May 12, 2023 - News

Seattle's waterfront project moves forward with new road opening

A pedestrian bridge under construction over a road with construction markers, with a sidewalk and bike lane at right.

Part of the new Elliott Way with a pedestrian bridge under construction above it. Photo: Melissa Santos/Axios

Seattle's new waterfront is starting to take shape — and, while some are critical of what's been built so far, supporters maintain that the project will be a major downtown asset when it's complete.

Why it matters: The long-planned removal of the Alaskan Way Viaduct in 2019 made way for big changes on Seattle's waterfront. Now, those updates are actually happening.

Latest: At the start of May, a new street opened linking Belltown with the waterfront. The new connector road includes new bike lanes and sidewalks connecting Elliott Avenue to Alaskan Way, and will eventually support four lanes of traffic (two in each direction).

  • Construction is also underway on protected bike lanes and pedestrian improvements on Pike and Pine streets, along with a wide pedestrian bridge — the Overlook Walk — connecting Pike Place Market to the waterfront.

Yes, but: Some, including former Seattle mayor Mike McGinn, a longtime advocate for more walkable cities, have criticized the new waterfront thoroughfare as too closely resembling the former elevated viaduct.

  • "So, we just rebuilt the highway?" McGinn tweeted last month, along with a photograph of a portion of the new roadway.
A view of part of the new Elliott Way, which is slightly elevated, from a new platform above at Pike Place Market.
The view of the new Elliott Way that former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn criticized on Twitter. Photo: Melissa Santos/Axios

Flashback: For decades, the viaduct formed a concrete barrier between Pike Place Market and the waterfront.

  • When deciding to replace the elevated highway with an underground tunnel, politicians talked about the potential for a more open, pedestrian-friendly space along Elliott Bay.

What they're saying: Backers of the waterfront project say that vision is still happening.

  • Angela Brady, director of Seattle's Office of the Waterfront and Civic Projects, said in a written statement to Axios that the new Elliott Way is distinct from the former viaduct partly because it includes trees, bike lanes, traffic signals and sidewalks for pedestrians — along with a much lower speed limit.
  • She added that the plan has long been to build the roadway first, then finish a planned park promenade — along with other pedestrian walkways and an aquarium expansion —- afterward.
  • "This is going to be, I think, one of the most significant urban public parks in North America," Jon Scholes, CEO and president of the Downtown Seattle Association, told Axios last week.
  • Scholes suggested people should "sit tight" until 2025, when all the pedestrian improvements and park spaces are expected to be completed.

Meanwhile, McGinn told Axios he thinks the public will end up disappointed — especially those who are concerned about emissions from car traffic contributing to climate change.

What's next: The city plans to complete more pedestrian improvements connecting the waterfront to Pioneer Square, plus a children's playground near the aquarium, before the project's planned completion in 2025.


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