Changes At the Seattle Waterfront: Part 1

There have been some major changes recently down at the Seattle Waterfront and this is especially exciting for runners and cyclists. 

First, a little background.  The Alaskan Way viaduct was built in the 1950s along with a few viaducts in northern California; the Cypress viaduct (Oakland) and the Embarcadero viaduct (San Francsico). In 1989 the Cypress Viaduct collapsed in an earthquake and as a result the Embarcadero viaduct was quickly torn down becaue of similar structural concerns.  These events caused the Washington State Dept. of Transportation to take a closer look at our own viaduct.

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In 1995, Civil Engineers at the University of Washington conducted a study finding that the viaduct would be very inflexible in an earthquake which could result in severe damage or collapse. 

In 2001, just that earthquake happened. The Nisqually earthquake, a magnitude 6.8, resulted in a weakening of the viaduct’s supporting columns and a noticeable ‘eastward tilt’ to the freeway.  Yikes!  I remember coming home to visit family and my mother would warn me not to drive along the viaduct because it could collapse at any minute.

Because of this, in 2011, Seattle began construction on an underground tunnel to replace the traffic along the Alaskan Way viaduct.  Parts of Alaskan Way along the waterfront were closed at various points throughout the years to support the construction, and there was a number of delays due to issues with Bertha, the machine created specifically to dig Seattle’s tunnel.  To some Seattleites, it seemed like construction would never end.

Two years ago, in 2016, I moved back to Seattle and got a place down by the waterfront, however I was sad to find that the construction was ongoing, and Alaskan Way down at the waterfront still remained closed off south id the ferry terminal, with both car and pedestrian traffic rerouted to flow underneath the viaduct.  Running through this area, I found I was often competing with traffic and was not comfortable running past the homeless encampments under the viaduct as a lone female in the darkness of the early morning.  For the most part I avoided running south, and didn’t even discover the greatness that is the Elliot Bay Trail until a year later. 

Alaskan Way newly opened to traffic in October 2018. Picture taken near S Jackson St, just south of the ferry terminal.

Alaskan Way newly opened to traffic in October 2018. Picture taken near S Jackson St, just south of the ferry terminal.

This October (2018), however, we finally saw the re-opening of Alaskan Way and I could not be more excited!  Traffic no longer runs underneath the viaduct, and the pedestrian path now flows uninterrupted along the waterfront, connecting easily with the trails to the south. 

One of the exciting discoveries for me has been an awesome, tiny little park that I had no idea even existed.  For years, the Washington Street Public Boat Landing had been blocked off behind the construction zone, inaccessible and almost invisible to the public.  Now work is underway to revitalize the park and restore the iron pergola that was built in the same style as the Pioneer Square pergolas.  I am looking forward to exploring this park once it reopens; a tiny island of nature among the piers, skyscrapers and industry of downtown. 

Restoration of the Washington Street Public Boat Landing pergola, which was built in the same style as the iron pergolas of Pioneer Square.

Restoration of the Washington Street Public Boat Landing pergola, which was built in the same style as the iron pergolas of Pioneer Square.

Washington Street Public Boat Landing park

Washington Street Public Boat Landing park

When I am out running, these kinds of hidden surprises are what I live for. A boat landing that used to be accessible to the public. A park that used to have a life but hasn’t seen human activity for years.

Seattle is defined by our ocean and the reopening of the waterfront trails and parks will reconnect us a bit more with our true selves. Now that we are getting the waterfront back, you will find me out there, on a dark mornings, running and communing with the stormy spirits of the ocean and sky.