The Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program is filled with errors and missed opportunities. For the sake of time, I will not go into detail about the unfortunate situation revolving the tunnel (and the $223 million spent to fix Bertha). If you would like to learn more about the details of this project, they can be found here. Instead, I want to talk about just one missed opportunity: the conversion of the downtown waterfront section of the Alaskan Way Viaduct to a raised nature walk.
Seattle is a beautiful city, in a great location. You can drive 30 minutes in one direction and be at a beach, or you could drive 45 minutes in another direction and be in the mountains. Additionally, there are great parks for children throughout Queen Anne, Capital Hill, and Ballard. Downtown, on the other hand, is in need of more spaces dedicated to nature. Yes, there are some places downtown where you can catch a glimpse of the water, however there are no designated areas to really be immersed in nature. I don’t think anyone would argue with the idea that downtown could be improved with more access to nature; the only questions are how and where would these spaces exist? New York, one of the densest cities in the world, has found a way to make nature enjoyable for everyone: Central Park. While it would be ideal to create a giant park in the middle of downtown Seattle, it’s just not
feasible. The lack of real estate available makes for building new parks (even small ones) practically impossible.
In 2014 New York finished a new park called the High Line (pictured above). The High Line is a 1.45-mile long, elevated park created on a section of railroad that was no longer in use. Having visited the High Line, I can say from personal experience that this park is unique and very successful. Just above the bustling streets of New York there is a beautiful sanctuary dedicated to preserving natural plant species and giving its visitors the benefit of walking through a thriving park. Planners took advantage of an existing structure and turned it into an amazing outdoor experience instead of tearing it down.
Seattle should learn from New York and use the existing Alaskan Way Viaduct waterfront section to create a raised park similar to the High Line. A raised park in the middle of downtown would not only allow more people to experience nature in their day-to-day lives, but could also encourage more people to walk to and from work. The creation of this park would lower CO2 emissions by reducing the amount of passenger vehicle miles traveled as well as through the CO2 absorption done by the plants. To me, this is the largest missed opportunity of the project and a waste of already constructed space.