be enhanced, whose condos were built overlooking it, or whose fancy neighborhoods are inconvenienced by easier access from the south, will certainly continue to stand up for Cory Moon's bad, snobby, terrible idea. And they'll work to stop this idea too, especially once they figure out that accessibility (the idea you must remember) and rebuilding (what Everyone Else is talking about) are related like dominos. But the rest of us will love it, and use it, like it was meant to be, like our fathers before us made it, a freeway system built for all of us.
Can we work together to make this happen? Let's try!